Sessions! Russia! Squirrel! (oh, and taking health care away from millions)

Not to say that there’s not potentially important news regarding the ongoing Russia investigation (the latest appears they really attempted to hack the hell out of our election), or Sessions being dishonest and misleading in testimony before the Senate.  Meanwhile, though, almost totally hidden from major news coverage, has been the ongoing attempt to dramatically worsen the health care for millions and millions of Americans (and, yes, many who currently have employer-based health insurance as well).

Plenty of good opinion columns on the matter, but you’ll be hard pressed to find decent news coverage.  The Republicans’ appalling dishonest and opaque strategy of hiding everything is absolutely taking advantage of the media’s desire to focus on shiny new objects.

Jeff Stein is tracking the lack of coverage on twitter:

At least, bloggers and opinion writers are on the job.  EJ Dionne:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once had passionate views about how carefully Congress should consider sweeping changes to the health-care system.

“Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as health care reform or a new national energy tax without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people,” McConnell said in 2009, referring to the two big issues of the moment. Democrats using such means, he added, “would make it absolutely clear they intend to carry out their plans on a purely partisan basis.”

Republican hypocrisy is now so rampant that it’s typically ignored or, worse, granted the political class’s all-purpose form of absolution: “Everybody does it.”

But everybody doesn’t do it. McConnell is trying to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act using methods completely at odds with how the law was originally brought to life in the early Obama administration. The ACA was debated for more than a year and went through an elaborate hearing and amendment process that included some changes urged by Republicans.

By contrast, the bill Senate Republicans are writing is being held as close as the nuclear codes. In the meantime, President Trump and his administration (including, most recently, Attorney General Jeff “I don’t recall” Sessions) keep providing McConnell excellent cover as their assorted outrages dominate the news and deflect attention from Capitol Hill. The wrecking squad works in the shadows knowing that if the public were given time to absorb the damage in store for millions of Americans, the pushback would be enormous…

As for the media, Jacob Leibenluft, a former Obama administration official, described the problem well in an interview: “If you don’t have hearings, and you don’t have big moments for television, you don’t have bandwidth for coverage.” [emphases mine] Leibenluft, now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says individual reporters on the health-care beat are doing good work, but their stories are getting limited attention. Leibenluft spoke before the horror of Wednesday’s shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and four others, which properly commanded the nation’s attention. His point was about the place of health care in the normal flow of political news.

 He added: “I hate to think that looking back on this period, we’ll realize that the most regressive piece of social legislation in modern American history was passed, and no one was paying attention.”

We know that the Trump/Russia story will still be there in a month. We cannot say the same about the health insurance millions of Americans count on. By then, it may be on the road to extinction.

Meanwhile, Trump has taken to calling “mean” the Republican plan he celebrated in the Rose Garden last month.  He is literally like a two-year old living in the moment.  Good take from Greg Sargent:

But I’d like to argue that this moment has broader significance than that. If you place Trump’s private candor in the context of the indefensibly opaque and secretive process that Republicans are using to get this health-care bill through, it reveals in a fresh way just how scandalous their approach to remaking one-sixth of the U.S. economy really has been…

House Republicans are now angry at this, Politico reports, because they stuck out their necks making the case for a bill that would leave many millions without coverage and gut protections for people with preexisting conditions. They “explained to their constituents” that the last-minute changes to the bill (adding all of $8 billion) would make it less destructive to that latter group. But Trump has now upended all of this, putting them at greater political risk.

But their anger over this is particularly galling, because Republicans themselves do not want their constituents to actually know what is in the bill they are set to pass. And they are taking active, extensive and possibly unprecedented steps to make sure they don’t. Trump merely made this harder for them to get away with.

And Jennifer Rubin, who sounds less and less like a Republican the longer Trump is in office:

 

Ironically, as Republicans refuse to distance themselves from Trump’s egregious behavior, scandals and ethical shortcomings, he repays them — by creating the perfect soundbite for Democratic ads in 2018.

The House GOP threw the American Health Care Act together with little regard to its impact on ordinary Americans and was willing to slash health care for the poor and middle class while shoveling tax cuts into the coffers of the richest Americans. Trump insisted they pass something and then threw a celebration in the Rose Garden. So much for that.

Trump, of course, cares not even a tiny bit about substance — and we have yet to see him demonstrate even a rudimentary knowledge of what is in the bill. Having made a bargain with a policy know-nothing who lacks any interest in anything but his own winning, Republicans now find themselves excoriated for the very same reason Democrats lambasted the bill.

And I think Chait’s headline is exactly right, “The Secret Trumpcare Bill Is a Giant Scandal.”

It’s conventional wisdom that the Russia scandal is a “distraction” from Donald Trump’s agenda, and that what the president and his party really need is to change the subject back to health care and taxes. But their behavior indicates just the opposite. The Russia scandal may be unwelcome, but the distraction happens to be a useful opportunity. Senate Republicans hope to rush their health-care bill into law with the absolute minimum of public scrutiny. Caitlin Owens reports that the bill is likely to be finalized tonight, but will not be made public anytime soon.

“We aren’t stupid,” one GOP aide tells Owens. (Follow-up question: What about evil?)

It is difficult to think of an example of a law in the history of the United States that would have such a deep impact on so many people — millions would find insurance no longer affordable — drafted with so little public input. No hearings, no public examination of the details. Republican senators can claim the secret law is better than the deeply hated House version, but without laying out the trade-offs that allegedly make it so.

In a normal political environment, a scandal is a distraction from a major bill, because major bills get passed by building public consensus. In this case, avoiding the public is the entire strategy. And the crafting of the bill is itself a scandal.

Yep.  Not to suggest Sessions and Russia and whatever else are not “scandals,” but far and away the most important political scandal right now is happening off the front pages and ignored by cable news.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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