Why Graham-Cassidy Failed—And the Hard Slog Ahead

By | 2017-09-29T16:04:45+00:00 September 29th, 2017|
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

With the announcement by U.S. Senators Ron Paul (R-Ky.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declaring their refusal to support the Graham-Cassidy Health Care Bill, the latest Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare has met with failure yet again. Lest we repeat the procedure in an endless loop, there is a lesson to be learned from this debacle about the insidious cunning of modern liberalism. It’s time for friends of American liberty to learn it.

Why do Republicans shy away from repealing manifestly unpopular expansions of government like Obamacare once they are enacted? It’s an old story. Simply put, liberals know what they are doing. Every new government program, and every new line in the budget, creates a constituency—call it a “special interest”—that thereafter will bitterly oppose the revocation of whatever preferment they have received.

Obamacare is no different. It unleashed a vast new revenue stream for the states, which receive federal money to support their health insurance exchanges, and which receive even more large amounts of federal money to support the expansion of Medicaid. Any attempt to dismantle Obamacare thus endangers the fiscal well-being of the states and, by extension, the profits of doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. Not surprisingly, craven politicians are loath to take this risky step.

Say what you will about Obamacare, at its heart is the expenditure of gargantuan sums of taxpayer dollars for the alleged purpose of subsidizing medical care for poorer Americans. On some level, this is a noble cause. It accounts for the rhetorical success of popular advocates like Jimmy Kimmel, who can appeal to that noble instinct in Americans to look after the neediest among us. But the political and financial reality is that Obamacare did not fundamentally alter the dysfunctional dynamics of our healthcare system. It merely poured more money into it to expand access to an already broken system.

Thus, Obamacare has had the effect of enriching many constituents, like doctors, hospital administrators, and insurance executives, all of whom were already rich, but, naturally, could stand to be richer. This is the pattern for all modern government programs. Even the most well-meaning of social services ultimately serve to transfer government funds into the hands of the private-sector providers of food, housing, child care, counseling, cell phones, and, yes, medical care, to the relevant beneficiaries. True, many—even most—Americans support shrinking government in the abstract. But their tepid support for government cutbacks cannot prevail in the face of the much more passionate and organized opposition from the constituents—that is, the recipients—of government spending who, of course, aren’t just the poor or the needy.

The designers of Obamacare surely knew this. New entitlement programs once created are almost impossible to destroy. The millions of people who had gained access to health insurance, and more importantly the handful of multi-millionaires and billionaires who had gained new profits, wouldn’t stand for it. And here we are. This is why government spending, as a percentage of GDP, has been growing in a nearly continuous fashion since the beginning of the 20th century, and why all the hot air from politicians about cutting the size of government has led precisely nowhere.

The sad truth is that Americans need to accept two harsh realities if we are ever to make any progress in reversing the tide of government expansion. First, the Democratic Party will never cooperate with efforts to restrain government, because government spending is the bread and butter of Democratic politics, and an ideological commitment to finding governmental solutions to every conceivable problem is a defining characteristic of modern liberalism. Democrats will reflexively oppose any and all attempts to cut government spending, and they will inevitably describe such proposals as “inhumane” and irresponsible.

Second, Republican politicians, despite their rhetoric, are by no means reliable “yes” votes on bills that aim to cut federal spending, return power to the states, or otherwise dent the growth of government. Republican congressmen and senators are invariably afraid of being labeled as “heartless” for seeking spending cuts (or even for opposing spending increases). In reality, government largesse benefits Republicans almost as much as it helps Democrats. These politicians are every bit as tied to rent seekers as are the Democrats. Every politician, even President Trump, seeks to gain popularity by showering the needy (and sometimes just the grasping) with public funds. This is how Washington works—nay, how America works—whether we like it or not.

The solution isn’t just to elect more Republicans, although we have a golden opportunity (especially in the Senate) to do exactly that in 2018. It’s also to elect conservatives with stiffer spines, and for the voters to stiffen in their resolve, too. First and foremost, we need to remember who we are as a people—a free people, who reject socialism in health care and every other domain—and act and vote accordingly.

About the Author:

Nicholas L. Waddy
Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at www.waddyisright.com.