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Thursday, June 29, 2017


Bad faith is policy

by Tom Sullivan

From health care to voting rights to economics, the narrative coming from conservatism's thought leaders as well as its political ones is professionally disingenuous. But in the faux politeness of the Beltway, rarely does the press call it out as such.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo this week observes how Republican goals rarely conform to their stated ones. Regarding health care, Marshall notes, the press fundamentally (or perhaps deliberately) misreads the intent of the Republican legislation. An exchange between CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash illustrates his point. Why can't the parties get together on this? Bash asks. Marshall responds:

When you try three times to ‘repeal and replace’ and each time you come up with something that takes away coverage from almost everyone who got it under Obamacare, that’s not an accident or a goof. That is what you’re trying to do. ‘Repeal and replace’ was a slogan that made up for simple ‘repeal’ not being acceptable to a lot of people. But in reality, it’s still repeal. Claw back the taxes, claw back the coverage.

Pretending that both parties just have very different approaches to solving a commonly agreed upon problem is really just a lie. It’s not true. One side is looking for ways to increase the number of people who have real health insurance and thus reasonable access to health care and the other is trying to get the government out of the health care provision business with the inevitable result that the opposite will be the case.
Insisting that the split between the parties on health care policy demonstrates a lack of bipartisanship misses the point.
If you had an old building and one group wanted to refurbish and preserve it and the other wanted to tear it down, it wouldn’t surprise you that the two groups couldn’t work together on a solution. It’s an either/or. You’re trying to do two fundamentally opposite things, diametrically opposed. There’s no basis for cooperation or compromise because the fundamental goal is different. This entire health care debate has essentially been the same. Only the coverage has rarely captured that. That’s a big failure. It also explains why people get confused and even fed up.
Or as Paul Waldman writes of the Republican effort, "[T]his is the party that wants to dismantle government, not figure out how to make it work better."

The sham politics of bad faith is now policy. Arguments from Republican leaders for any number of policies follow the same pattern. What I wrote here two years ago bears repeating:
My wife calls this having "a Republican argument." That is to say, a disingenuous one. It's where your opponent abandons rules of evidence and logic and instead argues by assertion or by exaggerated fear of what "might be" happening undetected.

It is to argue, for example, that eliminating public assistance to the rich through tax cuts, credits, and direct incentives (that fund their fifth home, new yacht, or airplane upgrade) will kill their incentive to work hard and "create jobs." But public assistance to the poor — you know, for food — eliminates their incentive to work.

It is to argue after every mass shooting that we need no new gun laws criminals will simply ignore; we just need to enforce laws already on the books. Except when it comes to voting restrictions, we need new laws on top of those they complain the state is already not enforcing.

It is people arguing that we need to restore public confidence in the election system after they've spent decades trying to undermine it to build public support for restoring Jim Crow.
Lacking evidence of widespread fraud in elections, conservative groups have begun assembling databases of election irregularities to support their case for photo ID laws. The Heritage Foundation has one. But a review reveals that of the 500 cases collected dating back over two decades, only seven involve voter impersonation that might be caught by requiring photo IDs. One of those seven was a voter impersonating another registrant to prove it could be done. Another of the seven involved election judges falsifying the ledger. IDs would not have stopped crooked election judges.

The point of assembling such databases is always the same: to promote the idea the problem is widespread and to build public support for a solution to a virtually nonexistent problem. In the name of "election integrity," Republican legislatures have erected barriers to voting that "with surgical precision" fall hardest on groups least likely to vote for Republicans. As Marshall says, "that’s not an accident or a goof. That is what you’re trying to do."

Tort reform is another Republican enthusiasm that pops up from time to time. Like now. Invariably, the sales pitch is that capping medical malpractice awards will "discourage frivolous lawsuits and reduce the cost of health care." Currently, research shows medical liability makes up 2 to 2.5 percent of health costs. It was under 2 percent in 2005 when President Bush floated the idea of getting hospitals to switch to all-electronic records in a speech at the Cleveland Clinic. It might reduce health care costs by as much as 20 percent as well as save lives. But the effort to save lives and taxpayers money might cost millions. Bush's colleagues preferred then, as they do now, to focus on the 2 percent solution.

Privatization transfers publicly owned assets to private investors. We the People incur the capital costs; investors reap the profits only available by taking ownership from us. Public-private partnerships promise to save the public tax money up front for new capital projects, but only by charging people in near perpetuity for using the roads/bridges/etc. The promise is always that these schemes will reduce taxpayers' costs (lower taxes are always implied) but forever seem to cost us more out of pocket.

It is almost as if saving us money, strengthening our democracy, and making us healthier are not the real goals.

The health care bill now on hold in the Senate looks to turn Medicaid into block grants and capping its growth. Speaker Paul Ryan, as we know, has been dreaming about "sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate" since he was in college and "drinking out of a keg." Making Americans healthier doesn't really seem to be the driver here any more than saving taxpayers money or boosting election integrity.

If block grants and privatization are such terrific, fiscally conservative ideas, why not auction off a few of our nearly 900 overseas military bases, convert the Pentagon into time shares and condos, and send the defense budget back to the states while capping its growth?