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Conservatives are a curious bunch. They profess a sunny faith, most of the time, in the unique power of free markets to lift society’s poor and afflicted. Yet when markets fail and government steps in to deliver social goods or services, to alleviate suffering or poverty or misdistribution, conservatives switch their tune to moral outrage.

Case in point: the current debate over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. The health care system set up by this law, commonly known as Obamacare, is not perfect but it made huge strides toward two vital social objectives: decreasing the number of uninsured Americans and putting a brake on the spiraling trend of national health care costs.

Some conservatives hate Obamacare because of the president whose namesake it is. Others hate it because they think anything the government does to soften the blows of free-market discipline is immoral. It spares the poor from their deserved punishment. And, of course, Obamacare operated through a framework of taxes and mandates and regulations — all things that good conservatives execrate.

The problem is, as a few conservative thinkers have realized, Americans now mostly support the proposition that all citizens are entitled to health care regardless of their resources, and that this can only be accomplished with large-scale government intervention.

So Republicans in Congress face an unsavory choice: to simply repeal Obamacare or to repeal it and replace it with an ersatz version. The GOP’s American Health Care Act seeks to repeal many of the taxes that paid for the Affordable Care Act. It limits future access to Medicaid for poor enrollees. It increases the burden of insurance premiums on older enrollees.

The AHCA is rightly being derided as a cruddy facsimile of Obamacare that massively shifts wealth from the lowest income brackets to the highest. The rationales for foisting this botch on the not-so-well-to-do are grounded in that old conservative disposition to blame the poor for their poverty.

Just listen to them.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican of Utah, boldly dismissed the idea that the GOP’s proposed jacked-up premiums would hurt the poor. These people, he explained, just need to forgo buying the latest iPhone.

A few days prior, Rep. Roger Marshall of Kansas stirred the same pot by claiming that poor people “just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

Marshall, an obstetrician, doubled down by adding, “I think just morally, spiritually, socially, (some people) just don’t want health care.”

Both Marshall and Chaffetz have since walked back their comments. But we should expect the GOP to keep pressing plans that limit people’s access to Medicaid. Because too many people firmly believe that expansion to such help will only invite more dependence, less personal accountability, more sloth.

This is a narrative we’ve been hearing from Republicans — and a lot of Democrats, too — for years. They blame low-income people for their own troubles while failing to address low wages, educational gaps, and a range of economic factors that aren’t easily explained by simplistic moralizing.

Misconceptions about poverty are deeply set in American political discourse. Supposed moral deficiencies are a convenient pretense for ignoring differences in economic conditions and opportunity — differences that redound to the benefit of the moralizers. So they shame others for behavior, for failure to heed the rules of the free market, and they regard any attempt by government to ameliorate outcomes as moral hazard.

Such thinking has led to awful public policy, regardless of the party acting under these ideas. It accounted for Bill Clinton’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act 1996 to reform welfare. It now inspires the GOP’s dismal health care “reform.”

Yes, personal choices and behaviors have an impact on personal health and economic outcomes. But leave the sermonizing for the pulpit. Most who go without health insurance do so for one of two reasons: They either believe they are too healthy to need it, or they can’t afford it. Obamacare addressed both of these issues.

When devising public policy, we need to take this perspective: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

If we did, our health care and educational systems would be geared to ensure security and opportunity for all, and that none would have to suffer simply because they are poor.

IMAGE: Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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