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Monday, September 25, 2017


A faith not so deep and abiding

by Tom Sullivan

A mile wide and an inch deep. How many times have I written that phrase to describe our conservative opponents' commitment to their vaunted principles? Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, admitted to reporters his caucus wants to pass an Obamacare repeal this week — this particular unscored and hated Obamacare repeal — strictly to protect their political fortunes [timestamp 5:17]:

"I could maybe give you ten reasons why this bill shouldn't be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often, that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill."
Millions of Americans health? Collateral damage. Acceptable losses. Not as important as political careers.

Paul Waldman found as much days ago:
If you ask Republicans why exactly they support the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill that is their last chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they'll struggle to offer a specific reason. These are not, after all, a group of people who know much about health care or feel it necessary to understand what they're voting on. But after some casting about, they'll probably settle on the fact that the bill sends authority and money from the federal government down to the states, and doing so is always an unalloyed good.

"As a general rule the states do things better than the federal government does," says Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). "Our states — our 50 states — are very flexible, very innovative. Much more so than we are here," says Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). "It's about moving power to the states, where money can be spent much more effectively," says Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). "I like the idea of sending money back to the states and letting each state experiment with what's best for their citizens," says Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.).

This is a core part of contemporary Republican philosophy, that whenever possible we should devolve power away from out-of-touch bureaucrats in Washington and send it closer to the people, to those at the state and local level who understand their citizens and can craft the best solutions for them. You've probably heard this idea articulated so many times that you don't even question it. But there are two problems: There's no evidence it's true, and Republicans themselves don't even believe it.
It's like their standard stump speech line condemning "the failed policies of the past." It is cynically vague. They know listeners will fill in the blank themselves so they won't catch hell by naming government programs their audiences actually like and use. (I've heard Democrats use that line, but rarely.) Complaints of federal "waste, fraud, and abuse" serve the same function. Fill in in the blank yourself.

As for pushing the decisions back to the state level, national Republicans won't have to take the heat for draconian decisions made by their less circumspect compatriots in state legislatures.

Waldman continues:
If you listen closely, you'll notice that Republicans always express this belief that states work better than the federal government without getting specific. What you won't hear is anything resembling evidence that on the whole, states actually do things better. It isn't that you can't find innovative state programs or effective state administrators, because you can. But you can find those things on the federal level, too. And there is precisely zero reason to believe that as a group states are more efficient, spend money more wisely, design better programs, or serve citizens better than the federal government does. The next time somebody says that they do, ask them how they know. If they say "It just makes sense," that means they have no evidence.
Plus, Waldman observes, politicians convinced states are somehow more "innovative" and that the federal government is awash in waste, fraud, and abuse don't want to confront the fact that there is actually more corruption going on at the state level. He cites a few statistics just to drive home the point. Thus demonstrating that "government closest to the people" is stump-speech rhetoric not supported by reality. Nor by their own actions:
In the last few years, Republican-run states have been rushing to pass "pre-emption" laws that bar cities and towns from passing certain kinds of liberal measures, despite their alleged belief that the officials closest to the people know what's best for them. According to a recent report from the National League of Cities, 24 states have forbidden municipalities from raising their minimum wage, 17 won't allow measures on paid family leave, and 17 forbid municipalities from setting up their own broadband systems (a result of intense telecom company lobbying). Dozens of states pre-empt local gun laws — and Republicans hope to pass a federal law mandating "reciprocity," meaning that if you have a gun permit in any state you can bring your gun to any other state, which effectively robs each state of its ability to decide what kind of gun laws should prevail within its borders.

Perhaps the best recent example of GOP hypocrisy on the federalism question comes from Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who will be introducing an amendment to Graham-Cassidy to forbid states from setting up their own single-payer systems. Apparently, Republicans want states to experiment and innovate in health care — as long as it involves things like booting people off Medicaid and cutting back benefits. But if they start to get liberal ideas, then the heavy hand of the federal government is going to have to come down.
Speaking of ... come on down to the home of the bathroom bill repeal, you pikers, and let the NCGOP show you how it's done. From their perches in the state capitol, they'll preempt democracy, preempt equal treatment, preempt a living wage, preempt control of municipal infrastructure, etc. They'll even threaten to preempt your entire city. But it's the feral gummint that is oppressive, dontcha know?

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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.