REMEMBER THE CAUSTIC CRITICISM Republicans used to level about the Affordable Care Act?
As a backdrop to the tax cut debate — and a barometer of hypocrisy — it’s as edifying as it is amusing. The GOP charge: The unpopular, opaque, barely understood legislation had been written behind closed doors and rammed down the nation’s throat with nary a Republican vote and with little or no input from the GOP.
The truth, of course, was quite different. Max Baucus, then the Senate Finance Committee chairman, held more than 30 bipartisan meetings on health care. The mark-up itself, the process by which the committee prepares the bill for floor debate, took about a month, during which more than 150 GOP amendments were adopted.
All told, the Senate held at least 16 ACA-related hearings, the House at least 20. So the GOP charges were just so much anti-ACA malarkey, cynical talking points designed to dupe low-information voters.
Now consider the tax cuts the Republican president and Congress are delivering to their monied supporters for Christmas. That legislation really was done in a rush, with a process so closed and secretive and with so little transparency, it would mortify any party that wasn’t already immune to shame.
Republicans objected that the Affordable Care Act passed the Senate with just Democrats’ votes. But there were 60 of them. And when Scott Brown unexpectedly won the Massachusetts Senate seat to replace Ted Kennedy, President Obama and the Democrats didn’t seriously consider finding a way to ram final passage of the ACA through in the time between Brown’s January 19 victory and his February 4 swearing in.
“We met every Tuesday in caucus,” said Paul Kirk, who held Kennedy’s former seat until Brown was sworn in. “I don’t recall any conversation about that.”
Now look at the Republican tax cut legislation. As they see it, it’s just fine to push this massive legislation through the Senate with only Republican votes, which at best number 52. And as for the idea of waiting until next year so that Doug Jones, the newly minted Democratic senator from Alabama, could have his say, the GOP dismissed that quaint notion out of hand.
Although Republicans regularly complained that the ACA wasn’t popular, it wasn’t hugely unpopular, either. Five of the last 10 surveys prior to its passage showed support and opposition within single digits of each other. That’s not the case with recent surveys about this tax cut turkey. Yes, you can find the occasional favorable poll, but most show the tax package decidedly under water.
The fact that the Republican-controlled Congress had no qualms about pushing ahead with it anyway says several disquieting things about the state of our democracy.
First, it’s more important for most Republican members to respond to the conservative primary electorate in their districts and to their donor class than to the opinion of mainstream America. That’s particularly true in the House; highly gerrymandered districts mean that incumbents worry less about being defeated in a general election for supporting the tax cut than facing a primary challenge for opposing it.
Second, though analysis after analysis has shown that the bill disproportionately benefits corporations and upper earners, even Senate Republicans aren’t worried about a backlash. Why? Well, economics is complicated, and with most people getting a tax break of some sort at least until the end of 2025, when the individual rate cuts are scheduled to expire, they will be able to fuzz up the dismal distributional facts.
Sadly, that’s the dreary course we’re now on. And it’s going to take at least two elections to change it.