Irrelevancy in D.C.
Today brings Chapter 3 in the recently unfolding narrative we might call Profiles in Irrelevance.
You’ve guessed already, I suspect, that today’s column will continue our recent focus on the vacancies existing in the U.S. Senate seats from Arkansas.
Those are occupied without consequence by tall-talking Tom Cotton and no-talking John Boozman.
It is perilous to put any stock in any report about what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends on the harried Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill, or the widely ridiculed repeal-only bill. But, at this moment, he is said to be intending to bring to a vote this week, perhaps today, the procedural question of whether to advance to debate one or the other. As of this moment, he does not seem to have the support on either measure of the 50 Republican senators needed to permit Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote.
The best outcome for everybody in Arkansas—Cotton and Boozman included, as they know full well and plot cynically—would be for the procedural advancement to meet the likely but not certain fate of defeat that was declared last week. —————— The Senate bill eventually would remove 300,000 poor people in the state from our private risk pool through Medicaid expansion. It would remove the mandate to purchase insurance and reduce the risk pool further and thereby raise rates for all. It would reduce minimum benefit standards in a way that would permit econo-model insurance plans that might imperil coverages for pre-existing or chronic conditions. It could well raise deductibles to prohibitive heights for the middle class. It would close rural hospitals and harm big ones.
Otherwise, it’s a heckuva bill. Obamacare isn’t working, either, but at least it’s fixable, if anyone in this lame Congress and lamer administrative would get serious about that.
Defeat would be good for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has said the Medicaid cuts would unfairly shift costs to state government.
It would be good for Cotton this way: He wants to posture to the national conservative audience as a fiery Obamacare-hater. Voting that way while other Republican senators voted more responsibly for their states’ interests, which would encompass Arkansas’ interest, would render his betrayal of his state comfortably inconsequential.
It won’t amount to anything if Cotton casts one of 48 or 49 losing “aye” votes and moves on to lament to his right-wing base that he did everything he could to shaft poor people. Last week Cotton told Talk Business and Politics that we can move these people who are now on Medicaid expansion to the private market and take care of them with tax credits.
A tax credit is something you get taken off your tax bill based on a productive expenditure. People living below the poverty level don’t have enough money to replace the bald tires on their clunkers, much less ante up hundreds of dollars a month for a high-deductible health-insurance policy to qualify for a credit on their taxes.
Why would a dirt-poor person living hand-to-mouth buy health insurance for the privilege of paying out of pocket his first $5,000 in medical bills?
Boozman seems to have better intentions than Cotton, but is afraid to say so and hapless in asserting those intentions.
There are kernels of evidence that Boozman wants to oblige his governor and save the Medicaid expansion money. But there is stronger evidence that he’ll fail at that and vote for the bill anyway, because he’s a quiet partisan go-along.
Boozman’s press secretary told me last week that the senator was meeting a couple of times a week with like-minded Republican senators about modifying the Medicaid provisions of the bill. But he said Boozman did not do his negotiating in the press.
Let’s break that down. Boozman is meeting to try to modify Medicaid, which is not to say outright that he opposes the bill’s cuts to Medicaid expansion. And it is not negotiating in the press to speak clearly to your constituents about your position on an issue of vital importance to them.
You can tell your constituents of your position and go into a negotiating session armed with that publicly declared position. It’s called being a senator.
J. William Fulbright wasn’t afraid to say how he felt about the Vietnam War.
But for Boozman to state his position publicly would be to force him into a public contradiction when he fails to get the bill changed and then votes for it anyway.
What does Hutchinson say about this expected betrayal from his two senators of his party? He says nothing, probably owing to his calculation that it might be a loser for him to pick a fight in Arkansas over Obamacare with Cotton and Boozman.
Then there’s this logic: If Senate Republicans are likely to fail to pass a bill the governor doesn’t like, what’s the point in bickering about that bill along the way with the two irrelevant home-state senators?