The Smart Money: The train wreck that wasn't

Posted Tuesday, April 15, 2014 in Analysis

The Smart Money: The train wreck that wasn't

by Gina Hamilton

The Republicans in Congress just tried for the 52nd time to kill the Affordable Care Act. And, for the 52nd time, they failed. On the day of the 52nd attempt, the Department of Human Services announced that 7 million people had signed up, and another 3 million were covered by Medicaid.

Also on that day, Speaker John Boehner called the ACA a "train wreck".

One has to wonder if we are living in the same universe.  A private insurance scheme that insures seven million people while covering the health care needs of three million uninsured people under a public plan can't exactly be called a train wreck, unless by "train wreck" Boehner meant "surprising success".

The number of uninsured people fell, and today, the Congressional Budget Office came out with revised figures that the projected costs of the program would be $5 billion less than previously thought, and that in its first year, the program would cover 12 million uninsured Americans.

Train wreck, indeed.

It makes perfect sense now why Republicans tried so hard to keep the program from ever going into effect, to the extent that they shut down the government in the fall.  Fear of the program's success -- not its failure -- and the subsequent price to be paid in the fall elections, motivated Republicans.  And continues to motivate them. But as the program exceeded expectations, even in the face of a disastrous web-based sign-up system, and most people who are saying anything about it are saying that the program is saving them money over previous insurance plans, or that for the first time, they can afford insurance, unaffordable or unavailable in the past because of preexisting conditions.

Continuing to demonize a program that seems, by all accounts, to be going relatively smoothly probably isn’t a smart political strategy, either, but what else can they do? They don’t have much of a record to run on, otherwise, and the few things the majority party in the House did manage to do weren’t terribly popular — refusing to extend unemployment in the face of a continuing poor job market, while refusing to vote, even, on any jobs bill; voting on bill after bill that would reduce women’s access to birth control and other reproductive health care; preventing the Violence Against Women Act to come up for a vote; not passing a new Voting Rights Act.

Despite the rhetoric of “jobs, jobs, jobs”, this Congress has been particularly terrible at attracting, creating, or sustaining jobs. The economy may be improving, but it is doing so in spite of Congress, not with Congress’ full-throated support. Imagine how well it would be doing if Congress had actually tried ... well, anything ... to stimulate it?

One thing we know for sure is that health care will be a booming employment sector going forward.

To that extent, the ACA is a job stimulus law, in addition to the incidental health care benefits those who are on one of the ACA plans may accidentally experience.

Perhaps that’s why the Republicans think of it as a “train wreck.” It will be hard for them to prevail in the fall if more Americans are going to work, at good paying jobs, under a Democratic administration.

Republicans may want to find themselves another talking point, as public opinion of the landmark health care law continues to improve in recent polls. Those who disapprove of the law ... still a majority ... are split among those who want the law repealed and those who want a much more liberal option, such as universal Medicare.

In any case, this law isn’t going anywhere soon. Even if the Republicans were somehow to win back the Senate and retain the House — either scenario by no means certain — neither body would have the critical mass it would take to repeal the law in the face of a certain Obama veto. And the future is even more uncertain for Republican majorities as state after state across the south and west fade to purple with unhappy Latino and Asian voters, disaffected youth, angry women, and very bitter African Americans, to say nothing of the lost opportunity among gay and lesbian voters.

The GOP is becoming not only a very small tent, but one that’s moved so far off into the weeds that it is becoming invisible to the rest of the campground.

Among the people streaming out of the tent are people the GOP should be able to appeal to in fiscal terms — high level medical professionals who are at least in the right tax brackets — but they are increasingly seeing the party’s stances on health care as dangerous to something they hold at least equally dear.

That is, the public health.

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