Unintended consequences and Newton’s Third Law

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

While Democrats wept over special election results this week, U.S. Senate Republicans — in secret — put together their version of the health care reform, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which apart from some minor details, appears to be a lot like the house health care plan, the American Health Care Act: it cuts benefits for the poor, could lead to big rate hikes for older folks and gives the rich a big tax cut.

And while it may not have the votes to pass — conservatives like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz don’t much like the plan because it doesn’t cut enough — while it seems moderates are concerned it will leave too many people without insurance and health care. Five GOP senators as of this writing have said they cannot support the bill in its current form.

Our own U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is unsure whether he can support it, but said something must be done, soon.

“Obamacare is failing Pennsylvanians,” Toomey said in a statement this week. “As taxes, premiums and deductibles continue to skyrocket, choices and access to care have dwindled. The draft bill unveiled in the Senate today strikes me as an important and constructive first step in repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a better, stable, consumer-driven health care system for all Pennsylvanians.

“This measure does not pull the rug out from anyone currently covered by Obamacare, and keeps the Medicaid expansion covering able-bodied, working-age, childless adults, while asking the states to eventually contribute their fair share for this care. Further, this bill works to ensure Medicaid is sustainable for future generations by modestly reducing, seven and a half years from now, the rate at which federal spending on the program will grow.

“I will thoroughly examine this draft and welcome all feedback from my fellow Pennsylvanians in the coming days.”

Cruz and at least three other conservative senators have come out against the plan, while many more like Toomey seem to be taking a wait and see position. Moderate senators — taking note that President Trump called the House bill “mean” reportedly — may not be quick to jump on, either.

Interestingly, if it becomes law, the long-term effect might prove to be the opposite of what GOP officials intended. Oddly, much of what we’re seeing in Washington reminds me of physics, namely, Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal, and opposite reaction.”

I think, assuming the American Health Care Act passes the U.S. Senate and a conference with the House (I grant that’s a big assumption), we may be seeing that particular piece of science prove wildly entertaining, if not moderately scary.

Because of both process and content, it would seem that the new health care law will likely prove to be wildly unpopular and lead to that pendulum swing back in the opposite direction: single-payer health care.

The irony is probably lost on some on the right that the Affordable Health Act’s (Obamacare) roots come from a Republican desire to offer a “free market” alternative to the single-payer systems seen in western democracies around the world. By first vilifying it and then gutting it, Republicans are opening the door wide open in the 2020s for, at minimum, “Medicare for All” — where folks under 65 can buy into Medicare — or more drastically, a fully paid, automatic national health care plan, all but ending private insurance as we know it.

California is already walking down that road with its proposed Healthy California Act, which would be funded by higher sales and business taxes (the argument for the latter is that companies would no longer need to offer health benefits and see a large savings, even with more taxes).

If it works — while supporters say it will save money, a similar experiment in Vermont was a fiscal mess — it could become the model for other big, blue states such as New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts.

While it would seriously wipe out insurance companies in those states (which is why the companies largely were supportive of the ACA and are less supportive in general of the AHCA)— and erode any value of GOP proposals to allow insurance sales across state lines — such a system could also hurt health care providers, already squeezed by lousy insurance reimbursements and random benefit denials by insurers. You have to worry whether such a system could reduce the number of medical professionals and lead to health care rationing.

As an aside, the process Senate Republicans have used — secrecy, speed and silence — may well come back to bite them down the road. For years, GOP leaders complained about the rapid process of Democrats working the ACA through the Congress (which took a speedy year, all told). The problem is this: in the Senate (and the House numbers are worse), Democrats had 36 days of hearings on the ACA, the GOP: 0; Democrats had 18 days of markup, GOP: 0; the Democrats had 26 days of Senate floor debate, a total of 270 hours, while the GOP plans 20 hours.

If the law (again, assuming it passes, which is a 50-50 proposition at best) is as unpopular as the proposed legislation has been, the lack of debate, hearings and secrecy will be used not just against GOP Senate candidates, but their colleagues in the House, even those members — like Pat Meehan and Ryan Costello — who voted against the AHCA.

Already, Democrats are hammering our local Congressmen on the issue — even those, like Costello who voted no on the House bill (but are likely to pay for a yes vote in committee):

“Representative Costello owns this repeal and ripoff health care disaster,” said DCCC Spokesman Evan Lukaske in a statement this week. “Costello voted for a version of this bill in the House, sent it over to the Senate, and now millions of Americans will lose their health care coverage or have their health care costs go up. Republicans in Washington are wreaking havoc on Americans’ health care and voters are going to hold Costello responsible.”

You can fill in the blanks for for Meehan and Lloyd Smucker (who did vote for the House bill) — literally, as DCCC sent out similar missives on both this week.

***

The morning after, Wednesday, it was doom, gloom and meteors falling from the sky, killing off Democrats, much as they did 300 million years ago to the dinosaurs.

The wailing filled social media to, frankly, a sickening degree.

Meanwhile, Republicans celebrated — maybe not the way they did in the Rose Garden after the House passed the health care bill — but in general, the GOP seemed to think they dodged a bullet.

As is typical of the conventional thinking in both parties — they’re both dead wrong.

Jon Ossoff’s loss in Georgia’s Sixth District was a disappointment for Democrats who thought they could steal a congressional seat in a high profile, very Republican district. But the fact that it was even in play underscores how deep a fix the Republican party finds itself.

Much more telling, though, was the South Carolina 5th, where Democrat Archie Parnell nearly knocked off Ralph Norman in another extremely Republican seat. That race — aside from the fun pop culture fact that it was the seat of the fictional Frank Underwood in House of Cards — tells us a lot more about what to expect from the 2018 house races than the nationalized and over publicized race in Georgia.

In other words, if a lightly funded unknown Democrat can come within three points in South Carolina 5, things don’t look to be pretty in places like Pennsylvania 6 and 7. Like Georgia 6, The Cook Political Report rates SC-5 as a R+9 — that means a generic Republican candidate would be expected to win by nine points over a generic Democratic candidate in the district. For reference, PA-16 is R+5, PA-6 is R+6 and PA-7 is R+1.

Understand that incumbency is a big factor — setting aside external issues and the quality of the candidate, plus fundraising, which we’ll get to in a moment — assume a really good Democratic candidate in 2018 starts out about 9-10 points down in the 7th, 10-11 down in the 6th and 12-13 points down in the 16th.

In the four special elections this year, Democrats out performed their Cook averages by about 8 points. Were that pattern to hold for November, 2018, the incumbents in 6, 7 and 16 would hold single digit leads. Throw in angst over the health care bill and whatever impact, if any, comes from the ongoing Trump/Russia/Obstruction investigation and with the right, well-funded Democrat in the race, these could be in play. I’ll note that it would take much more external noise to put 16 in play as compared with its neighbors — the demos and numbers in the district make it a tougher task for Democrats.

With money, an actual message beyond “Trump is bad” and good candidates, these seats could be competitive, assuming Democrats stop pouting.

***

To be clear, the four losses aren’t Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s fault. But…one of the biggest issues the party suffers from right now is that it lacks meaningful leaders not named Obama born after 1960. When the Republican Party has more up and coming young leaders than the Democrats, something is deeply ossified within the Democratic Party.

The truth is this: the party needs younger leaders, more in touch with the issues of today, with a new playbook — the Democrats keep pandering to their older, highly whiny boomer base while losing the rest of America (this was seen indirectly from the Bernie Sanders’ movement and yes, Trump).

Democrats need to gut the House leadership and bring in some 40- and 30-somethings — and push aside the older, out of touch leadership if they want to win in 2018.

***

The question isn’t which Democrats are running in the 7th Congressional District, it’s who isn’t? Beyond yours truly, the list seems kind of short.

Add two more names to the list: Paul Perry, a teacher from Philadelphia and, wait for it, state Sen. Daylin Leach, who is expected to formally announce his run on July 6.

Perry seems like a nice, thoughtful guy, but one wonders how he will get much attention in a packed primary field, already loaded with star power (although I’m hearing whispers that party leaders are trying to coax some of the 7th candidates to swap to state legislative races — where they’d be formidable).

Which brings us to Leach — arguably the biggest star and best fundraiser, but someone who at times lacks message discipline. Part of me — the voter part — loves the guy.

He’s honest, unabashedly liberal and proud of it and routinely says what he really thinks.

The other part of me — the old campaign operative — cringes and wonders how much damage control is going to be needed if Leach wins the primary and runs against Meehan in the Nov. 2018 general.

And of course, the self-serving journalist in me loves it, as Leach will fill notebooks with non-bland quotes and real discussion of tough policies, some of which might turn off voters, but make great copy.

***

This column will take a bit of time off for the summer — let’s be honest, we all could use a bit of a break from politics, more sunshine, time by the pool or the shore with friends and family and the odd adult beverage.

Stay safe, have fun and we’ll see you back in late July.

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