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Opinion

Republican faith in tax cuts and human suffering shapes healthcare bill

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Top of the Ticket cartoon.
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Congressional Republicans are staking their political future on a healthcare bill that is demonstrably cruel and deeply unpopular. To understand why they have chosen such a wretched and unpromising course, one has to appreciate the depth of their belief in two conservative shibboleths.

The first was articulated in 2015 by Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green who, until he withdrew from consideration on Friday, was the Trump administration’s nominee for secretary of the Army. Green was speaking to a church group in his home state when he spoke out against government assistance to needy citizens.

“The person who’s in need,” Green said, as quoted in the Washington Examiner, “they look to the government for the answer, not God, and I think in that way government has done an injustice that’s even bigger than just the creation of an entitlement welfare state…. I think it interrupts the opportunity for people to come to a saving knowledge of who God is.”

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And he went on: “I see our sort of government-based assistance taking God out of the picture. If you look at the Gospels and you go and study the Gospels, every person who came to Christ came to Christ with a physical need. It was either hunger or a disease.”

Green’s notions are misguided and illogical in so many ways — starting with the question of what he would do about people who still can’t pay the bill for their health coverage even after they accept Jesus as their savior — but his vision of the sick and poor is not an aberration in a party whose most devoted support comes from the Christian right. It is not hard to find many Republicans who quietly agree that government subsidies for the less fortunate among us are a bad thing that prohibits struggling souls from pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps or seeking solace in a church community.

Plenty of Christians — including many evangelicals, most mainline Protestants and any Catholics who believe in the social teachings of their church — interpret the lessons of Jesus in a very different way. They are appalled by a healthcare bill that takes billions of dollars away from Medicaid and gives it to a small cohort of wealthy Americans in the form of tax cuts. Nevertheless, Republicans like Green and his particular brand of believers think a bit of unrelieved suffering is not so bad if it brings destitute folks closer to God.

They also think taking from the poor and giving to the rich will promote economic growth, which is the second shibboleth and the most central dogma of the Republican religion. The fact that Bill Clinton’s tax increase in the 1990s was followed by an economic boom and a balanced budget while George W. Bush’s tax reduction a few years later led back to deficits and the Great Recession has not shaken Republicans’ absolute belief in the magic of cutting taxes.

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The Republican health plan passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday was all about that kind of magic; less about healthcare than about tax cuts. Over the next decade, wealthy citizens, insurance companies and medical device makers would see their tax burden drop by $600 billion, thanks to this legislation. Where would all that money come from?

Well, Medicaid, the program that serves the poor and chronically sick of all ages will take a huge hit. Subsidies will be reduced for people who live in parts of the country where the cost of healthcare is high. Struggling hospitals in remote, rural areas and those that cater to low-income communities will get significantly less help from the government. Waivers in the bill will allow states to charge sick people more for their coverage and older people as much as five times more than young people, while also dropping coverage for maternal care and contraceptives.

The Congressional Budget Office projected that an earlier version of the GOP scheme would cause 24 million Americans to lose their healthcare. House Republican leaders rushed their revised plan to a vote so quickly last week that there was no chance for a new CBO analysis. Given that the bill sent to the Senate is even more stingy than the previous iteration, it seems logical to assume the 24 million number is more likely to go up than down.

Curiously, the people who would fare the best under the GOP plan are young, healthy, affluent urbanites — also known as Democrats. Those who would fare the worst are older, less-healthy, lower-income folks in rural areas — also known as Trump voters. One might think that would spell trouble for Republican candidates in the 2018 election, but never underestimate the power of faith. God may not be on the Republicans’ side, but Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump are. And that pack of preachers have proven they can lead their followers to believe just about any crazy thing, even that terrible healthcare is good for their souls.

David.Horsey@latimes.com

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

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