As the 2018 midterm elections draw nearer, and as reports suggest that the Republican Party's monopoly on power in Washington could be in jeopardy, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell sat for a series of interviews this week in which he promised Americans that if they give his party another two years of unified government, he'll try once more to do all of the things that made them hate him so much in the first place. From Reuters:
Despite their dominance of Congress and the White House, Republicans failed last year to overturn former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, known as Obamacare. McConnell called it “the one disappointment of this Congress from a Republican point of view.”
He said, “If we had the votes to completely start over, we’d do it. But that depends on what happens in a couple weeks ... We’re not satisfied with the way Obamacare is working.”
Right now, there is a seven-point spread between those who favor the Affordable Care Act and those who disfavor it, and the law reached its peak approval ratings in 2017, when Republicans' diligent repeal efforts went down on the thumb of the late John McCain. Especially for Democratic senators scrapping to defend their seats in deep-red Trump states—and there are plenty of them—this makes for a fine stretch-run pitch to voters: Remember when Republicans nearly succeeded at taking health care away from poor people? If given the opportunity next year, they'll happily try it again.
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Apparently not content to bring up just one plank of his party's wildly unpopular platform, McConnell also floated the idea of slashing Social Security and Medicaid benefits—a hot topic in Washington this week, after it was announced that the federal deficit had ballooned to a cool $779 billion, a 17 percent hike over the fiscal year. "Entitlements are the long-term drivers of the debt," he told Reuters; in a conversation with Bloomberg News, he blamed this figure on Democrats' unwillingness to negotiate entitlement reforms on a bipartisan basis in this most recent Congress. Curiously, the potential culpability of the $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, which the GOP assured skeptics would not affect the deficit because it would pay for itself via economic growth, seems not to have occurred to him.
The Republican Party's most vexing problem is always that the thing about which its elected officials care the most—reducing the effective corporate tax rate—is also deeply unpopular with critical chunks of the electorate on which they depend for political power. This need to cobble together a viable election-winning coalition is why Donald Trump promised not to touch entitlements during his campaign, and why his party is so fond of championing various forms of bigotry and xenophobia whenever they find it politically expedient. McConnell's vision for the 116th Congress is the subtler, more insidious half of their approach to governance: Slash vital social programs on the grounds that they are too expensive; pass the ensuing savings on to the wealthy; and then, when doing so blasts a new hole in the deficit, find some other line-item to cross out, and resume the performance from the beginning.
It is not the case that this country "cannot" afford Medicare, or Medicaid, or Social Security, or food stamps, or low-cost insurance, or the like. It is that the Republican Party chooses not to pay for them. Over the past six-ish decades, its politicians have worked to gradually whittle down the tax base on behalf of their donors, taking every opportunity to hamstring the government's ability to ensure that the most vulnerable Americans can lead healthy, dignified lives. McConnell's proclamations are disingenuous lies, and his promises about his agenda for 2019 and beyond are great reasons to vote people like him out of office forever.