Speaker Ryan and Sen. Johnson: A Congress for the well-heeled

By Bill Kaplan

Last Thursday Speaker Paul Ryan promised "to put together a complete alternative to the left's agenda...(not) just undo what the president has done,...(and) time-travel back to 2009." However, what came across was an election campaign strategy, gussied up with theatrical rhetoric:

• The New York Times said: Ryan would "pursue legislation that would frame a stark choice for voters in 2016...(making) no pretense of cooperating with President Obama";

• The Associated Press reported (despite Ryan's speechifying): "Congressional Republicans are a step away from acquiring what they consider a political cudgel for next year's elections: A veto by President Barack Obama of legislation (passed by the GOP-led Senate on Thursday) devastating his health care law (Affordable Care Act) and Planned Parenthood...the bill's chief purpose will be for campaign talking points";

• The Los Angeles Times panned the gutting of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): "But yanking about 17 million Americans off health insurance may be easier as a campaign slogan than a policy initiative ...";

• Finally, Timothy Jost opined on the Health Affairs blog: "The Senate bill also repeals ACA's revenue provisions that paid for its coverage expansion...Among the biggest tax cuts in the bill are repeals of the increased Medicare payroll and capital gains taxes imposed by the ACA on individuals earning more than $200,000 and families with incomes of more than $250,000. This would give upper income taxpayers tax cuts worth $346 billion over ten years".

Although the GOP-led Congress has a "light schedule" for 2016 - the Senate plans 143 days and the House only 111 days for legislating in Washington - don't expect any action on immigration reform or even congressional authorization of force against Islamic State terrorists (Washington Post). No, Republicans are hell-bent on eviscerating the ACA. Senate action followed an earlier vote by the House to kill the ACA (61st time). All Wisconsin GOP reps. voted to gut the ACA, while all Wisconsin Democratic reps. were opposed.

While both the House and Senate effectively repeal the individual / employer health insurance coverage mandates as well as halting federal funding (birth control and health exams) for Planned Parenthood, Senate Republicans went for broke: eliminating tax credits to make private health insurance affordable (impacts 165,000 Wisconsinites), repealing all Medicaid expansion - embraced by 30 states, including 10 that had GOP govs., and as outlined above by Health Affairs, more tax cuts for the super-rich. Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson voted to kill the ACA, while Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin was opposed.

Ryan and Johnson highlighted on the same day what is so wrong with the current Congress. The New York Times said: "Still even as Mr. Ryan was promising a forward-looking agenda, the Senate approved a budget reconciliation bill (no filibuster allowed) to repeal Mr. Obama's landmark health care law - a goal that Republicans have pursued since the law was enacted in March, 2010." However, President Obama will veto the bill and protect health insurance coverage for about 17 million Americans, while preventing more tax cuts for the well-heeled. Groundhog Day. 

-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009

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