Littwin: Have the Obamacare replacers and repealers really lost Cory Gardner?
March 9, 2017
I thought I had a pretty good handle on the Obamacare situation. Republicans have promised to repeal and replace a law that they have no idea how to repeal or replace, but since they repeatedly and endlessly promised they would repeal and replace it, they would have to do something or look as if they are the ones who should be repealed and replaced.
And then Cory Gardner waded into the picture.
If there's anyone you figured would be on board with the Paul Ryan plan — the unscored, unfair, untenable Paul Ryan version of TrumpCare — it's Gardner, who began his 2014 Senate campaign by attacking Obamacare and who has been attacking it steadily ever since.
By his own count, Gardner has voted to repeal Obamacare at least 40 times. In launching his Senate campaign, waving the letter that he claimed showed that Obamacare stole his insurance plan from him, he demanded an end to the "government takeover of health care." It's fair to say that if not for Obamacare, Gardner wouldn't be senator. It's fair to guess that if not for Obamacare's toxicity back in 2014, Gardner would never have run for Senate.
And now that Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress and the time has come to end the job-killing, death-impaneling, Medicare-busting, socialistic-mandating, 47-percent-un-American, yadda-yadda law, Gardner is among those GOP senators threatening to stop the bill.
And it's not just Gardner and some of his more moderate GOP friends. It's just about everyone. You can argue about whether the bill is a disaster, but there's no argument about the rollout. It has been nearly as well planned as the travel ban rollout. No wonder Donald Trump has praised it, or at least that's what I heard on the wiretap.
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But the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity opposes it. The Heritage Foundation opposes it. The Club for Growth opposes it. Rand Paul and Mike Lee seem to oppose it. House conservatives really oppose it, calling it Obamacare 2.0 and Obamacare Lite. Conservatives like these don't think the bill goes far enough — or anywhere at all.
I know, it's crazy. But crazier still is the reason Gardner and three other GOP senators put forth in threatening to vote against the bill — because shutting down the expansion of Medicaid "could result in a reduction in access to life-saving health care services."
Yes, this is Cory Garder defending Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid. He thinks the replacement bill goes too far. I've been telling you the world has turned upside down.
Gardner and friends wrote their letter to Mitch McConnell before the latest version of the bill hit the presses. In the present version, Medicaid expansion ends in 2020. That's an interesting year. It's the next presidential election year, by which time untold millions would be kicked off the insurance rolls. And it's the year in which Gardner is up for re-election. We saw the thousand-plus town hallers who confronted Cardboard Cutout Cory on Obamacare and other issues. We listened as more than 10,000 flooded the lines for Gardner's not-really-a-town-hall tele-town hall.
Is the resistance working, as my Twitter feed suggests? Or is it just numbers like these: Since Obamacare has been implemented, the rate of Colorado's uninsured has dipped from around 15 percent to around 7 percent. And more than 400,000 newly insured got their insurance through the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.
Gardner won in an off-year election by 2 percentage points. Can you see why he might be worried about 2020 with Trump at the top of the ticket and with polls now showing, for the first time, a plurality in support of Obamacare.
Whatever he does in the end — and there's a very good chance Gardner will somehow slide his way back to supporting Ryan — this is a big move by Gardner, who, as far as I can tell, has never had a good word to say about Obamacare, much less Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, and says he still strongly favors repealing and replacing.
Hypocrisy? Opportunism? Genuine concern? Plain old politics? Take your pick.
In any case, this is where we stand.
Ryan has rushed forth a health-reform bill that has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office. That means we don't know how much the bill will cost, how much it will add to the deficit, how many people will lose their insurance. How can this be considered an even halfway serious proposal? Each of these issues would seem to be critical if, in fact, there was some purpose to this bill other than being able to say Republicans had kept their promise to repeal and replace.
That, of course, is the whole deal. As Ezra Klein writes in Vox, Ryan's health care bill has no idea what problem it is trying to solve. We know what Obamacare was trying to do, even if it doesn't do it as well it might. That's in part because the law is needlessly complex, thanks, in large part, to the ugly process required to get the bill passed. But its would-be replacement? As they say, read the bill. It would reduce taxes on the rich while taking money from the Medicare fund. What's not to like?
As Klein writes: "At best, you can say this bill makes every obvious health care metric a bit worse, but at least it cuts taxes on rich people. Is that really a winning argument in American politics?"
Avik Roy, the conservative intellectual, puts it this way: Any reforms in the bill "are overshadowed by the bill's stubborn desire to make health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans, and trap millions more in poverty."
Help the rich. Attack the poor. Damage Medicare. Restrict Medicaid. If you don't see the Democratic attack ads soon to be written, I promise you that Medicaid-loving Cory Gardner does.
Mike Littwin writes a column for the Colorado Independent. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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