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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Conservatives hiding their principles

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan talks to

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan talks to reporters during his weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol on April 27. Photo Credit: Getty Images North America / Chip Somodevilla

As the battle over GOP efforts to end the Affordable Care Act unfolds, a crucial question has surfaced that has little to do with who will pay how much to be covered for what. What’s more pressing is conservatives are so embarrassed about what they stand for that they’re misrepresenting it.

Here, in our proud national tradition, is how arguments about huge social programs and high taxes levied to pay for them should go.

Liberal Democrats: “Health care is a right, like food or shelter or education or poster board for protests. Everyone must have health care. The government should provide it by taxing fat cats and using the money to give everyone care and healing.”

Conservative Republicans: “No, rights are stuff like justice, equality and freedom. To say people have ‘a right’ to goods and services created by others is to subordinate the property rights of the maker to the needs of the taker. Eventually, you’ll tell me I can’t charge as much as I want for my goods and services, or charge for them at all, because others need stuff.

“What’s mine is mine. Charity should suffice to take care of the deserving poor, and the undeserving poor should hush. Giving should never be compulsory, enforced with the threat of prison. It’s not the government’s place to take the money I need to buy a dirigible for my family and use it for lobster and beer and insulin for the lazy. And I can decide how I fund my own health care or retirement, rather than having Medicare and Social Security and insurance forced on me. I should be free.”

This traditional GOP set of beliefs is an honored, logical and consistent philosophy. It’s pretty much the plan this nation was built on. There’s no shame in standing for it. But many leading Republicans no longer admit they believe these things when it comes to health care, though they still do.

The American Health Care Act proposes to do two big things: It would cut taxes on rich people by $900 billion over the next decade, and cut health care spending by $1.2 trillion.

The effect would be more money in rich people’s pockets, an estimated 14 million fewer poor people on Medicaid, another 10 million losing private coverage because of subsidy cuts, and more than $300 billion freed up for the GOP to use for other cuts in its tax plan.

That is in line with traditional conservatism. But it’s no longer considered palatable.

So House Speaker Paul Ryan and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price won’t say publicly that they are cutting taxes to give money back to the people who earned it, and paying for it by cutting benefits to low-income people. Instead, Price told NBC News Sunday that the goal of the Republican plan is to “make certain that every single person has health coverage” and told CNN the House Republican bill approved last week would not result in millions of people losing Medicaid.

Ryan, on his tour of the Sunday shows, called the AHCA a “rescue operation.” To prove that the ACA is flawed, he pointed out that many doctors don’t take Medicaid. But the reason one-third of doctors don’t take Medicaid is the low reimbursement rate, so arguing that $880 billion in cuts will help fix that because of some magical do-something block grants to states is dishonest.

The United States is headed toward single-payer health care. Once we decided not to let people bleed to death in the streets, it became inevitable that we’d decided to give everyone checkups and diabetes test strips.

But the conservative dogmas of individual freedom, fair consequences and property rights are worth defending. When the politicians who should be this ideology’s top defenders ditch it in favor of expedient lies, they do a disservice to us all.Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.