I kept checking the web for updates on Sunday with morbid fascination on the budget impasse in Congress. As hard as it is for me to believe that Congress could not pass even a continuing resolution to fund the federal government, I wasn’t surprised.
Actually, I should be more specific. The Republicans in the House could not pass a continuing resolution. Their quest to destroy the Affordable Care Act (ACA) blinded them to their first priority, which is to govern. After attempting more than 40 times to destroy the ACA all unsuccessful, they should have passed a clean continuing resolution. Besides, they already got a lot of what they wanted because the continuing resolution would have kept federal funding at the level of the sequestration (another bone-headed action).
Already people have noted the GOP’s quest to end the ACA should have ended as the nation spoke first by enacting it, re-electing the president who made it happen, and having the Supreme Court rule that it was constitutional. If they still want to get rid of it, they can write legislation and win the Senate and the White House. Holding, however, a nation hostage is unconscionable.
I live in Massachusetts where the broad outlines of ACA have been in effect for years. It’s hardly perfect. Its start up had glitches. It really does not go far enough. But it does offer affordable health care to people who would otherwise not be covered. Furthermore, it is not the awfulness that its opponents keep citing. It is hardly socialized medicine. The government does not intrude into my medical care (which I find ironic in that many in the GOP would love to require vaginal probes be used on pregnant women).
I would be one of those who when surveyed would say I don’t like the ACA. I dislike it because it should have been a single-payer system without all the red tape that comes with a system with myriads of health insurance plans. However, the reality is that such a system could not be implemented in our current political climate.
As much as the GOP has been harping on its deficiencies, they have not offered any credible alternative to provide healthcare for tens of millions of people. The most constructive option I have heard from them are health savings accounts, which are great if you have enough income to set money aside. (And just to make setting aside money even more challenging, the GOP wants to cut SNAP, food assistance, benefits.)
As dramatic as people might claim the ACA to be, it is really only a tweak (albeit a big tweak) of our current system. Unlike Massachusetts which offers a government healthcare plan for those who cannot purchase a private insurance plan, ACA offers no such thing. Basically, ACA uses regulations to prod private insurers to offer affordable healthcare plans to people they might not otherwise insure. By getting everyone to carry health insurance, it expands and broadens the insurance pool to include very healthy people whose premiums help to keep premiums affordable for very sick people.
Seen this way, ACA creates a way for those who are strong (aka healthy) to take care of the weak (aka sick). It’s fundamental for healthy community. It is basically the gospel, which so many of the GOP who are opposed to ACA espouse.
I can’t help to think that this shutdown is ultimately selfish. Basically, several dozen legislators want to hold onto their jobs and avoid losing their seats in a primary to someone who might be even more conservative than they. Doing what is right would have meant sending a continuing resolution to the Senate without adorning it with priorities anathema to the Democrats. They didn’t. Instead, they chose to preserve their jobs while giving unwanted furloughs to 800,000 people, who will have to live without paychecks while having to meet their daily financial obligations.
Thinking about the gospel, true leadership is being a servant to all. That’s really hard. But the GOP members of the House aren’t even trying.