Does anyone out there have the patience to follow the House of Representatives anymore? I have nothing but sympathy for those that have tuned out the Congress at this point in the election cycle. The childish antics of our supposed “legislators” are enough to make one wish that the Founding Fathers had had the foresight to enshrine naps and time-out chairs in the Constitution. And I am pretty sure voting just encourages this behavior, but the alternative is probably worse…[sigh].
Well, I hate to strain your tenuous grip on sanity by bringing you this news, but last week the
Tea Party- led House voted FOR THE 33rd TIME to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “But they KNOW this will only fail in the Senate! And President Obama would veto the repeal even if the Senate did let it go through…Why are these amateurs wasting our time and tax dollars??!!” And you would be right to wonder that aloud while hurling couch cushions at the TV set. In fact this 33rd exercise in futility has brought the cost of these totally non-productive gestures to 2 whole weeks of work and roughly $50 million dollars of tax payer money. It turns out sore losers are extremely costly when they hold public office.
But that’s not how House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sees it; he maintains that most Americans have rejected health insurance reform, and that his Tea Party was elected precisely to repeal it.
He is, of course, wrong about how Americans feel about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The latest poll, conducted the same day as the 33rd repeal vote, found that Americans are in fact evenly split on the ACA. 47% support the law; 49% would like to see it repealed. And, when asked about support for the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it, the numbers flip with 48% supporting the decision and 45% opposing it.
Now, it is clear that large majorities of Americans – about 85% -support common sense provisions such as the Patients’ Bill of Rights and similar parts of the law (e.g. an end to discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, allowing children to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, no lifetime caps on coverage, and ensuring that most of your premium dollars go to paying for care and not for insurance administration). But it is reasonable that our nation is still of two minds on the possible long term impact of other provision which haven’t even taken effect yet.
Will asserting one’s individual responsibility to buy insurance bring down cost for everyone? Will improved access to insurance through exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid cover most of the uninsured? Will new incentives for physicians to practice more coordinated and preventative care-focused medicine save money? My professional prediction is YES to all these questions, but there is certainly ample precedent for Americans needing time to try out new social justice programs before giving their whole hearted approval.
Take Social Security. Back in 1935, FDR’s landmark legislation saving the elderly from homelessness had a ~60% approval rating, amid familiar cries of “socialism” from its opponents. Today the law is sacrosanct, and even Republicans run on its defense as ~90% of the country supports it.
Or look at Medicare. As the idea to guarantee health insurance for the elderly was being debated in 1961 there was only 46% support for such a law. The American Medical Association (AMA) even hired a young actor named Ronal Reagan to make an ad warning that if Medicare were to pass, “one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free.” That was pretty stark, hyperbolic rhetoric. But by its passage in 1965 support for what would become LBJ’s signature achievement rose to 65%, and went even higher to 85% by the end of that year, where it stands today.
So my point to the members of Congress is this: the only threat to America here is your predilection for throwing temper tantrums on floor of the House. You and the rest of us will have a chance to see whether or not the ACA works once all its provision actually have a chance to take effect. And chances are you will like it. In this respect, it really is like broccoli: you don’t know until you try.