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A no-labels look at Obamacare’s mandate

Senate Republican leaders just made their huge, complex tax rewrite way huger by recklessly tossing some conservative candy in the form of a reckless Obamacare mandate repeal.

A human skeleton model stands outside a physical

A human skeleton model stands outside a physical therapy room at Perry Memorial Hospital in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. Almost eight months after President Donald Trump took office and promised to immediately repeal Obamacare, Republican senators are instead developing a small package of changes. Photo Credit: Bloomberg / Daniel Acker

If the No-Labels folks were running Washington, our policy-making and politics would be running smoothly, civilly, and effectively.

Really. And to prove that’s true, we will violate (just this once!) the clickbait commandment that religiously rules our news biz these days. We’re targeting today’s column as must-reading for just 52 people - the Republican members of the U.S. Senate. We are doing that because they urgently need to understand the real significance of what they have just been asked to do. So we are here to help.

“Repeal of Health Mandate Will Be Added to Tax Plan,” reported The New York Times headline spread across the top right corner of Wednesday’s front page. The Senate’s Republican leaders are trying to lure conservative senators to vote for a mammoth rewriting of federal tax - so they have just added a conservative sweetener.

With a parliamentary wink and an elbow in the ribs, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is giving fellow conservatives some sweet health care candy they’d given up hopes of ever getting - a chance to repeal (at long last!) the Affordable Care Act provision that conservatives have long loved to denounce as Obamacare’s most liberal (translation: very bad) requirement. Yes, ACA’s mandate that individuals must obtain health insurance.

If conservatives vote yes on the comprehensive tax bill - they can make the health insurance mandate disappear. And Obamacare will be in shambles. Conservatives will get a Republican revenge. And President Donald Trump will get a win (which is all he wants, no matter what havoc it creates).

But to properly tell this truth for our 52 targeted Senate Republican readers - since they have only a few days to decide how to vote on this now doubly-complex tax/healthcare bill - we must first remove all the labels. Why? Because that’s the only way to show that nothing that is about to happen makes any sense at all.

But it will begin to make sense when I tell you about the day I first discovered that health care mandate idea that conservatives love to vilify as the liberal Obamacare mandate. Some of you may know the story, but most of our targeted Senate GOP readers for this retelling won’t. Because when I first heard about the health insurance mandate idea, 46 of today’s Senate Republicans hadn’t arrived in the Senate yet, and Barack Obama was lecturing at the University of Chicago Law School, seriously dating Michelle, and doing voter registration for Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign.

It was March 1992, and at one of Washington’s most respected think tanks, experts proudly handed me their new health care plan: “The Consumer Choice Approach.” It said, “Americans are allowed to choose the health care plan they want.” It promised that there was a reasonable, market-based way to provide all Americans with health insurance - including those with pre-existing conditions (the most costly to cover). This was the key, the plan said: “Require all households to purchase at least a basic package of insurance, unless they are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or other government health programs.” The plan added that a “refundable credit system partially would offset the cost of such a plan for most Americans.”

Now that we have the attention of our targeted Senate Republican readers, let me reattach the political labels.

The think tank I was inside was the conservative, highly respected Heritage Foundation, reading, “The Heritage Consumer Choice Health Plan.” Republicans, being a party of big ideas, were focused on preventing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) from enacting his liberal single-payer health care plan. So they came up with this market-based plan.

The section titled “Advantages of the Heritage Plan,” promised: “Every American family would have access to affordable and adequate health care. .Americans no longer would lose coverage when they changed jobs. .Costs would be controlled effectively and efficiently. .The Heritage plan is budget neutral.”

It seemed like such a smart conservative idea that, in Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney made the heath care mandate the basis of his Romneycare. And years later, in Washington, a president picked the same mandate as the common-sense basis of his health care plan. He figured that compromise would attract Republican support. But we know how that turned out. Instead, Republicans rushed to ridicule the president’s plan by derisively naming it “Obamacare.” And so it goes.

Now Senate Republican leaders just made their huge, complex tax rewrite way huger by recklessly tossing some conservative candy in the form of a reckless Obamacare mandate repeal.

Too bad Washington isn’t a No-Labels city. Imagine our capital being a place where things work - and even make sense.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.

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