The Undo Everything Congress Begins With Health Care

Terrance Heath

Did you think that, having regained control of the House, the GOP will stop being the "party of No" and start governing, or at least doing something about the challenges facing the country? Think again.

The 112th Congress will not be the "Do Something" Congress that the 111th was. It would be a relief if this turned out to be the "Do Nothing" Congress that the new House "one-week-off-for-every-two-weeks-worked" schedule suggests. Instead, it’s already shaping up to be the "Undo Everything" Congress, working hard to rewind the clock to 2008 or earlier.

Topping the GOP’s "undo list" — right after investigating the New Black Panther Party and asking business which reforms to repeal — is health care reform.

When it comes to health care reform, the "Undo Everything" Congress is still the "Party of No," or — to borrow from John "It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To" Boehner — the party of "Hell no you can’t!" The problem is, the GOP is hell-bent on saying "no" to the very reforms to which Americans keep saying "yes."

Last November, as the midterm election loomed, I pointed out that most Americans support the components of health care reform.

Americans across the political spectrum have consistently supported health care reform. The majority of Americans want to see health care reform expanded, and oppose any attempt to repeal it. Whatever their political stripe, all Americans can identify with the having a loved one in need of urgent medical care, or needing care themselves, and understand being afraid of losing coverage and with it access to care.

  • Since its passage, health care reform has grown more popular, while opposition has declined. A Kaiser family poll in June 2010 found that 48% of American had a favorable opinion of health care reform, while 41 had an unfavorable opinion — a increase from 41% favorable to 44% unfavorable a month earlier.
     
  • Americans who think health care reform should go further outnumber opponents 2 to 1. A September 2010 AP poll found that 75% of American still want substantial change in the country’s health care system, while only 25% believe little needs to be done.
  • A large majority of Americans oppose repealing health care reform. A July 2010 poll by Bloomberg news found that a full 61% of Americans opposed repealing health care reform, while just 37% support repeal.

Health care reform is already beginning to remove those fears from the lives of millions of Americans, and replace it with and assurance that they and their families will have access to quality, affordable care that can not be taken away from them or denied to them when they need it most.

At the time, a number of health care reform’s benefits had already taken effect. Now, even as more benefits take effect, the GOP has put repealing health care reform on the House calendar at the top of their list of priorities.

Again, the GOP is saying "no" to health care reforms the majority of Americans support. When it comes to health care reform, Americans aren’t just saying "Yes." They’re saying, "More!" For all their "repeal and replace" rhetoric, the GOP’s ideas on health care reform amount to either (a) returning to the status quo by taking away health care reform’s benefits, or (b) returning to the status quo and making it worse by giving insurance companies free rein.

When conservatives say, "The people have spoken," as they were fond of doing after the midterms, it’s important to ask — especially regarding health care reform — "Which people?" In this case, the answer is easy: "Money talks." Insurance industry money, to be specific. The "people" who spoke, and speak, the loudest in this case are the ones who write the biggest checks to congressional campaigns, and funnel their huge profits into pseudo-populist, Astroturf "movements."

Now, there’s a convincing case to be made that the GOP’s push to repeal health care reform is either a meaningless sop to the Tea Party base, or an empty exercise in windmill-jousting that will end up harming the party more than helping it. Yet, it would be a mistake to take these efforts as anything less than a serious threat.

There’s the threat (however remote) that a successful repeal would strip millions of Americans of the health care reform benefits they’ve only just begun to experience and deny millions of Americans access to coverage the status quo failed to provide. The more likely threat is that obstructing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will slow or even halt the implementation of components that promise to have a powerful, positive impact in the lives of millions of Americans, and delay progressive efforts to expand health care reform — something a majority of Americans want.

The success of health care reform is something conservatives must and will fight as if their political survival depends upon it — because it does.

The Right has always understood how high the American view of the role of government would be lifted if people came to rely on government for something as essential to a person’s well-being as health care. This year, the animus that the Right maintains toward the New Deal and Great Society programs and philosophy — Social Security, Medicare, the constitution allowing the federal public to regulate commerce — has become visible in the Tea Party movement. The last thing that the corporate and ideological Right want is for health care to be a new pillar added to the foundation of government social insurance.

While Republicans are wrong to call the Affordable Care Act a government takeover of health care, they understand more than many critics on the Left that the new law does profoundly change the relationship between Americans and the government and health care. The heart of the law is a government promise that health coverage will be affordable to almost all Americans, through expanding Medicaid to the poor, providing subsidies for private insurance to working and middle class families, or placing responsibility on medium and large employers to help pay for coverage for their employees. If the ACA is fully implemented, Americans will come to see they will no longer have to worry about going bankrupt, or being locked into a job, or going untreated for serious illness. And they will see that government, and Democrats, did that.

Therein lies the impetus for the party’s seemingly quixotic quest to repeal health care reform and replace it with a status quo that left millions of Americans uninsured and vulnerable to medical bankruptcy, recissions, denials of coverage due to preexisting conditions,and other horrors.

Prior to reform, conservatives constantly asserted America had the "best health care system" in the world — not in spite of obvious evidence to the contrary, but because to them the "best health care system in the world" has less to do with providing more people with access to coverage and care, or protecting consumers from the worst practices of the health insurance industry, than with maintaining a status quo that largely benefits the "right people."

It comes down to a choice between two philosophies of government, and which set of values will shape America’s future. Will we re-embrace the notion of a common good (or "general welfare," as mentioned in the preamble of the constitution the GOP majority ironically insisted be read at the opening of the legislative session), or abandon both in favor of the right’s "You’re On Your Own," every-one-for-themselves, call to return or revert or resort to a "state of nature" in all its "nasty, brutish, and short," glory.

America is still in the process of making that choice. And every reform that promises relief from the fear and insecurity Americans feel regarding health care — and the increasing difficulty of meeting their own and their families’ basic needs — threatens conservatives and conservatism because offer no alternatives that offer the same results. Their political philosophy doesn’t allow them to.

However productive the previous Congress was, none of the reforms it passed are "done deals,"  and they won’t be "done" without progressives working to strengthen and expand them to benefit all Americans. If we are successful, conservatives will have either have to produce policy that leads to the same outcome, while also adhering to their political philosophy, or face the reality of political irrelevance. 

If conservatives can successfully halt, hinder or "repeal" health care reform, they will cite it as proof that "government can’t do anything," and their belief that "government shouldn’t do anything" will exempt them from offering solutions or "doing something" — like governing. Government will stand by and "do nothing" as more Americans caught in the economic crisis slide further into unemployment, poverty, deprivation and desperation. Governing will be a lot like standing by and watching a train wreck, from a safe distance. Conservatives, who believe that government shouldn’t help, will make sure it doesn’t help, and cite such as evidence that government can’t help. 

It’s possible that many more Americans, under those conditions, will believe it. Government will be "the government" — serving the powerful, and remaining removed from and unmoved by the plight of many Americans. For those Americans, the possibility of government as "our government" — "of the people, by the people, for the people" — whose purpose is "to protect them and to promote their common welfare," to do "some things we can’t do on our own" and "some things we do better together," could face. No entity capable of addressing the size and scope of the crises Americans face, and driven by any interests other than private profit, will likely rise to fill the void.

That’s why the "Undo Everything" Congress, led by the GOP majority in the House, is intent on undoing them — starting with health care. It is the beginning of what will ultimately be the undoing of America, its possibilities and its promise.

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