The Republicans' Cynical, Two-Year Plan to Gut Obamacare Has Begun

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The Republicans' Cynical, Two-Year Plan to Gut Obamacare Has Begun

After almost a decade of “repeal and replace,” it appears the GOP’s grand scheme to deal with the Affordable Care Act may be in trouble. The Senate defunded the act last night but House Republicans are wary of repealing without replacement—Speaker Paul Ryan may not have the votes. The only way forward is to kick the can down the road for another two years and rely on the Democrats to help them replace the law in advance of the midterm elections. It will probably work, if The New York Times’s reporting from December on GOP messaging is any indication.

One of the factors in Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in November was a drastic increase in premiums under the health care law for Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. All three states went to Trump. The Democrats have lost this argument; their warmed over right wing policy for health care was a disaster. It’s clear the American people want a universal system, now more than ever, and equally clear that the party to the left of the extreme right is incapable of delivering it.

The Republicans aren’t interested in providing the American people with a universal system. Instead, they’re going to destroy the mild health care reforms introduced by the Obama administration and then offload the blame to the Democrats when the whole thing comes crashing down. The GOP has even begun their deceptive messaging, helped along by the compliant DC press.

Last month, The New York Times rolled out an article on the GOP’s plans to kill the Affordable Care Act—and used the political party’s focus-group-tested language about the effort instead of reporting the news.

The article in question was entitled, “G.O.P. Plans to Replace Health Care Law With ‘Universal Access’.” Yet a closer reading of the article shows that, no, “universal access” is not at all what the GOP plan to offer. The plan they describe in the piece, inasmuch as they have one now that they are actually going to be in the position to repeal the law, is vague.

The term “universal access” comes up a grand total of once from sources in the article, in the words of an unnamed aide. It’s a clever rhetorical flourish, and likely indicates the path forward for the GOP, spinwise. On the one hand, they’ll repeal the ACA because they promised to. Once that dries up the market for affordable health care, well, if you don’t buy or find coverage, that’s your choice.

The political strategy shows up later in the article.

The aide declined on Thursday to say if Republicans would seek an immediate halt to the cost-sharing subsidy payments. He did not rule out the possibility that a Republican-controlled Congress might keep the money flowing for a transition period, to stabilize the market while Republicans develop alternatives to the health law.

One might look at that and think that the Republicans aren’t quite sure what to do with the law, so they’re delaying the real world effects of its repeal until they know what to replace it with while taking the victory of nominally destroying it. One would be wrong, and reporting to that effect from the Times by this article’s authors themselves from only two weeks before “universal access” article proves it.

Let’s turn back time all the way to Dec. 2. On that day, reporters Thomas Pear and Thomas Kaplan, who wrote the piece from the 15th, penned an article alongside Jennifer Steinhauer entitled, “G.O.P. Plans Immediate Repeal of Health Law, Then a Delay.

In that article, the three reporters accurately note the GOP’s real plan: repeal the law and set it as a time bomb to go off right before the midterms. That in turn will allow the GOP to claim they have not only “repealed” the unpopular law, but also “replaced” it.

They aim to do this with the help of pliant Democrats. From the article:

Republicans are hoping that Mr. Trump will be able to use his bully pulpit to lean on vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in states Mr. Trump won, such as Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana.

“When that date came and you did nothing, if you want to play politics, I think the blame would go to people who didn’t want to do anything,” Mr. McCarthy said.

It’s hard to overstate just how cynical of a political ploy this is. In effect, what the GOP leadership is calling for is to destroy the law for a cheap victory. They’ll then use the debate over the replacement to dominate the next two years of news cycle. Thus, everything Trump does will be ignored, and the onus for fixing the health care debacle will, once again, be on the Democrats

We all knew the GOP would push toxic, unpopular legislation once they had all three branches of government. Messaging is an important part of making sure that agenda meets the least resistance possible—and the media need to be more than stenographers for the radical right’s agenda. It’s been an inauspicious start for the Times, however, in addressing the spin and calling things what they are.

You can reach Eoin Higgins on Facebook and Twitter.

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