Of all the crazy things that have happened in American politics over the past several years, the vote Thursday in the US House of Representatives may very well top them all.
House Republicans narrowly approved legislation that a) takes health care coverage away from as many as 24 million people b) is deeply unpopular and c) has little chance of ever becoming law. From a policy and political perspective, the situation is simply mind-boggling.
Amazingly, the Republican bill passed on Thursday is actually more awful than an earlier version of the legislation, which failed to get a vote in the House in March. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that legislation would have potentially stripped coverage from 24 million people — and had the support of 17 percent of voters.
Indeed, the only way for Republicans to get a bill passed in its caucus was by making it more restrictive, more punitive, and more cruel.
The new version of the bill, modified to pacify far-right conservatives, undermines one of the most popular aspects of Obamacare — regulations that prevent insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. It includes massive cuts in Medicaid spending and insurance subsidies for poor and middle-class Americans — and it gives a nearly trillion-dollar tax cut for the wealthiest Americans
While the legislation is devastating to the individual insurance market, it also takes aim at the employer-based health market by weakening protections that limit out-of-pocket costs for catastrophic illnesses.
So, for example, if just one state eliminated a cap on lifetime benefits, other states could follow suit, thus returning the health care system to a time when insurers could simply stop paying out benefits once a patient reached their limits.
Another provision would cut Medicaid benefits that help school systems across the country pay for special education services.
As if all of this isn’t bad enough, the sheer hypocrisy of the GOP’s tactics in passing this legislation is breathtaking. For years, Republican lawmakers dishonestly claimed that the Democrats rammed Obamacare through Congress will little public debate and no effort to reach across the aisle.
Republicans are pushing a bill that would affect the entire health care system in America and there have been no committee hearings, no CBO score, and no effort to entice Democrats to support it. In fact, the same party that regularly attacked Democrats for not having read the Obamacare bill has now approved legislation that many of its own members have not seen or read.
Republicans don’t know how many people will lose care and how much the bill will cost. The reason is clear: They don’t care and they don’t want the public to know. In the end, this is all about upholding their craven promises to repeal Obamacare, the impact on the nation’s health care system be damned.
Indeed, perhaps the craziest thing about this situation is that it even happened at all. It’s highly likely that this measure will be dead on arrival in the Senate — and speculation is rampant that House Republicans acted now simply to pass to Senate Republicans the blame for failing to repeal Obamacare.
But why GOP members would want to be on record supporting a bill that will take health insurance away from millions of Americans, devastate special education programs, and weaken provisions regarding pre-existing conditions is, to put it mildly, a head-scratcher.
Republicans can now say they’ve repealed Obamacare, but at an enormous political cost. This vote will embolden Democrats and give congressional candidates ready-made campaign ads to run against Republicans in 2018. Even GOP voters who say they want to repeal Obamacare are not likely to look kindly on a party that takes away their health care coverage.
It’s rare you see a political party openly commit political suicide, but that is what happened today.
But putting aside the politics for a moment, that so many Republicans were willing to vote “yay” on a bill that would harm millions of Americans (many of whom voted for them) tells you pretty much everything you ever need to know about the moral bankruptcy of the modern Republican Party. Truly, this is a dark day in American history.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71