Another seeming end to health battle

There was a better health care debate than the one in Congress:

When historians look back at 2017, they’ll have a difficult time understanding the Republicans’ zealotry to destroy our health care system. Just like our tweet-addicted President who is laser-focused on imagined petty slights, it doesn’t make any sense.

Political science majors will study the actions of Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller in particular, given the high stakes and soap opera quality of his legislative performance as he tried to become a leader in moving health care backwards, despite the outrage of his constituents. They’ll wonder how he could have so cavalierly worked against the state’s interests, even when Gov. Brian Sandoval was steadfastly opposed to hundreds of thousands of Nevadans losing their health care.

Perhaps they’ll watch video of the hearing on the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal, also known as zombie Trumpcare, where Heller insisted the bill to deprive Americans of their health care was not what it clearly was. Heller petulantly testified that Nevada would be able to tailor its own approach to providing health care, saving money through greater flexibility, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It was painful to watch Heller lob softball questions to Sen. Cassidy, who awkwardly overacted his programmed responses, promising health care nirvana. The Heller-Cassidy discourse was so scripted and so unsophisticated it was hard to believe it was a serious legislative hearing in the highest elected body in the land. Even Nevada’s state legislature would hold a more honest and thorough debate.

But Americans are increasingly willing to tolerate incoherent and mendacious behavior from politicians, as is all too obvious when you consider our president. Trump’s core supporters remain loyal even when he says racist, demeaning, and ridiculous things. They excuse his actions and ask the nation to “give him a chance” to improve as if he were an entry-level employee struggling with a first job.

But you have to look long and hard now to find a Republican willing to defend Heller’s constantly changing position on health care. Democrats meanwhile become more incensed with him by the day and more determined to force him into an early retirement should he run for re-election next year.

While Heller embarrassed Nevada with his rote and juvenile performance in the hearing, Sandoval was crystal clear about the “false choice” between dramatic cuts in federal funding and the state’s flexibility in designing a Nevada-specific health care system. In a statement, Sandoval said he refused to “pit seniors, children, families, the mentally ill, the critically ill, hospitals, care providers or any other Nevadans against each other” if the bill were enacted. Nevada would have lost at least a billion dollars under Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson.

Heller was utterly unconvincing in his arguments in favor of the bill leading one to conclude the last ditch attempt to repeal Obamacare really was just about the politics of placating the right-wing base and the big Republican donors who demanded their due.

Republicans have now moved on from the national battle over health care coverage to their top priority, cutting taxes for the wealthy, with plans to pay for the tax cuts by gutting Medicaid and Medicare as much as possible. They haven’t found time yet to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), leaving millions of working families uncertain whether their children are covered. Nevada, of course, is one of the states with the most exposure, only having funding to keep the program going through December.

In a sad coda to the health care battle, Trump traveled to Las Vegas last week to console victims of the mass shooting and praise first responders and health care professionals for a job well done. But so much more needs to be done to transform America into the country we all know it can be.

This is a corrected version of the column that appeared in print.