Pretend you are that most improbable of combinations – a lovable billionaire. In other words, you’re Warren Buffett. The politicians who worship guys like you have another treat in store: They will cut your most recent tax bill by $679,999, making you even wealthier.
But it comes with a price. A fellow American of a certain age making $56,000 a year would have to pay three times more in annual health care premiums – $20,500 – to help finance your windfall. You don’t need the money. Cripes, you’re worth $76 billion! But that other citizen can’t live without health care.
Such is the bargain – your health care for my tax cut – that Republicans have proposed with their overhaul of the Affordable Care Act. The toxic Senate bill does nothing to fix a struggling system. But it is bold and quite daring: for this is the broadest attack on working Americans by a governing political party in our lifetime.
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No surprise, the real Warren Buffett wants nothing to do with it. He calls it, the “Relief for the Rich Act.” Another eminently sensible Midwesterner, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, is equally perplexed. Why take away vital services for the struggling middle class, the mentally ill, the poor and the elderly to give more money to people who don’t need it?
“And they think that’s great?” Kasich, a Republican, said. “That’s good public policy? What, are you kidding me?”
Lost in the usual banality of the Beltway box score this week are the moral dimensions of the plot to gut health care. The reprieve on a Senate vote, until after the July 4 recess, is momentary. Still, it gives people just enough time to consider the audacity of meanness behind what Republicans are trying to do.
There is blood on this tax cut. It’s a simple swap – taking away $700 billion from one class of people to give it to another. That swap would leave 22 million Americans without health care over the next decade, and many of them will die prematurely because they will not see a doctor in time. In turn, those making $875,000 a year would get an average tax cut of about $45,000. Those making $5 million a year would get a break of $250,000.
Americans don’t like talk of class warfare; it reminds us of those dreary, failed Marxists who seldom practice what they preach. But there’s no other way to look at this. Right now, a 64-year-old making $55,000 can afford to get health care, thanks to Obamacare subsidies.
But how is that person supposed to pay nearly half of his or her income in premiums, as Republicans propose? The bill would also allow states to eliminate minimum standards of health care. And the worst blow would fall on Medicaid, which one in five Americans depends on.
Think of it this way: Your car breaks down. You need it to get to work. Indeed, your livelihood depends on it. You call the Republicans. They scrap the car for cash and leave you on the road.
All for a tax cut. Not a tax cut on wages, which would actually help most Americans. But a cut of taxes that are painless to the small percentage of people who have to pay them – a 0.9 percent Medicare surtax, and 3.8 percent tax on net invested income for couples earning more than $250,000 a year.
And it’s not as if there’s been a great hue and cry to repeal those tax increases. “My wealthy clients barely noticed the taxes resulting from the Affordable Care Act and have not needed to make lifestyle adjustments,” wrote the Forbes contributor Carolyn McClanahan, a financial planner.
I bet if you asked rich people if they wanted to cut off health care for millions of their fellow citizens in exchange for a bit more money at the end of the year, most of them would say no, that’s crazy. Taxes don’t register among the top concerns of people, in poll after poll.
Why such a cruel bill, then? You can start at the top, with a petty, soulless president who showed with a tweet insulting a woman’s appearance this week that he has no more empathy than a sociopath. Nor does he have a clue about what Congress has been up to.
“We’re talking about a great, great form of health care,” President Donald Trump said at midweek, with all the conviction of someone peddling the fraud of Trump University.
And you have a Congress that was largely paid for by influential groups for whom tax cuts are the only reason to get out of bed in the morning. Still, we have a moment of rare consensus in this country: An overwhelming majority hates the Republican overhaul. No state in the union has voiced majority support.
Where to start? Congress could begin by following the American Medical Association. They see the Republican plan as a violation of an ancient oath that the best doctors still swear by – first, do no harm.