A key member of the House Freedom Caucus says the Senate health care bill drifts too far towards the existing framework and that the smartest approach would be to repeal Obamacare and then get to work on a replacement, although he does not expect GOP leaders to choose that path.
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Virginia, taught economics for 20 years before pulling off a stunning defeat of then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 Republican primary. He could not support the Senate bill unveiled by leaders last week.
“The original bill coming out of the Senate kind of made all the wrong moves in the Obamacare direction, which is shocking,” said Brat.
“It’s not just about adding more coverage or helping more people. That’s the way most people are thinking about this. What I think people lost track of is Economics 101. Obamacare is in the ditch because of its own economic logic,” said Brat.
He says lawmakers on both sides struggle to see the big picture.
“That Obamacare logic was just about 100 percent attention paid to coverage and no attention paid to the price of health care. As a result, people were covered with gold-plated health insurance policies, but no one could afford health coverage,” said Brat.
With Senate Republicans now unable to move their own bill, Brat enthusiastically endorses the suggestion of Sens. Rand Paul, R-Kent., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to repeal Obamacare now and then get to work on a replacement that can pass.
“The rational politics would have been, initially, to repeal Obamacare, which all of those senators voted for when it didn’t count. They all voted for the 2015 package to repeal Obamacare,” said Brat.
He says that’s exactly what Republican voters expected after the 2016 elections, but they aren’t getting it.
“When you vote 50 times to repeal and then you tell the American people you’re going to repeal and then you end up very close to Obamacare logic. That is not good for the Republican brand,” said Brat.
Brat is confident that if repeal came first, there would be plenty of interest across the spectrum in getting on board with the replacement bill.
“Then you have the leverage to work with the Democrats. There’s no shortage of people who want to add programs in D.C. in the swamp, right? So you first repeal and then the floodgates are open to add. You can get as many votes as you want from any politician to say yes. Politicians love to say yes. That would have been a brilliant move back in January,” he said.
So will House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell embrace that idea now that a comprehensive bill is flailing in the Senate? Brat is not holding his breath.
“I went to seminary so I’ll be praying for it, but I’m doubtful. That would be too good of news. I don’t think we’ve got a big enough spine to carry that off,” said Brat.
But why? Republicans scored decisive wins in three separate election cycles, due in large part to their promises to repeal Obamacare. So why aren’t they following through?
Brat sees three key reasons: keeping the special interests happy, the effort to protect vulnerable Senate incumbents from unpopular votes, and a relentlessly hostile media.
“Up in D.C., you’ve got to appease the swamp, so there’s all sorts of moneyed special interests you have to appease, ” said Brat, noting that the insurance companies love what the Senate GOP produced. “Then if you’re in tough seats, you’ve got to try to support those tough seats.”
Brat says the influence of the major insurance companies is a big problem, one that James Madison and Adam Smith warned against long ago.
“Both of them had the exact same logic. You want a large number of small competitors duking it out in this country. We’ve lost that. That’s the American way. Instead, we’ve got a few huge oligopolies running from D.C., which the elites can put their thumb down on and that’s why the American person is getting hammered right now,” said Brat.
As for the media, Brat says the avalanche of false, negative coverage is tough for many members to weather.
“After we passed the House bill, the mainstream media repeated misinformation and fake news for the next week. It was one simple line: House bill gets rid of pre-existing conditions. Everybody with pre-existing conditions is on their own and there’s going to be death in the streets,” said Brat.
“It is daunting to have confidence in the people back home, that they can see through that message when that’s all you see as a politician is that mainstream media. CNN, New York Times, Washington Post: House guts, destroys obliterates – all these crazy words. Then they say, ‘Politicians, you guys have to be more civil,’ as they lambaste us with falsehoods constantly,” said Brat.
One of the main reasons Brat opposes the Senate bill is because it fails to deal with what he sees as the fatally flawed framework of Obamacare.
“At least the House package had a little bit of room to negotiate some of the regulations and the regulations are Obamacare. If you don’t get rid of the Obamacare regulations, a young person cannot go out and buy a catastrophic package out of college, so they’re left with a gold-plated plan with a $2,000-$3,000 deductible. And I don’t know a lot of college grads with two or three grand in their pocket,” said Brat.
He is imploring his fellow Republicans to proceed on the principles they constantly espouse about the success of the free market.
“If you believe in free markets and the standard American package of free enterprise, etc., that will deliver the goods. Everybody knows these eye surgeries that started out at $6,000 per eye are down to $450 per eye to get your Tiger Woods eye surgery,” said Brat.
“That’s what the market can do if you let it alone. If you let the government intervene, you end up with Medicare, which is insolvent in 2034. You end up with Social Security, which is insolvent for the kids in 2034. $20 trillion in debt, $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities to those major programs, and we’re going to add more government,” said Brat.