It is said that compromise is the cornerstone of democracy. If that is indeed the case, American democracy is seriously faltering. The increasing hyper-partisanship and petty politicking coming out of Washington D.C. has effectively undermined the legislative process and ability of both parties to come together in the interest of the people they claim to represent.
The GOP Senate health care bill is an example of how the American people pay the price for the degrading of our political institutions. Crafted in secret without any hearings or input from Democratic legislators, the Senate bill would take health care away from 22 million Americans and would result in higher costs for health care for those left with health insurance. Breaking with a recurring campaign promise by Donald Trump, the Senate bill would actually expand cuts to Medicaid already proposed by the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA).
Of course none of the money taken from the cuts to Medicaid and financial assistance programs that aim to make health insurance affordable would end up being spent to help low or middle-income Americans. The Senate bill's proposed tax cuts are similar to the House version in that they would steal from the poor to give to the rich. The Senate bill would create more than $600 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans over the next ten years. These tax cuts for the wealthy are so egregious that the richest 0.1% would benefit from a tax cut of around $200,000 a year.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to rush the process and have the Senate vote on the bill this week, but only to be stymied by members of his own party with clearly more sense. So far McConnell met resistance from at least five Republican senators and several healthcare advocacy groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and AARP.
It's not difficult to see why some Republican legislators would be hesitant to vote for this bill. Its draconian proposals have led even Trump to describe its sister bill in the House as “mean.” The Senate and House bills eliminates the requirement that people be insured, creating the incentive for people to avoid coverage until they are sick and they need it. With less people buying insurance in the market, this will inevitably lead to less choices and higher premiums.
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, an estimated twenty more million people can see doctors, receive medicine and get the medical treatment they need. The national uninsured rate fell to a record low. The GOP now seeks to turn back the clock on those gains, all to redistribute capital to the wealthiest Americans in the form of tax cuts. The Democratic Party should not only use this moment to fight against healthcare repeal, but also to present their vision of what healthcare can look like in America.
Americans who can't afford healthcare coverage have to live with the anxiety that any illness or accident can result in a lifetime of hospital bills. Republicans often talk about the idea of “freedom,” but are Americans truly free when a majority cannot afford to see a doctor or pay for medicine. This is the impact when our political institutions collapse. We get a lot of rhetoric and no action to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Thomas Kennedy is a writing fellow with the Center for Community Change.