Mitch McConnell’s fraternity won’t cede power easily

Everybody seems to hate the Senate health care bill, which was created by 13 Republican men meeting behind closed doors.

Of course, a lot of you wouldn’t have been all that crazy about a bill brought to you by 12 Republican men and a woman. Perhaps you wouldn’t even have been satisfied if it were written by 13 Republican women senators, although we'll never know since there are only five of them.

The closed-door part of the story is outrageous, but American voters don’t really care a lot about the way legislation is created – if they like the result, you could say it was a miracle of immaculate conception and they’d be fine. Still, the fact that the Republican leadership didn’t even bother to toss a token female in their secret bill-writing group does tell you something about the insane level of indifference to women’s issues among the men who are currently running the show in Washington.

While Ivanka has been making mewling noises about working moms, the Trump White House has appointed people to major health care policy jobs who don’t appear to believe in contraception. And in the Senate, we now have a health care bill that would not only virtually ban insurance coverage of abortions; it would also allow states to drop mandatory coverage of maternity care.

Insurance is all about sharing risks. If people who didn’t require maternity coverage, i.e. men, were able to save money by forgoing it, the price for the women who did need it would skyrocket. This is a concept that seems to elude a lot of members of Congress. In a town-hall meeting this spring, Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, said his goal was to “get rid of some of these crazy regulations that Obamacare puts on, such as a 62-year-old male having to have pregnancy insurance.”

If this new thinking goes into law, it would be “a perfect storm of harm to women,” said Dana Singiser, of Planned Parenthood, who noted that the average pregnancy costs $30,000 in health care expenses while the average family makes $50,000 a year. Naturally, the Senate bill also bars federal funding for Planned Parenthood clinics.

The bill has a lot of problems that aren’t particularly related to gender. A low-income man who loses his health coverage isn’t going to be any better off than a low-income woman. And while there are a lot more elderly women in nursing homes than men, Medicaid cuts are going to affect them all.

“But women are generally the caregivers,” said Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which is appropriately known as HELP. If an elderly mother can’t get into a nursing home or a child with a disability can’t get Medicaid-funded school programs, she reasoned, it will be women who will most often have to stay home from work to take care of them. (Take that, Ivanka.)

People, do you think all this would have happened if there were women drafting the health care bill? Two of the Republican women in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, are longtime defenders of Planned Parenthood. Collins has been in office for 20 years and Murkowski 15. Both of them are on the committee that handles health bills. But neither of them was regarded as worthy to attend those secret meetings. Ted Cruz was invited. Ted Cruz who is still in his first term, who all the other Republicans loathe. Ted Cruz who, when the bill was finally made public, instantly announced it wasn’t conservative enough.

Everyone expects Cruz to eventually come around after he garners a sufficient pile of attention. When the Republican senators met for lunch this week, he passed around a list of changes that would put him on a “path to ‘yes.’” We can only imagine how thrilled his colleagues must have been to get the directives.

So that’s Ted Cruz. But Mitch McConnell is sensitive to his feelings about wanting to be in the room where it happens. While totally freezing out the women.

“I am not a reporter, and I am not a lobbyist, so I’ve seen nothing,” Murkowski said tartly. Perhaps somewhat overestimating the Republican leadership’s concern for reporters.

So what are we supposed to do about all this? Well, there’s always social media. And Murray has been urging people to write to their senators. This makes a lot of sense if you happen to live in, say, Arizona. It’s a little harder to see the point if you’re from Washington, where your senator is Patty Murray.

Murray, in a phone interview, argued that wherever they’re directed, protest calls help create a sense of national outcry, like the post-inauguration women’s marches. Senators might ignore it, she added, but they “certainly can’t say, ‘I never heard about it.’”

Although, of course, some of them could just go into a room with the other guys and close the door.