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Republican Vaporware: Four Years Later, the GOP Still Isn’t Serious About Replacing Obamacare | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Republican Vaporware: Four Years Later, the GOP Still Isn’t Serious About Replacing Obamacare

ObamaCare

(Courtesy of LaDawna Howard, CC 2.0)

I was among those who helped to organize a group of academics, most Jewish and mostly liberal but not entirely, to oppose all academic boycotts and threats to freedom of discourse when it comes to discussions of the Middle East. We even oppose boycotts of people who like boycotts. Here is a short news story and here is the statement and list of those so far involved.

Alter-reviews:

I saw no shows this week except the Allman Brothers Band, who were much improved from the previous weekend, I’m guessing, due to the presence of David Rudd in the audience.

As far as new stuff goes, I got two dual-film SD Blu-rays this week, Joni Mitchell’s Woman of Heart and Mind + Painting With Words and Music and Lou Reed’s Classic Albums: Transformer + Live At Montreux 2000. They have been re-issued in upscaled standard definition with uncompressed stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound. The Joni package is pretty great. The 1998 concert filmed on the Warner’s lot is relaxed and intimate and Joni is in particularly good humor. The documentary is just fine. The Lou Reed package is for Lou fanatics, I’m guessing. The documentary is entirely about Transformer. And the concert is largely devoted to his 2000 album Ecstasy, which is not a terribly significant Lou album. But if you miss him, it will make you feel better.

Also, just about out from Sony Legacy is Miles at the Fillmore—Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3, a four-CD box set recorded just two months after the release of Bitches Brew in April 1970. This is an expanded, remastered edition of the two-LP set Miles Davis At the Fillmore, which consisted of performances from the four nights of shows at the Fillmore East (where Miles opened for Laura Nyro). Now they’ve got 100-plus minutes of previously unreleased music all of it sounding better. The three additional bonus tracks add another thirty-five minutes of music, recorded in April 1970, at the Fillmore West where Miles was on the same bill as the Dead.

There’s a thirty-two-page booklet that accompanies the box set provides a context for Miles’ new sound, with an essay by Michael Cuscuna, who was a first-hand witness (as a disc jockey for WPLJ-FM.) The band is Chick Corea on electric piano, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette (all of whom had been at the core of the Bitches Brew sessions recorded in August 1969), plus tenor and soprano saxophonist Steve Grossman, and percussionist, flutist and vocalist Airto Moreira, with Keith Jarrett on organ and tambourine at the Fillmore East. It’s an extraordinary document of a crazy time and some unique music making. But it’s also a matter of taste. I keep trying to stay for the ride, but I get off the bus after "Bitches’ Brew." Those who stayed with Miles to the end will love this thing.

Now here’s Reed:

Republican Vaporware: Four years later, the GOP Still Isn’t Serious About Replacing Obamacare
by Reed Richardson

Perhaps no issue illustrates the modern Republican Party’s policy nihilism than its phony promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Four years ago, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law and ever day since then—as well as most of the year leading up to it—the GOP has taken every opportunity to object to, fear-monger against, or openly sabotage the law. How shamelessly lopsided is this effort? Earlier this month, House Republicans surpassed the half-century mark in repeal votes, without ever having moved a single ACA replacement plan out of committee. For a party that opposes everything done by government, there's little interest in the old political adage ‘you can’t beat something with nothing.'

This isn’t to say the Republicans don’t pretend to have alternatives to Obamacare. They too have realized that only a small minority of the public has any interest in going back to the pre-ACA status quo. (A Commonwealth Fund survey from 2010 found more than 70 percent of Americans wanted “fundamental changes” or “completely rebuil[ding]” of the US healthcare system) As a result, the party occasionally rolls out a “new” alternative plan to Obamacare, as they did this week, to avoid charges of hypocrisy. And as usual, the use of the term “plan” is more than generous. For, as this Washington Post curtain-raiser explains, the latest replacement amounts to little more than regurgitated dogma and recycled policy boilerplate. Among the highlights of this latest stab by the GOP at serious, legislative gruntwork were these:

“…House leaders will begin to share a memo with lawmakers outlining the plan…”

“The Republicans’ plan is hardly intended as a full replacement of the federal health-care law…”

“…vetting suggestions over long lunches… The group has met once every two weeks…”

“…the early outline is a blend of four previous GOP bills…”

“…will provide members with a PowerPoint presentation on the GOP plan and will later hold sessions to collect feedback on how the recommendations went over at town hall meetings…”

So yes, four years on, House Republicans are still putting about as much intellectual effort into replacing Obamacare as they might for, say, planning a surprise farewell party for a beloved co-worker. Still, this Kabuki show serves its main political purpose: providing the GOP with a simplistic, chimerical policy it can present to the public while simultaneously attacking the admittedly complex, real-world ACA. In the world of software development a magical idea like this—one that will solve all your problems but that has no chance of coming to fruition—has a name: vaporware. And whether this kind of disingenuous marketing takes place in Silicon Valley or on Capitol Hill, the press has a duty to call it out for the phony, disingenuous marketing that it is.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Microsoft has long been accused of being one of the biggest abusers of vaporware. In fact, charges that the company was distorting the marketplace with vaporware led a federal judge to overturn Microsoft’s 1995 antitrust settlement with the Justice Department. In the decision, Judge Stanley Sporkin concluded that these bad-faith efforts on the part of Microsoft—which he said only served to unfairly stifle competition and distort the choices facing consumers—ran counter to the “public interest.”

Part of the press’s job is to ensure that the same fate does not befall our democracy’s marketplace of ideas. All too often, however, the DC press corps rewards the GOP’s transparent grandstanding on Obamacare with naïve credulity. How else to explain the aforementioned WaPo article drawing this conclusion: “A complete health-care overhaul remains the GOP’s overarching goal.” On what basis can a reasonable person, let alone a political journalist, conclude this? That might be what a high-level House Republican says, but all the evidence of what the party has done since 2010 contradicts this.

Indeed, to closely revisit the GOP’s previous proposals for replacing Obamacare is to be reminded of how shockingly inadequate each of them has been. The first iteration of these, a 2009 GOP House amendment to the ACA, was so poorly conceived it would have increased the number of uninsured Americans by two million over ten years. At the same time, this plan would have fallen nearly $40 billion short of the deficit savings achieved by Obamacare. This embarrassing outcome apparently proved so traumatic that the GOP has notably refused to submit any of its subsequent Obamacare replacement plans for CBO analysis. Of course, not subjecting their own ideas to independent analysis hasn’t stopped them from grossly misrepresenting other CBO reports on the ACA’s mostly positive, long-term impact. 

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Nor has it has stopped the Republicans from trying to finagle the CBO’s imprimatur by other means. Take, for instance, Georgia Congressman Tom Price, who has repeatedly pushed a fantastical healthcare reform scheme that offers stingier subsidies and then refuses to raise any taxes to pay for even these meager benefits. Though this is the kind of unapologetic deficit spending President Reagan might have loved, it’s a deal-breaker for a Republican Party that now willingly shuts down the government. Thus, Price’s plan hasn’t even made it out of subcommittee in the GOP-friendly confines of the House. There’s always a way around an inconvenient truth for conservatives, however. In Price’s case, it involves arranging an unrealistic, back-of-the-envelope estimate of deficit savings from a former CBO director-turned-conservative think-tanker, and then letting the right-wing media misrepresent that wild guess as having been "measured by the CBO."

The other Obamacare alternative plans on offer mostly dredge up tired conservative shibboleths: standard tax deductions for healthcare costs, medical malpractice reform, expanded Health Savings Accounts and selling insurance across state lines. As health policy experts Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll have detailed, the Republican Study Committee’s "grab bag of old ideas" would do little to make healthcare more accessible or affordable for most Americans and almost nothing to address the millions of uninsured. No matter, Politico was ready and willing to give anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist space in its magazine to tout the RSC plan as "a host of smart reforms."

To be clear, this isn’t about stifling dissent. It’s about encouraging the press to take an active role in critically assessing how the motives of the two political parties line up with respect to Obamacare. This is especially germane since it’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of the law will be the seminal issue of the 2014 mid-term elections. Though a strong majority of the public now supports a “keep and fix” approach to the law, the GOP’s ongoing neglect of any serious healthcare reform betrays its preference—for demagoguing rather than legislating. Ordinarily, this obstructionism would spell electoral doom. But if the press willingly plays along with the “replace Obamacare” charade, the public just might not notice the difference. And Republicans just might find that, in the end, they really can beat something with nothing.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson@gmail.com. I’m on Twitter here—@reedfrich.

The Mail:

Michael Green
Las Vegas, NV

One for Dr. A., one for Dr. R.

Excellent piece from The Nation on how Republicans (and, lest we forget, their media toadies) have sung this song about Russia before. Thus, two points. One, read Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. If the Republican Party has not been trying to destroy this country, what has it been doing? You have noted the January 20, 2009, meeting in which Republicans agreed to oppose everything the president proposed. If these people are not at least indictable and prosecutable for treason, then what are they? Two, in honor of his saying that it isn't the media's job to report on the falsehoods spread about Obamacare, but rather it's the president duty to correct them, I coined a term for beltway media: chucktodds. You are welcome to use it because it is very apt. And don't forget their rear-kissers around the country when you do.

Reed, I am an almost lifelong Nevadan and have written a great deal about Harry Reid. Years ago, I did a piece for salon.com about how Dubya actually coined a good word because it perfect describes Reid: he's misunderestimated.  He didn't change the Senate rules because he couldn't until he had the votes; then he did. Anything that has passed that has been truly useful has had to be done over united Republican opposition in the Senate, and it is Reid who has done it.

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