American politicians are supposed to pander. The whole point of our legislative branch is to select officials who will represent what their constituents want in the halls of Congress. Why, then, is Congress rushing to pass a bill that only 17 percent of people think is a good idea?
That’s the level of support for the House Republican health care bill, according to a survey by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, which found only 34% of Republican respondents supporting the measure. What’s going on here?
Part of the problem may just be delayed response. Until recently, a majority of Americans disapproved of the Affordable Care Act, so it was understandable that Republican legislators might think that repealing it would be popular. After all, House Republicans had voted at least 54 times to repeal the law back when Obama was president and they had not suffered an electoral price.
Health care costs have been going up for years, so when they continued to go up (albeit at a lower rate) under the Affordable Care Act, people naturally weren’t excited about it. But, as analysis of the GOP health care repeal began to demonstrate it would both increase costs and throw millions of people off insurance altogether, it suddenly looked a lot less popular.
But politicians like Senator Mitch McConnell are experts at reading polls. It would have been a relatively simple matter for McConnell to study the House’s health care bill for months, or push a version through the Senate that would have no chance of passing the House while still giving the appearance of Republican support for the President. Instead, McConnell seems to be going to great lengths to actually pass a bill that will be widely hated with voters.
I can think of three possible reasons why McConnell would work so hard to do something so unpopular.
The first would be that congressional Republicans are afraid of Donald Trump, who threatened primary campaigns against House tea party members that opposed his repeal. But if this were the case, McConnell would be waiting to move the bill until Trump gets weaker due to the Russia scandal and daily missteps, or passing a phony bill he knows will never become law. McConnell is instead acting like a man who wants to repeal Obamacare in-spite of Trump current liabilities, not because of Trump who is quite helpfully providing a huge distraction from what is going on in Congress.
A second possible reason for McConnell’s determination would be lingering hatred of anything associated with President Obama. Call it racism, jealousy, or just plain pettiness, but McConnell does have a track record of trying to stop any idea simply because it was associated with Barack Obama. While I don’t discount these as reasons, I doubt that Mitch McConnell would risk control of Congress just to settle an old score.
My guess is that the real reason is money. Lots and lots of money. The thirteen Senators who drafted McConnell’s bill to repeal health care coverage received an average of $214,000 from health insurance and pharmaceutical industries over the past six years, and that’s not counting the campaign funds from all the other interests who will benefit from the tax cuts in the bill or the Super PAC spending that the Koch Brothers and other billionaires will provide to any GOP incumbent who is criticized for taking away people’s health care. McConnell himself snubbed a meeting with a patient group so he could attend a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
McConnell is betting that he can use the money he’ll get from corporate CEO’s to pass the health care bill to fund propaganda campaign ads that will make people forget about the disastrous health care repeal and focus instead on issues that divide us as a country. It’s a bet that has paid off for McConnell for most of his career, siding with wealthy donors over the concerns of ordinary Americans. Until we find a way to change his calculus, our unhealthy democracy will continue to cripple our health care system.