Why Do Republicans Continue to Try to Repeal Reform? (A Method to Their Madness)

(A longer version of this post originally appeared on Healthinsurance.org  There, you will also find a link to an HIO post showing how each Representative voted—and who didn’t vote.)

Last week the House voted—for the 37th time—to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Everyone knows that repeal will never pass the Senate.  Some suggest that legislators might better spend their time (and our tax dollars) figuring out how to create jobs.

Even the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) couldn’t take this 37th vote seriously. When preparing for this latest showdown, Republican Paul Ryan requested an update to CBO’s July 2012 estimate that repealing the ACA would cost more than it would save, increasing the deficit by some $109 billion over the coming decade (2013-2022.)

CBO replied to his request: “Preparing a new estimate of the budgetary impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act would take considerable time – probably several weeks – for CBO and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, because there are hundreds of provisions in the ACA and those provisions are already in various stages of implementation. . .   We have just finished the time-consuming task of updating our baseline budget projections and need to finish our analysis of the President’s budgetary proposals.”

I like economist Jared Bernstein’s paraphrase of CBO’s response: “You guys go ahead and keep gettin’ your crazy on … over here we’re kinda busy doin’ actual work, so can’t help you right now.”

CBO added that when it does have time to do an update, it expects similar results. Repealing health care reform would add to the deficit.

                              Are Republicans Crazy . . .  Or Cunning?

You might think that by continuing to obsess over a bill that will never succeed, Republicans are once again exhibiting their self-destructive tendencies. But I would argue that House Republican leaders are not crazy, at least not in a way that is easy to understand. They’re cunning.

Ask yourself this: How many people skimmed or half-heard the news stories telling them that the House had passed a bill to repeal Obamacare?

This helps to explain why 12 percent of all Americans believe that the ACA already has been scrubbed. Every time a commentator mentions “health care reform” and “repeal” in the same sentence, the words will sink into that morass of half-truths and fictions that we call “the conventional wisdom.”

Even if people realize that the ACA  is now the law of the land, many take the repeated efforts to kill reform as a sign that there is something very wrong with the legislation.

After all, they think: “why would Republicans spend so much time trying to overturn a law if there wasn’t something terribly wrong with it?”

Of course House Republicans also voted against re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act.  (Until it became crystal clear that they were once again tossing the women’s vote under the bus.)  Then there was the time when they voted unanimously to support an anti-abortion bill that redefines rape as “coercive” (as opposed to voluntary rape?)  GOP solidarity is not necessarily a sign of clear thinking.

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Obama to Boehner: “John, I’m Getting Tired of Hearing You Say That”

This was President Obama’s reply, during fiscal cliff negotiations, when House Speaker John Boehner declared, for the umpteenth time, that “ The U.S. has a spending problem.” 

I can understand the president’s irritation. How could anyone believe that we have a “spending problem?’

Look around. Consider the state of our bridges, our roads and our crumbling inner city public schools. Are we spending too much on the nation’s infrastructure?

Next, think about unemployment. During this recovery we have lost 750,000 public sector jobs.  Republicans are intent on “starving the beast” (of government) and as a result Washington has not given states the financial support they need continue delivering public services. Across the nation, public school teachers have been laid off in droves, while class sizes increase at unprecedented rates.  Does this sound like government spending run amuck?

One in five American children now lives in poverty. Seventeen million children find themselves in homes where they can’t be sure of getting enough to eat.  (a.k.a. “food-insecure households.”)  At the end of the month, many kids go to bed hungry because the government Food Stamps program (now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP)  gives families less than $1.50 per person per meal. Are we being overly generous?

During the past two wars, we sent millions of American men and women to Iraq and Afghanistan –many went back for repeated tours. In some cases, their bodies were not  broken–but their minds were.  Now 1.3 million Vets seeking mental health services are told they must wait of 50 days before getting treatment.   A recent government report suggests that 22 Vets die by suicide every day – about 20 percent of all Americans who kill themselves. Are we spending too much on healthcare for Veterans?

Let me suggest that we don’t have a spending problem. We have a revenue problem. Current federal revenue levels are at their lowest levels since the 1950s. 

                      How Anti-Tax Pledges Have Weakened the Nation

In a recent post, Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nailed it: “The tax system doesn’t raise enough revenue.  And that’s not just the recession; it’s also tax policy and anti-tax pledges  . . . The system has become less progressive, with the largest declines in effective tax rates at the top of the income scale.

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Pelosi Says “There’s Still a Chance”

Last night House Majority Leader John Boehner withdrew his “Plan B” proposal for the budget. He had no choice:  conservative Republicans in the House made it clear that would not vote for a plan that raises taxes for ANYONE—even millionaires.

Many in Washington believe this makes a bungee-jump over the “fiscal cliff” inevitable. As I have explained, that is not as scary as it sounds. The precipice is an imaginary line drawn in the sand and dated “January 1.”  Any damage done if we miss the deadline can easily be reversed.  Early in January Congress would, no doubt, extend tax cuts for 98% of all Americans while voting down Draconian across- the- board spending cuts scheduled to kick in the first of the year.

But today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said “there is still a chance for a deal” before year-end. In fact, Pelosi probably knows that House Democrats and Republicans have more than enough votes  to extend tax cuts for the 98% now. The Senate has already passed a bill that would do just that. And in the House few  Republicans are eager to stand up and vote to hike taxes  for the vast majority of Americans. Conservatives just want to give the same break to the wealthiest 2%. But by now, most Republicans recognize that some tax increases are inevitable.

Pelosi’s optimism makes me hopeful. She’s a superb vote-counter, and she knows what’s happening on the other side of the aisle.

                    CEOs Urge Republicans to Compromise 

As Bloomberg reported yesterday, corporate chieftains have begun to lobby Republicans to give way on tax increases: CEOs such as Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Robert Iger of Walt Disney Co. and Randall Stephenson of AT&T Inc. have been meeting with White House officials and their “support for Obama’s tax stance has split the Republican business alliance, driving a wedge between CEOs urging compromise and the nation’s most prominent small-business group.

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