In a purely symbolic gesture, Congressional Republicans failed for the 33rd time to repeal President Obama’s health care reform legislation on Wednesday.
The vote, which passed the House 244 to 185, was designed to signify a Republican resolve to do away with the president’s plan, but was meaningless since it can’t advance past the Senate or White House, which are under Democratic control.
While it’s no secret that Republicans have a healthy disdain for President Obama’s health care reform law, most GOP critics tend to throw rocks at this complicated, but viable solution from behind the veiled promise of providing an alternative plan, one purported to cover a similar number of Americans, but in a more “responsible” manner.
Repeal and replace. That is the cry that went up from the right-wing after the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
This sounds great in an interview or coming from Mitt Romney out on the campaign trail, until Republicans have to put something concrete down in writing.
I understand the blather about repealing the law, but the question remains what specifically do Republicans plan to replace this law with that will provide similar access and cover the same number of people?
What I think has become all too clear is Republicans have no alternative plan, and worse than that, they have no intention of putting a similar plan into place.
This was made abundantly clear by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY), when he was interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday two weeks ago.
I tuned in looking to get a Republican perspective on the passage of President Obama’s sweeping health care law, expecting a united front against all aspects of the law.
Instead Wallace fired fastball after fastball down McConnell’s throat, insisting he provide substantive answers as to whether Mitt Romney had a credibility problem attacking the president’s health care reform law since he passed Romneycare, and how specifically the Republicans intended to cover the 30-million uninsured people who would receive benefits under President Obama’s plan.
I’ve never seen McConnell get this flustered, and that it was happening on Fox News made it all the more compelling.
Wallace was extremely deferential and polite, but refused to let McConnell off the hook with the typical Potomac two-step double talk.
After Wallace called him out for a third time to answer how Republicans planned to cover 30-million uninsured Americans, McConnell snapped and answered that they were not an issue.
WOW! Thirty-million people. That’s like all of Canada. Or Peru. It’s way more than the 23-million inhabitants of Australia.
None of them are an issue for Republicans…?!?
How can that many people not having access to health care, in a country as wealthy as America not be an issue?
In a 2009 study, Harvard researchers found that an estimated 45,000 Americans die annually because they don’t have health insurance, and that working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts.
That McConnell is responsible for delivering this statement is particularly damning. He’s the Senate Minority Leader, arguably the most powerful Republican in the land, and the guy who sets the Republican agenda.
Wallace went on to ask McConnell that since people in Massachusetts paid more than $20 million last year in tax-related penalties associated with Governor Romney’s plan, isn’t that a Romney tax on the middle class?
McConnell attempted to spin an answer out of this being a Massachusetts decision, and that every Democratic Senator voted for Obamacare; basically a bunch of nonsense.
Wallace cut him off saying, “but if I may sir, I mean you didn’t answer my direct question, if the Obama mandate is a tax on the middle class, isn’t the Romney mandate a tax on the middle class?”
You could see McConnell back away from the plate as that fastball came in high and tight, and he meekly implied that Gov. Romney should answer any questions about what was done in Massachusetts.
Wallace pressed forward – “if voters elect a Republican president and a Republican Senate, your top priority will be you say to repeal and replace Obamacare. I want to drill down into that with you. One of the keys to Obamacare is that it will extend insurance access to 30-million who are now uninsured. In your replacement how would you provide universal coverage?”
McConnell: “Well first let me say the single best thing we can do for the American health care system is to get rid of Obamacare…”
Wallace interrupts saying, “but if I may sir, you talk about repeal and replace, how would you provide universal coverage?”
McConnell shifts in his seat and laughs uncomfortably, replying, “I’ll get to it in a minute.”
He never does get to it.
“The first step we need to take is get rid of what’s there, this job killing proposal, that has all of these cuts to existing health care providers. Secondly we need to go step-by-step to replace it with more modest reforms. There will not be a 2,700 page Republican alternative. We will not take a meat ax to the American health care system. We will pull out a scalpel and go step-by-step and make the kind of more modest changes that would deal with the principal issue which is costs,” McConnell said.
Wallace dutifully redirected McConnell asking, “respectfully sir, we’re going to run out of time and I just want to ask what specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30-million people who are uninsured?”
A flustered McConnell replies, “that is not the issue. The question is how can u go step-by-step to improve the American health care system. It already is the finest health care system in the world.”
Actually that isn’t true. The U.S. health care system placed 37th out of 191 countries ranked by the World Health Organization, coming in behind Costa Rica and in front of Slovenia.
[See WHO Health Care Rankings]
Wallace redirects McConnell for a third time asking, “but you don’t think that 30-million people who are uninsured is an issue?”
“Let me tell you what we are not going to do. We’re not going to turn the American health care system into a Western European system,” McConnell replied.
Well of course we don’t want to model ourselves after a health care system that works considerably better than the American version – that would make too much sense.
Wallace then gets into how Obama’s plan guarantees coverage of those with pre-existing conditions, and asks how Republicans anticipate protecting those same high-risk people?
McConnell can only come back with some gibberish about high-risk pools established at the state level intended to address these people.
But we already know the insurance companies have rejected this idea. They refuse to take those people with pre-existing conditions unless they get the millions of people who would come under the individual mandate provision of President Obama’s plan as well.
According to a 2011 analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services, without Obama’s Affordable Care Act, up to 129-million non-elderly Americans will be at risk of losing health insurance or being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis or cancer.
McConnell then went on to reject the idea that anyone thinks the federal government could provide health care to 300-million Americans.
This is the problem with McConnell and his Republican colleagues, instead of embracing the challenge of insuring 300-million people, they take a glass half-empty approach and refuse to consider the possibility.
The only thing making this impossible is not trying.
The Republicans did introduce their own health care reform proposal, The Patients’ Choice Act of 2009, but this was seen as a colossal failure after being vetted by the Congressional Budget Office.
It ends tax breaks for employers who provide health coverage to workers, instead offering tax breaks to individuals. This would end up costing consumers and employers more money.
In total it’s estimated this plan might ensure an additional 3-million people by 2019, as opposed to the 30-million under Obama’s plan, and does nothing to enforce that insurers take the most at-risk individuals with pre-existing conditions.
This is the essence of the difference between voting for Obama or Romney.
Democrats may not have all the answers, but they are planning for the future and trying to do what is best for most Americans. They are not afraid to take a chance on making tomorrow better.
Whereas Romney has no defined political agenda other than to return things to the way they were under George W. Bush.
He would prefer to sell our tomorrow to make today better for the top one percent of Americans.
In the end, regardless of how the elections turn out, McConnell and his Republican cronies know they have their work cut out for them. There is no easy path to extricating the 2,700-page health care law.
“If you thought it was a good idea for the federal government to go in this direction, I’d say the odds are still on your side,” McConnell said. “Because it’s a lot harder to undo something than it is to stop it in the first place.”