On "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, host Chris Wallace interviewed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and asked a question that too often goes overlooked: "One of the keys to 'Obamacare' is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage?"
Notice McConnell's reluctance to answer the question. Wallace had to ask three times about the tens of millions of Americans who have no health coverage, before the Republican senator said what he actually believes: "That's not the issue."
When Wallace followed by asking, "You don't think the 30 million people that are uninsured is an issue?" McConnell changed the subject.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. There are 30 million Americans who can't afford to see a doctor. They are one serious illness away from bankruptcy. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year because they have no insurance. The United States is the only industrialized democracy on the planet that allows this to happen to its own citizens.
And the Republican solution to this problem is to conclude that it is not a problem in need of solution. The GOP policy to help these millions of Americans is ... literally nothing. They are, in Mitch McConnell's words, "not the issue."
There's no mystery as to the GOP's motivations. The right sees health care as a privilege -- if tens of millions Americans can't afford to see a doctor, well, they simply haven't earned it.
Indeed, McConnell's choice of words was startling, but he only made explicit what we already knew. Though it's been long forgotten, House Republicans in 2009 unveiled a rival health care reform plan to ostensibly compete against the Democratic proposal. What did the GOP policy do to expand access to those without insurance? Nothing; it ignored them.
Likewise, this year, Mitt Romney's Republican presidential campaign has offered no solutions whatsoever to help those without access to basic medical care.
As we discussed last Wednesday, Democrats believe Americans must have the ability to seek basic medical care, and Republicans believe the opposite. As Jon Chait explained the day before the Supreme Court's ruling, it's a moral question that the parties answer differently.
Several reporters have recently filed dispatches showing in human terms what sort of conditions we would be perpetuating in the event that five Republican Supreme Court Justices, or a potential Republican-run government next year, partially or completely nullify the Affordable Care Act. A man will watch the tumor in his leg grow to the size of a melon, and his wife will sew special pants to fit the growing bulge, because he has no insurance. A woman will hobble around for four years on an untreated broken ankle she can’t have repaired. People will line up in their cars and spend the night in a parking lot queuing for a rare free health clinic.
Maybe these stories sound like cheap emotional manipulation. They are actually a clarifying tool to cut through the rhetorical fog surrounding the health-care debate and define the question in the most precise terms.
Quite right. In precise terms, though both major American political parties accept the basic premise of the free-enterprise system -- those with more wealth will, as Chait put it, "enjoy vastly greater comforts and pleasures than others" -- Democrats and Republicans differ on what the consequences should be for those with less.
"What is being disputed is whether the punishments to the losers in the market system should include, in addition to these other things, a denial of access to non-emergency medical treatment. The Republican position is that it should."
This is obviously, painfully, demonstrably true, though it doesn't come up often in polite conversation.
There are basic American institutions that enjoy broad political support. Everyone in the country, regardless of wealth, is entitled to go to a public school. We can go to public libraries. If there's an emergency, we can call the police and/or the fire department. When we're older, we can count on Medicare and Social Security. Up until very recently -- right up until the radicalization of the Republican Party -- these basic observations were uncontroversial elements of American society. They enjoyed the status of consensus.
But if we want to see a doctor, the consensus disappears. Democrats believe you're entitled to seek non-emergency medical care, just as you're entitled to send your kid to school or ask the fire department to put out a fire. Republicans believe the ability to see a doctor is a luxury. They are, as Chait noted, "the only mainstream political party in the advanced world" to believe it's acceptable to deny basic medical care to citizens based on their wealth.
And Mitch McConnell reminded the political world yesterday that his party has no intention of changing any time soon.