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“It’s Good To Be A Bush”: How The GOP Presidential Candidates Will Talk About Obamacare

One of my favorite factoids from the 2012 presidential race emerged when Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax return. There may not have been much scandalous contained therein, but Romney’s sources of income were so varied and intricate that the return ran to a mind-boggling 379 pages. And it’s starting to appear that Jeb Bush may have a similarly complex financial life, which he’s starting to unravel as he prepares for a potential presidential run. There’s one particularly interesting source of income, as this article in the Los Angeles Times explains:

And on Wednesday, Bush resigned from the board of directors of Tenet Healthcare Corp., also effective Dec. 31, according to a corporate filing. The Dallas-based company actively supported the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and has seen its revenue rise from it, an issue that could draw fire in Republican primaries.

Bush earned cash and stock awards worth nearly $300,000 from Tenet in 2013, according to corporate filings. He also sold Tenet stock worth $1.1 million that year, the records show.

If it’s like other big corporations, the services for which he was paid $300,000 by Tenet probably involved little more than going to a couple of meetings every year. It’s good to be a Bush. But let’s try to imagine the fire he might draw in the primaries over his association with the company. Are politicians from the party of capitalism and business really going to criticize him for making a ton of money, even if it involved the hated Affordable Care Act?

Yeah, they probably will. Which raises the question of exactly how the 2016 GOP candidates are going to address the ACA, which even as it becomes further embedded in our health-care system is still on many Republicans’ minds. Chances are they’re going to talk about it in the most general terms they can, in a discussion that stays at a symbolic level and avoids any specifics.

That’s because there are many more Americans who have a negative view of the ACA as an abstraction than there are who dislike the things it actually does. Members of the public are about evenly split when you just ask them what they think of the law. (In the latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 45 percent say we should move forward with the law or expand it, while 43 percent say scale it back or repeal it.) But with the exception of the individual mandate to acquire coverage, the specific provisions of the law are all supported by strong majorities. Even majorities of Republicans support elements such as the creation of the exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid and the provision of subsidies to help people afford insurance.

So if you’re a Republican candidate, you have to seek safe harbor on the terrain of the general and symbolic. Otherwise, you’d end up like Mitch McConnell did during the last campaign, insisting that while he wanted to repeal the ACA “root and branch,” he also wanted to keep almost everything the law does.

At the moment, lots of Republicans remain psychologically trapped in the days right after the problematic rollout of Healthcare.gov convinced them all that the ACA would collapse in a matter of weeks or months. At the time, they could barely contain their glee. As Ramesh Ponnuru and Yuval Levin — widely considered two of the more sober conservatives on issues like these — wrote at the time, “As ObamaCare’s failures and victims mount by the day, Republicans have so far mostly been watching in amazement. They expected the law to fail, but even among its most ardent opponents few imagined the scale and speed of the fiasco.”

Even if that was your honest assessment back then, you’d have to be in the grips of a nearly psychotic level of denial to believe it today. Every result of the law may not be perfect, but it has been an overwhelming success. Just about every prediction Republicans made has turned out false. The economy hasn’t tanked, 10 million people were newly insured even before this year’s open enrollment, premium increases are slowing, overall health costs are slowing, and conservatives looking for specific evidence of the law’s failure don’t quite know what to say.

So criticizing something like the fact that one of your opponents sat on the board of a company that benefited from the ACA offers a way to tell voters that you still hate Obamacare with every fiber of your being — and that opponent obviously doesn’t — without having to talk about what the law has accomplished.

Now let’s imagine something fanciful. What if one of the GOP candidates said something like this:

I opposed Obamacare. I wish it had never passed. But now it has been implemented, and just repealing the whole thing isn’t an option anymore. Too many people are now on either Medicaid or plans they got through the exchanges, and it would be wrong to just toss them off their coverage. And there are some things in the law that both conservatives and liberals support. So here’s a plan to keep what’s right about it and fix what’s wrong about it.

We all assume that if a candidate said that, he’d be condemned by his opponents as a traitor and all Republican voters would turn against him. The former would certainly occur, but the latter might not. He might be able to pull the other candidates into a discussion about the specifics of the law, where — if he were the only one with a plan actually grounded in the real world — he could win the argument.

But the truth is, that’s not too likely. If Romney, whose Massachusetts health insurance reform provided the model for the ACA, could win the nomination just shaking his fist at President Obama and insisting that his reform was nothing like Obama’s — which not a single person, Republican or Democrat, actually believed — then why take that chance? If you’re Jeb Bush, you can leave the board of Tenet and repeat over and over that your loathing for the ACA is as strong as anybody’s. In the primaries at least, that will probably be enough to neutralize the issue.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 26, 2014

December 28, 2014 - Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , ,

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