The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.” The myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
For seven long years, the Republican Party time and again has sought to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act that is most commonly referred to as Obamacare. For seven long years, the Republican Party has met failure in seeking to gut the signature legislation of the Obama administration.
Like the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus, one who was doomed by the gods for eternity to push a huge boulder uphill only to have the boulder roll back downhill and the task to begin anew, Republican congressional and now presidential leadership have seemed all too willing to gamble with the coverage of millions of their constituents.
Consider, then, the irony that Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), Obama’s 2008 rival for the presidency, serves as the leading Republican voice of caution and reason on this critical issue. Talk about rollercoasters–over the past two weeks, McCain has drawn the prayers of political friends and foes alike once he revealed that he was battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, including yours truly. Earlier this week, when McCain cast the deciding vote to allow further debate on Trumpcare or other Obamacare repeal measures, he drew the praise of President Donald Trump, but the ire of many of his political opponents, including yours truly, opponents concerned that repeal and replace may become reality.
But in the end, there was old Maverick McCain, joining Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Maine Senator Susan Collins (R) and 48 Democrats by voting “no” on a so-called “Skinny Bill” that would have gutted key aspects of Obamacare. In a span of a week, McCain went from receiving Trump’s praise as a hero, to Trump’s derision as a traitor per the late night Twitter storm depicted below.
Had the Skinny Bill passed, it ultimaty could have impacted Obamacare as follows:
*Repeal the individual mandate to purchase insurance,
*Repeal the employer mandate to provide insurance,
*One-year defunding of Planned Parenthood,
*Provision giving states more flexibility to opt out of insurance regulations,
*Three-year repeal of the medical device tax,
*Increased the amount that constituents can contribute to Health Savings Accounts.
While the Republican proposal, had it passed, could have cut the deficit by upwards of 100 billion in a decade, such government austerity would have been at the expense of an estimated 16 to 25 million Americans who would have found themselves uninsured.
I have argued many times in my columns that Republican resistance to the Affordable Care Act had more to do with their disdain for “Obama,” as in the 44th President of the United States Barack Hussein, as opposed to the “Care” aspect that provides coverage to constituents. With conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and his ilk having routinely referred to Obama as an “elitist” (read—“Uppity Negro”), and many millions of working class and poor white conservatives rallying behind the cause of repealing Obamacare not because it would benefit them personally, but because it satisfied their desire to put that Uppity Obama in his place, the failure of the latest repeal efforts will benefit them despite their efforts to cut off their noses to spite their faces.
Indeed, since 2010, the rallying cry for Republican primary congressional races and even the presidency has been “repeal and replace” and President Donald Trump, once a supporter of universal health care, has repeated the mantra on the campaign trail and since taking office ad nauseam.
The hypocrisy, however, is that most Republicans know that repeal and replace efforts are misguided. In 2012, to his chagrin and my delight, I had the privilege of grilling Cantor like he was under cross-examination during a breakfast roundtable in Tallahassee, one where he extolled the virtues of his Obamacare repeal and replace efforts. To no surprise, a few weeks back, Cantor conceded that such efforts were not based on sound policy, but to soothe the savage beast that was and remains uneducated Republican primary voters who hang on Limbaugh’s every word. Said Cantor, “We sort of all got what was going on..if you’ve got that anger working for you, you’re gonna let it be.”
(Ol’ Hobbs with a smiling but not so happy Cantor in 2012)
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks (R) echoed similar sentiments to Cantor, saying this past week that, “We have Republicans who do not want to repeal Obamacare…they may have campaigned that way, they may have voted that way a couple of years ago when it didn’t make any difference.”
I cannot predict how long Sen. McCain will live or how long he will remain in the Senate, but in a career that has been marked by the vicissitudes that define the political careers of those bold enough to break with ideological orthodoxy, perhaps his legacy will be memorialized by the following words:
“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people. We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”
If nothing else McCain provides the blueprint for Republicans and Democrats alike on how to push political boulders uphill like Sisyphus, while breaking the curse and keeping the rocks on the hill.