Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ryan's health care bill fails, Trump loses face, and the Freedom Caucus is just as nasty as ever

Here are two converging stories - one about the media’s role in Ryan’s rise (for sure) and fall (maybe). The other is about the failure of Ryan’s Ripoff and why the causes of it may not change much.

On Friday, Paul Krugman exposed The Scammers, the Scammed and America’s Fate in what Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) termed a “withering column.” Scriber thinks Krugman raises a issue bigger than even Ryan’s American Health Freedom from Care Act, namely false symmetry (what we’ve been calling false equivalence). Krugman winds up as follows.

So how did Mr. Ryan reach a position where his actions may reshape the lives of so many of his fellow citizens, in most cases very much for the worse? The answer lies in the impenetrable gullibility of his base. No, not his constituents: the news media, who made him what he is.

You see, until very recently both news coverage and political punditry were dominated by the convention of “balance.” This meant, in particular, that when it came to policy debates one was always supposed to present both sides as having equally well-founded arguments. And this in turn meant that it was necessary to point to serious, honest, knowledgeable proponents of conservative positions.

Enter Mr. Ryan, who isn’t actually a serious, honest policy expert, but plays one on TV. He rolls up his sleeves! He uses PowerPoint! He must be the real deal! So that became the media’s narrative. And media adulation, more than anything else, propelled him to his current position.

Now, however, the flimflam has hit a wall. Mr. Ryan used to be able to game the Congressional Budget Office, getting it to produce reports that looked to the unwary like proper scores of his plans, but weren’t. This time, however, he couldn’t pull it off: The C.B.O. told the devastating truth about his plan, and his evasions and lies were too obvious to ignore.

There’s an important lesson here, and it’s not just about health care or Mr. Ryan; it’s about the destructive effects of false symmetry in reporting at a time of vast asymmetry in reality.

This false symmetry — downplaying the awfulness of some candidates, vastly exaggerating the flaws of their opponents — isn’t the only reason America is in the mess it’s in. But it’s an important part of the story. And now we’re all about to pay the price.

Perhaps not so much. Ryan and Trump lost face, lots of it, with yesterday’s crash and burn of Ryan’s Ripoff. See for example In Major Defeat for Trump, Push to Repeal Health Law Fails. There’s blame to go around. To Ryan certainly, a good deal to Trump’s political naivety, and some portion to the recalcitrant “Freedom Caucus.” Here’s what the Times writer thinks should happen.

Defeat of the bill could be a catalyst if it forces Republicans and Democrats to work together to improve the Affordable Care Act, which members of both parties say needs repair. Democrats have been saying for weeks that they want to work with Republicans on such changes, but first, they said, Republicans must abandon their drive to repeal the law.

But it probably won’t. The free marketeers will go to the political grave insisting that Obama’s ACA must die. Here are some observations from Tim Alberta writing at politico.com: Inside the GOP’s Health Care Debacle. Eighteen days that shook the Republican Party—and humbled a president.

… Trump’s first attempt to corral the Republican-controlled Congress—and particularly the Freedom Caucus, a rambunctious, ideologically charged collection of GOP legislators who have long refused to fall in line behind the party’s leadership—failed miserably. That failure played a major role in the collapse of the American Health Care Act almost exactly 24 hours after their meeting at the White House, and now, as Trump warned, threatens to paralyze the president’s first-year policy agenda and send Republicans into a damaging cycle of intra-party recrimination.

Remember: these guys do not see compromise as a virtue.

Walking toward the tunnel that connects the House office buildings to the Capitol itself, I ran into Mark Walker, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a large caucus that was once home to the conservative movement in Congress before being eclipsed in recent years by the more ideologically pure Freedom Caucus. Walker had initially been against the bill, but came on board quickly after some changes, and in doing so validated the critiques of his group by those further to the right. A former minister, Walker is by nature relaxed and genteel, but his face was burning red and his voice trembled as we discussed the bill’s defeat.

“I’m very bothered. I’m disappointed,” he said, measuring his words. “This was a chance to repeal all the Obamacare taxes. It was a chance to take off the burdensome mandate we’ve stuck on our employers and individuals who have begged for help. It [has] additional pro-life provisions. It destroys the chance to do the biggest Medicaid revision that we’ve had in what, 51, 52 years? Yeah, I’m bothered by it.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum were Meadows, Jordan, Labrador and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, arguably the four core members of the Freedom Caucus. Moments before I talked to Walker, I had intercepted the four of them walking toward the meeting room. They hadn’t heard the news; when I told them Ryan had pulled the bill, they exchanged glances and tried to suppress grins. Only Meadows looked upset; a southern gentleman and successful businessman, he wants to be liked by everyone, and the episode clearly took an emotional toll on him. He declined to provide a comment. So did Labrador and Amash. But Jordan, the godfather of the House conservatives—he arrived four years prior to the tea party wave of 2010—made clear that he wouldn’t go along with Trump’s decree that Republicans would abandon health care and move on to tax reform.

“We want to see Obamacare repealed,” Jordan told me. “That hasn’t changed.”

And that is why Democrats and Republicans cannot come to the same table on health care.

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