US Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, center. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
Even before President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Republicans were vowing to repeal it. It’s no wonder, because polls showed that the basic elements of the ACA were quite popular, and there was a real danger that it would become more so as people found out that the plan denounced as a “monstrosity” by the National Republican Senatorial Committee would not trample on their liberties so much as help protect their health. Desperate to avoid this, the GOP-controlled House has voted no fewer than thirty-seven times to repeal Obamacare in the three years since it was enacted.
Now letters produced by a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that many of these same anti-Obamacare Republicans have solicited grants from the very program they claim to despise. This is evidence not merely of shameless hypocrisy but of the fact that the ACA bestows tangible benefits that even Congress’s most extreme right-wing ideologues are hard-pressed to deny to their constituents.
As I reported here last September, Congressman Paul Ryan, who as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 called for its repeal, sent a letter requesting ACA money for health clinics in his district two years earlier. The Nation has obtained documents revealing that at least twenty other Obamacare-bashing GOP lawmakers have similarly pleaded for ACA funds on behalf of constituents. Among them are Kristi Noem, a Republican lawmaker from South Dakota likely to run for the Senate next year, as well as Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who has been touted as a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016.
In one of two letters sent by Portman to the Department of Health and Human Services, the senator requested ACA funds to help a federal health center in Cleveland, where the money could help “an additional 8,966 uninsured individuals” to receive ”essential services,” in his words. In Noem’s case, the congresswoman requested ACA funds to construct a community health center in Rapid City to provide primary services to the uninsured. Both Noem and Portman won office in 2010 campaigning vigorously against the law and have since worked to repeal it.
Though notably less transparent, the behavior of these GOP lawmakers parallels that of GOP governors like Arizona’s Jan Brewer, who blast the president’s health reform package while embracing the millions in Medicaid funds that it provides.
The letter writers include GOP rank-and-file Congress members, leaders and committee chairs, all of whom have supported the repeal effort. David Valadao, for example, a freshman representative who campaigned last year on his opposition to Obamacare, requested funds in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius two years ago for a program to improve “the general health” of the Fresno County area, which he then served as a California assemblyman. Congressman Jeff Denham, a two-term GOP lawmaker who won his seat with support from Tea Party activists, penned a letter recommending the same application for Fresno County. The county Department of Public Health won the grant. Valadao’s and Denham’s offices declined to comment.
The Affordable Care Act authorizes an array of grants to local hospitals, community health clinics and doctor training programs, as well as public health initiatives to improve health and access to care. The billions of dollars in grants are awarded on a competitive basis, and lawmakers on the state and federal levels have sent letters endorsing applicants.
Texas Senator John Cornyn, the Republican whip, wrote to the Centers for Disease Control to recommend a grant for Houston and Harris County. Congressman Michael McCaul, a Republican and the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, wrote a letter praising the same grant request, calling the effort a “crucial initiative to achieve a healthier Houston/Harris County.” Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Thad Cochran of Mississippi also recommended grant request approval for public health or health clinic funding.