In their desperation to provide $600 billion in tax cuts to their rich campaign contributors, the Republicans have decided to abandon all the standard rules by which Congress has governed itself. The actions might seem extraordinary, but we know how desperately the richest people in the country need tax cuts, so who can complain if the normal procedures are not being followed?
Unfortunately the debate over the “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare is being confused with a debate over health care. Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate don’t give a damn about health care. This is about getting $600 billion in tax cuts for the people who pay for their campaigns and will offer them jobs as high paid lobbyists when they leave office. The fact that the tax cuts are associated with health care for tens of millions of people is just a coincidence.
If anyone thought the Republicans were interested in actually putting together a health care plan that was better than Obamacare, their actions show beyond any doubt this is not the case. After the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the first version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) would increase the number of people without insurance by 24 million, the Republican leadership rushed a vote of the revised version before CBO had time to evaluate it.
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This is the sort of behavior for which there is not an adequate reservoir of ridicule. How can the Republicans think that they will have a better bill if they don’t have input from CBO? Just to be clear, CBO has gotten many things wrong. There are reasons that people can reasonably object to a CBO assessment, as I have occasionally done.
But the manner in which serious people challenge CBO is by reviewing its projections and showing where they are likely to be wrong. They don’t just ignore them as the Republicans appear determined to do.
Senate Republicans have been willing to violate rules and norms even more blatantly than the House. The Senate has always been a body that reviewed bills carefully, with committee hearings and extensive debate before actually voting on them.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell apparently plans to hold no hearings on the latest version of the AHCA. It seems, the plan is to keep the bill a tightly guarded secret and then drop it on the floor at the same time it is put to a vote. McConnell will use the rules on budget reconciliation to allow the bill to be approved with 50 votes, thereby avoiding the need for 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and end debate.
The contrast with the process through which the Affordable Care Act was approved is striking. This bill had dozens of hearings in both chambers. Members from both parties had the opportunity to offer amendments and many of the Republican amendments were approved and incorporated into the law. They also had had the benefit of CBO’s assessment of both the core proposal and scores for the major amendments that were proposed.
That is the way legislation is supposed to go through Congress. Incredibly, when the Affordable Care Act was passed, the Republicans still complained about Democrats had “rammed” it through, even with the extensive opportunity for Republicans to have input and voice their criticisms.
But the party of Donald Trump has no shame. The mission is to give as much of the country’s wealth as possible to the very rich, in as little time as possible, and they are not going to let any concerns about democratic procedures or people’s health get in the way.
The big question is the role of the media in this process. To a large extent, reporters are still acting as though everything the Republicans and Donald Trump are doing is normal. This would be like the sports announcer at a basketball game continuing to give the play-by-play even after one team’s coach has pulled out a baseball bat and knocked unconscious the star player for the other team and continued to wave the bat menacingly at anyone who made a move for the basket.
It’s very clear to anyone with open eyes — Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are about giving money to the rich. Nothing else matters to this crew. And apparently much of the media sees it as its job to try to pretend otherwise.