As Republicans in the House of Representatives clinched passage of the American Health Care Act last Thursday afternoon, Democrats on the floor began chanting that familiar refrain from Steam's 1969 hit, the same one that sports fans typically chant during the waning moments of a blowout: "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye." The whole spectacle seemed juvenile, but there was a point to it. That chant was the same one Republicans hit Democrats with back in 2009, when the Affordable Care Act was passed. Then, the GOP immediately, and correctly, predicted that Democrats would get whooped in the following year's midterms — and with that whooping, lose control of the House of Representatives.
House Republicans find themselves in a similar circumstance by voting for Trumpcare, a sloppy, unpopular, and malicious piece of legislation. Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of California called Trumpcare "astonishingly evil" prior to Friday's vote, and the shoe fits. After all, what would Jesus probably not do? Kick at least 23 million people off their health insurance for a rich man's tax cut, that's what. The only people who can afford better health care thanks to the bill are young, wealthy, and healthy. Those with pre-existing conditions like pregnancy — seriously, that's on the list — get conned so the GOP can give rich folks a $765 billion tax reduction over 10 years. And Trump breaks his promise not to touch Medicaid, which the bill massively cuts.
The version that passed on Friday was even more vindictive than the failed one that garnered 17 percent approval from voters and led legions of angry constituents to berate Republican officials at town halls. These guys didn't even bother to get this thing scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office before voting to pass it, even though it would remake a sixth of the entire American economy. Is this lazy governance, an abdication of public service, or the behavior of people trying to get away with a swindle? All of the above.
The 217 House Republicans who voted for this rubbish are practically asking us to fire them. It's easy to see why Democrats think that the widely despised Trumpcare could cause problems for Republicans in 2018. Every House seat will be up for grabs, and Democrats need to win 24 to become the majority party again. So why would Republicans put themselves in this position?
Perhaps they're convinced they won't suffer any significant reprisal in next year's elections. And why should they? They have done a lot to rig the electoral system in their favor; plus, their white, working-class base consistently votes against its own interests. Why would a Republican, all of a sudden, be scared that a suddenly more expensive medical bill would get a white conservative to vote for a Democrat, especially when racism is what got them to the polls in the first place? Republicans have several cushions here, including identity politics, voter restrictions, and race-based gerrymandering. That is why they were so comfortable doing this. No member of Congress who wants to keep her or his job passes a bill like this unless they know they have nothing to fear.
Depriving voters of information is another tool the Republicans use to help themselves stay safe in future elections. As Nate Silver recently noted, the process to legalize Trumpcare is moving at light speed compared to the one it took to implement Obamacare. There were 79 hearings before House committees to weigh the impact of the ACA; the Republicans passed their bill without a single hearing. Rushing it through mitigates the overall impact of the bill on the news cycle, and therefore, the public’s perception of it.
Those targeted by the AHCA may not even realize that they are. Drunk on a diet of Fox News, Infowars, and Breitbart, these folks may be persuaded to blame Mexican immigrants, Muslim terrorists, or Chicago gang members for their spiking health care premiums. It is reckless for Democrats and press alike to assume that people will find the proper parties to blame when they and/or their family members are dropped by their insurance companies. To do so ignores not only the hyper-partisan political media environment, but also how many Trump supporters remain unwilling to budge from their unconditional support of him.
But even if Republican voters somehow mysteriously collectively wake up in 2018, their newfound consciousness may not be enough to save them, considering that voter suppression and gerrymandering are the party's backup plan. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, as of March, at least 87 bills were introduced in 29 different states that would limit access to the ballot. While bills to increase voting access now far outpace those seeking to limit it, this is a recent trend. Voter restrictions, often targeting African-Americans and the formerly incarcerated, have spread like wildfire since the Supreme Court neutered the Voting Rights Act in 2013. It's the new normal for the Republican Party, and American voters, for the time being.
Voter suppression works even better when paired with the kinds of redistricting efforts that we've seen from GOP-controlled states recently. Many of the Republican House members who voted for Trumpcare serve districts that have been cut and sliced, largely along racial lines, to such an extreme degree that Republicans are all but ensured victory. Even 14 of the 23 Republicans who represent districts won by Hillary Clinton last November — including all seven members of that group from California — voted for this thing last Friday. Perhaps these vulnerable Republicans feel that the GOP will protect them as they run, or they have no fear that their voters will make them pay for it. Perhaps, more darkly, they are confident in their party's efforts to rig the race in their favor.
Democrats are raising a lot of funds off the House's passage of Trumpcare, but it is clear that it will take a lot more to make the Republican Party worry about losing the House in 2018. They won a presidential election with little more than airy promises and utter lies. They have voters who find the president's falsehoods acceptable, especially as long as he's giving the left some hell and finds people of color to blame for every societal ill. Democrats, in general, thrive when voters make informed choices and have equal access to the ballot. The GOP, a party virtually devoid of policy that isn't a disguised grift for the rich, realized long ago that it needs to operate differently to survive.
Republican bullshit has a great track record, which is why we saw Trump celebrating with House members in the White House Rose Garden after the vote. Watching the smiling president flanked by a phalanx of cheerful House Republicans was grotesque, but it is doubtful, right now, that the event will prove to be a "Mission Accomplished" moment. It won't come back to bite Trump and his party no matter what happens next — if their voters refuse to care or choose to remain in the dark for the sake of partisanship. Others have speculated that it wouldn't be surprising in the least to learn in the coming weeks that a large percentage of Republican voters thought that Rose Garden party means that Obamacare has been repealed. The whole spectacle seemed juvenile, but there was a point to it.