If Idaho's two congressmen, Rep. Mike Simpson and Rep. Raúl Labrador, had voted against the ridiculously inadequate health care bill that passed the House of Representatives on May 4, the vote would have been tied, 215 to 215, and the bill would have failed. Ker-plop.
But that's in the "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride" category. The bill stumbled its way through to victory, and now we are wondering what's in Idaho's health care future. We're in the beggars' role, wishing that health care for all could be settled once and for all. Republicans in Congress celebrated their victory with drinks in the Rose Garden; they are in the saddle and riding high.
A couple of realities can ease our concern. First, the House health care bill isn't going anywhere in Congress, because the Senate won't touch it. The Senate Republicans are writing their own health care bill, thank you very much. Perhaps Democrats may be drawn in to make it a bipartisan effort. We could wish that the two parties could simply correct shortcomings in the existing Affordable Care Act and be done with it. But that would be too reasonable.
Second, the House health care bill isn't really about health care at all. It's about cutting taxes for the very wealthy. Republicans may or may not respond to their constituents' concerns about health care, but they do have a one-size-fits-all attitude about tax cuts. For Republican leaders in Washington, there's no disease that tax cuts for the rich can't cure. Wealth is one pre-existing condition this administration and Congress are certain to protect.
Republican legislators just can't resist tax cuts. They dream about them. I liken it to our current national addiction to bacon. Bacon flavoring is now being infused into just about every type of food — bacon-flavored mustard, bacon-flavored mayonnaise, bacon-flavored ice cream. A very special member of my family is a dedicated vegetarian who eats no meat — except for bacon.
An addiction to cutting taxes is just as unhealthy for the body politic. Moreover, giving tax cuts to those who need them least — while denying health care to those who need it most — is bad policy and bad politics. Even in a conservative state like Idaho, voters have shown they are willing to pay more at the local level to support better schools. Whatever they may think of Obamacare, conservatives, liberals and moderates alike should be able to agree that tax cuts for the wealthy are the wrong prescription.
Congressman Labrador has been ridiculed over TV, radio and social media to outer space and back for suggesting that "Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care." Sometimes the only thing worse than a politician who says what he means is one who means what he says.
The public is paying more attention to events in Washington than any time I can remember, short of wartime or Watergate. Callous Republicans eager to take away benefits and protections should remember that over the past two decades, no issue has shortened political lives more than health care.
It is reassuring that the Idaho Medical Association stands fast in its position that any national legislation that takes medical coverage away should be opposed.
The Idaho legislature has not chosen to accept the benefits of expanding Medicaid. In so doing, Idaho has not benefited from the large infusion of federal dollars that other states have received. The count of Idahoans who earn too much to receive Medicaid, but not enough to pay their bills, has been steady at 78,000 for several years now. This number is expected to rise if the national Medicaid budget is slashed as President Trump has indicated, and no adjustment is made for those unlucky enough to live inside this Medigap.
On another subject: Idaho Republican legislators are now angry because Governor Butch Otter vetoed their bill that does away with taxes on groceries. They have actually taken their own Republican governor to court over the issue.
Otter gave solid reasons for his veto of the grocery tax removal bill. He said the grocery tax provides a stable source of tax revenue, because everyone has to eat. And he maintains that the grocery tax credit adequately eases the financial pain to low-income families. The governor stated the grocery tax repeal would cost Idaho $201 million in revenue in 2019.
With this veto, he also gives longtime Lieutenant Governor Brad Little — who is running against Labrador, among others, to take Otter's place — a chance to champion the popular cause of getting rid of the tax on groceries. Even if the cause is just, legislators and gubernatorial candidates will need to come up with another source of revenue to cover the loss of the grocery dollars.
Politicians love bringing home the bacon. It's up to voters to remind them of the price. ♦