Sunday, December 23, 2012

Callousness on parade in Republican health care politics – How Mitch McConnell gave the game away

In my post on Bobby Jindal's Christmas Spirit earlier today, I quoted from a piece by Josh Barro in which he advised well-meaning conservative pundits and  policy intellectuals who would like to believe that there is a serious Republican alternative to Obamacare that they should avoid wishful thinking and face reality.
The alternative to PPACA is nothing. Mitch McConnell’s comments last weekend were instructive -- Republicans in Congress have no meaningful plan to replace Obamacare and think that 30 million uninsured Americans is “not the issue.”
The incident with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to which Barro referred was, indeed, an especially illuminating moment of revelation. So it's worth revisiting.

It occurred on July 1 of this year during a TV exchange between McConnell and Chris Wallace of Fox News (no less). McConnell was in the midst of bashing Obamacare and explaining how the Republicans could use various procedural maneuvers to repeal it after their expected victory in November. Wallace, who is less of a hack than most Fox staffers and even acts like a real journalist on occasion, put the following question to McConnell:
One of the keys to Obamacare is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage?
McConnell, who obviously had not given this matter much thought, evaded the question and instead tried to run out the clock by repeating the standard Republican talking-points attacking Obamacare.  But Wallace, surprisingly enough, didn't let him get away with it.  He repeatedly broke into McConnell's filibuster to request that McConnell answer his question. Finally, as time was running out, Wallace put it to him straight, provoking the following exchange:

Wallace:  “But respectfully, sir .... I just want to ask what specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?”

McConnell:  "That is not the issue."

Wallace:  “You don’t think 30 million people uninsured is an issue?”

What's interesting about this exchange is not just that McConnell made it abundantly clear, to anyone who was still wondering, that he doesn't give a damn about the 30 million Americans without health insurance.  What's even more striking, in a way, is that he hadn't even bothered to come up with a ready-made formulaic response that would allow him to pretend that he gives a damn.  For McConnell and the people he's used to dealing with, no, it's not an issue that deserves attention.

Republican politicians sometimes claim that they don't simply want to throw people without decent health coverage to the wolves, but instead have a better plan to take care of them.  As one of their slogans goes, they won't simply dismantle the health care reform passed in 2009, but will "repeal and replace" Obamacare.  Well, replace it with what?  In reality, not only do they not have a serious alternative in mind, but in most cases they barely pretend to have a serious alternative. Nevertheless, this propaganda does manage to fool some people who are determined to be gullible.  So we can be grateful to McConnell for cutting through that bullshit, however inadvertently.

You can watch a video clip of the exchange below.

—Jeff Weintraub