It’s time to put an end to the myth that Republicans believe in fiscal responsibility. Saving taxpayer dollars takes a back seat to the ideological imperative of blaming and shaming the poor.
Witness the GOP’s long-awaited plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. House committees are moving forward on the legislation before the Congressional Budget Office has even had a chance to estimate how much the measure will cost. Why the rush? Because if the plan doesn’t snatch away health insurance coverage from millions of people – and both President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan swear it won’t – then it’s surely going to cost a ton.
The Republican plan would take away the ACA’s subsidies and replace them with refundable tax credits based solely on age for incomes up to $75,000 for an individual and $150,000 for a married couple. This means a windfall for those who are older and well-to-do. In essence, the plan would expand government assistance to encompass many who don’t really need it – in order to avoid targeting help toward those who do.
The GOP plan would also eliminate the ACA’s penalty fee for not having health insurance, which goes into the public till – and replace it with a different penalty fee that goes to the insurance companies. Apparently Republicans have no problem committing what they once called “extortion” if the benefit goes to private companies, not the common good.
Keep in mind that Trump and GOP leaders in Congress promise that after dealing with health care they will seek huge tax cuts, including for the wealthy. As fiscal policy, how does this make sense?
It doesn’t. It only makes sense as ideology. In today’s Republican Party, policies have to satisfy the belief that the less fortunate are poor by choice.
Rarely do Republicans just come out and accuse the poor of being lazy freeloaders, but Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, came close. He suggested that “rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
The priciest iPhone advertised on Apple’s website is a 7 Plus model with 256 gigabytes of storage and all the bells and whistles. It costs $969. If Chaffetz will cancel his health insurance plan, I will write him a check for that amount – and wish him the best of luck providing health care for his family. Maybe he'll be able to pay for a single visit to the emergency room.
It would be one thing if the GOP’s mean-spirited ideology actually saved money, but it doesn’t. Quite the contrary, in fact.
When you ask Republicans what they’re going to cut, they mention foreign aid – which totals about $35 billion, or slightly less than 1 percent of federal spending. They threaten to eviscerate smaller agencies by cutting $6 billion here or $8 billion there – but at the same time, they applaud Trump’s pledge to increase the $600 billion defense budget by an incredible 10 percent.
They’re going to end up spending more – perhaps lots more – and collecting less in tax revenue. And this is the party that claims to care about deficits and debt?
But wait, Republicans say, we’re going to “save” the big entitlement programs by trimming benefits. Yeah, sure. I’m not holding my breath. The problem is that Medicare and Social Security serve middle-class and upper-crust taxpayers, including many who share the GOP’s punish-the-poor belief system. If you think these ACA-focused town halls are hostile, just you wait.
The fact is that among recent administrations, at least, Democratic presidents have been the relative skinflints. Bill Clinton, you will recall, actually balanced the budget – and yes, he had help from Republicans in Congress. Barack Obama spent heavily at first to save the economy, which was teetering on the edge of a dreadful abyss, but he ended up slashing the deficit in half and presiding over years of uninterrupted economic growth.
George W. Bush, on the other hand, fought hugely expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without accounting for them in his budgets. He also convinced Congress to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs, which was compassionate but costly.
Trump promises to be even more of a big spender. Among other things, he promises a trillion-dollar program to renew the nation’s infrastructure. Imagine the Republican howling if Obama had suggested such a thing.
The GOP will surely persist in its sanctimony about balanced budgets, but no one should pay any attention. Republicans, we see what you’re doing.
Eugene Robinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.