House Speaker Paul Ryan was always going to produce a bad plan for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Ryan takes his orders from Wall Street, not Main Street, so it came as little surprise that the speaker’s proposal would harm working families and America’s most vulnerable communities, while handing benefits to wealthy individuals and multinational corporations.
But what Ryan came up with is actually worse than anticipated.
There is a good explanation for why Ryan’s crony-capitalist scheme is so dramatically delinked from the realities of the health-care debate and from the needs of the American people. Paul Ryan thinks he can get away with anything.
That may seem weird, as the Wisconsinite leads a House Republican Caucus that lacks majority support. Last November, just 49 percent of voters nationwide backed Republicans for House seats, while 48 percent backed Democrats and the remainder supported independent and third-party contenders. (In 2012, Democrats actually won 1.4 million more votes in House races across the country, yet Republicans retained control of the chamber.)
The key to understanding Ryan’s thinking with regard to health care and every other issue is recognition that the speaker’s authority is not built on popular support. It is built on gerrymandering. Republicans, who gained overwhelming control of statehouses after the wave election of 2010, drew congressional maps across the country that underrepresented Democrats and over-represented the Grand Old Party.
Take the case of Texas. Hillary Clinton did not win Texas in 2016, but the Democratic presidential nominee secured more than 43 percent of the vote. In fact, Democratic presidential nominees have consistently won more than 40 percent of the vote in presidential contests. Yet the Texas congressional delegation is nowhere near 40 percent Democratic. Texas sends a huge delegation to the House—36 members. Greater in number than the delegations from highly populated states such as New York and Florida, the Texas House delegation is second only in size to that of California. Yet only around 30 percent of the Texans in the House are Democrats.
Texas is not the only state where the congressional delegation’s partisan makeup does not begin to reflect statewide voting patterns. But it is a state where, while voting patterns are shifting in the direction of the Democrats, representation patterns have not reflected that shift.
Why? Texas congressional district maps—like congressional and legislative district maps in a number of states across the country—have been gerrymandered by Republican officials who have carved up the state to favor themselves and their party.