For Republicans in Washington, D.C., Monday began with theft and ended with theft. OK, maybe it's more of a "misdemeanor" than a "high crime" when the president of the United States steals words -- but there was something a little jarring about the way that the Trump White House issued a press release praising Gulf Coast job creation by the world's richest oil company, ExxonMobil, and just plagiarized entire paragraphs and sentences from a corporate press release.
This was beyond the old days of what's good for General Motors is good for America -- the clear implication of the release (followed by the obligatory presidential tweet) is that ExxonMobil essentially IS America in Donald Trump's brave new world. There was something rather (stop me if I've used this word too much since January 20) Orwellian about the whole enterprise: ExxonMobil's new CEO (the old one is Trump's secretary of state, lest you've forgotten) said, "The energy industry has proven it can operate safely and responsibly," so I guess that whole Deepwater Horizon thing has been tossed down the memory hole. And the puffery about new jobs actually dates back to 2013, when Barack Obama was in the White House. None of that, of course, was the point of the press release. The point was to further numb your mind against even remotely questioning Big Brother's doctrine that the business of America is Big Business...and the billionaires who own it.
Indeed, the whole weird ExxonMobil exercise was a kind of foreplay for the GOP's big Monday climax -- its long-awaited (as in, 7 years) plan to repeal and then replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. There's a lot going on with this bill, and even supporters of the measure on Capitol Hill and in the Trump administration are struggling to explain just who was clamoring for this to even happen, and why. Trump's press secretary told Tuesday's briefing that the bill -- with the instantly forgettable name of the American Health Care Act -- has got to be better than Obamacare because it's so much shorter, just 66 pages. It had to the first time that anyone connected with Trump has praised something for being too short.
The irony is that the "American Health Care Act" does nothing to improve health care, and it will certainly make things worse for the millions of working-class Americans who will lose their insurance coverage during the rollout of this plan if and when it becomes law. The main, measurable thing that the GOP Obamacare replacement bill accomplishes is something that conservatives are supposed to loathe: A massive redistribution of wealth.
Upward, of course. Because apparently the upper income brackets have not been doing well enough these last 35 years.
"In general, it's not clear what problems this particular bill would actually solve," write Peter Suderman at the libertarian website Reason. Nor is it clear how much the AHCA will cost, or who will lose his or her insurance. That explains why the GOP leadership in both the House and the Senate have a scheme to rush this bill through without debate or routine markups, making a mockery of Republicans' frequent complaints that Obamacare (which was debated extensively for nearly a year) had no transparency.
But we know broadly that working-class Americans -- including Trump's critical bloc of blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt and Appalachia -- are the ones who'll suffer the most as Medicaid funding is eventually slashed. The winners include the big insurance companies (who are essentially "the house" when it comes to health care reform...they always win) and billionaire and multi-millionaire taxpayers.
The problems that the AHCA will solve are the problems of the hedge fund managers who drink $350 bottles of wine with House Speaker Paul Ryan or "vulture-fund" billionaire Paul Singer, the chief fundraiser for Republicans on Capitol Hill. While stripping so many Americans of the ability to easily see a doctor, the GOP bill doles out some $600 billion in tax cuts, and the bulk of these -- informally estimated at close to $250 billion -- will flow to people in or around the top 1 Percent, the wealthiest of the wealthy.
The non-partisan Committee on Taxation found that the biggest tax cut in the so-called "health care" bill is the repeal of a 3.8 percent tax on investment income in the upper wealth bracket. The measure would give America's long-suffering rich people a whopping $158 billion over 10 years, with 90 percent of that going to the top 1 Percent -- people making over $700,000 a year.
Likewise, the Obamacare repeal measure would end the 0.9 percent tax on families making more than $250,000 (or individuals making more than $200,000), which would net the rich, or the well-off, another $117 billion over that same decade. Oh, and just for the heck of it, the Republicans want to make it easier for health care companies to pay their CEOs more than $500,000 a year. Somewhere in Nottingham Forest, Robin Hood is spinning in his grave.
The crazy part is that in pushing their redistribution scheme, the GOP didn't even think twice about chucking its most successful argument against Obamacare, that the government mandate to buy health insurance is an assault on your freedom. Under the AHCA, people with a gap in their insurance coverage are forced to pay a sizable 30 percent penalty if and when they return to the fold, but the money goes not to the government but to the insurance companies whose lobbyists helped draft the bill. I guess freedom's just another word for enriching Aetna and UnitedHealth.
Can they get away with this heist? On Tuesday, Republicans were quick to pull out their class-warfare playbook from the 1980s, with Utah GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz saying that lower-income Americans can still purchase health care but it might now mean not "getting that new iPhone that they just love." Because poor people with iPhones are the 21st Century's Cadillac-driving "welfare queens, right? Anything to distract from the reality that some laid-off factory worker won't get the MRI to detect his kidney cancer because there's a hedge-fund manager badly in need of a second yacht.
Yet this time they may not get away with this. Not because the Grinch-like Republicans have finally grown a heart, but because the congressional GOP is learning in tandem with President Trump that health care reform is hard work. Conservatives, amazingly, think the plan is still too much of a giveaway, while a few not-so-radical Republican senators are actually worried about the Medicaid cuts or restrictions on abortion. The reality is they'll probably never really get rid of Obamacare. So why even worry about the AHCA?