The lies came fast and furious on the Sunday shows this weekend, as Republican lawmakers and their surrogates reckoned with a tough truth: The only way to sell the Senate’s cruel and deeply unpopular health-care bill is to absolutely misrepresent what is in it. And that was before the Congressional Budget Office scored the Senate bill, and found 15 million more people will be uninsured by next year. Which, by the way, is a kind of crucial midterm election year, in which the president’s party almost always loses power.
Those Sunday lies, though, should force journalists to acknowledge another truth: Donald Trump isn’t a rogue Republican; he is making the party over in his image. Before and after Trump’s election, you’ll recall, optimistic Republican leaders predicted that being president might change and sober Trump and that elected GOP leaders could have some influence over the erratic, unprepared commander in chief. But influence seems to have worked the other way: Republicans have seen that Trump can lie without consequence, and they’re trying to make the same approach work for them. It’s not that they’ve never lied before, but this weekend’s Lie-O-Rama was remarkable.
White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway won the prize for lying most brazenly, telling ABC’s This Week that while the bill cuts $800 billion from Medicaid, “These are not cuts to Medicaid.” She then contradicted herself by acknowledging the bill could maybe, possibly cut Medicaid for the “able-bodied,” but insisted: “If they are able-bodied, and they want to work, then they’ll have employer-sponsored benefits like you and I do.”
Of course, 60 percent of able-bodied adults currently on Medicaid already do work, and 80 percent are in households where somebody works—at jobs that don’t provide benefits. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the House bill would throw 14 million Americans off Medicaid over the next 10 years; the Senate bill slashes 15 million patients. Its Medicaid cuts are ultimately deeper, and they both shave and cap funds for the traditional program, not just the Obama expansion. On the same show, Maine GOP Senator Susan Collins contradicted Conway: “I respectfully disagree with her analysis. Based on what I’ve seen, given the inflation rate that would be applied in the outer years to the Medicaid program, the Senate bill is going to have more impact on the Medicaid program than even the House bill.”
On CNN, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price might have tied Conway for brazen lying, insisting,”We will not have individuals lose coverage.” The CBO, of course, said the House bill would cost 23 million Americans their health insurance; on Monday the score for the Senate bill said it would cut 22 million. But Price didn’t leave his lies there; he also claimed that “the plan, in its entirety, will absolutely bring prices down.” Maybe he meant tax costs for millionaires? They’ll get a $50,000 tax cut, while the top .01 percent gets a $250,000 tax cut. That’s the only explanation of Price’s claim that makes sense; older Americans, in particular, are going to face higher costs, and lower federal subsidies. (Oh, and also: The tax cuts Price and others defend as “job-creating” will be retroactive to the end of 2016. How do you create jobs in the past?)