Jim Jenkins

Republicans once united against the ACA are now divided by it

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. smiles as he speaks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 23, 2017, following a Freedom Caucus meeting. Meadows wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act despite the fact that 44,000 of his constituents have health insurance under the law.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. smiles as he speaks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 23, 2017, following a Freedom Caucus meeting. Meadows wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act despite the fact that 44,000 of his constituents have health insurance under the law. AP

To get a better understanding of the Republican Party divide over Obamacare, Lesley Clark of the McClatchy Newspapers Washington bureau went to the mountains of North Carolina and captured the scene well.

The star of the picture was N.C. Rep. Mark Meadows, who represents a swath of the mountains that includes lots of rich retirees and other conservative Republicans who have cheered Meadows as much as they have jeered former President Barack Obama.

Meadows is breathing fire and has been for a while about the evils of Obamacare, and he wants to cast it out, despite the fact that it’s grown in popularity as it’s covered more than 20 million people.

That includes, Clark reported, about 44,000 of Meadows’ constituents.

While some Republicans are hesitating about a repeal that the Congressional Budget Office says will eventually leave 22 million people without insurance, Meadows and others don’t seem to voice any concern or ask any questions. Well, except: So what?

This is one of the most bizarre debates in political history: Republicans are divided because the most conservative of them want to just repeal the Affordable Care Act because of their hatred of former President Obama. They don’t seem to much care what happens to the people who depend upon it. Then there are those who worry what the implications will be for their constituents who lose insurance and what the implications will be for them if they have to go home and explain it with the 2018 election fast approaching.

In other words, how do they dismantle Obamacare without electing a slate of Democrats in 2018 that makes Bernie Sanders look like Ted Cruz?

And they’re working on it while being cheered on to repeal by President Trump. The problem is they know his popularity, such as it is in his mind, will nosedive with repeal and being tied to the president will be a liability.

The truth is, this debate isn’t about whether the Affordable Care Act is working; for more than 20 million Americans it is, and some aspects of it such as protection for people with pre-existing conditions and allowing people to keep children on their insurance until age 26 are wildly popular.

Nor is it about the fear of socialized medicine or “government health care.” Hello ... we’ve got government health insurance, called Medicare, and it’s worked well for generations, preventing many elderly people from dying of illnesses they couldn’t afford to treat. Republicans criticize Medicare’s, but know if they touch it, they’ll all be going home for good in the next election.

No, it’s about hate and political revenge. It’s about the hate Republicans have stirred against former President Obama, whose victories in two presidential elections galvanized the ultra-right-wing base of the Republican Party. So what could be better than not just changing his ACA but repealing it outright? Yeah! Slap it down and teach him and the rest of the liberals a lesson. That’ll show ’em.

The problem is, it’s going to show millions of people to the poor house, with stops on occasion at emergency rooms where they’ll get all their health care.

The health insurance system will be in tumult, more of the American people will be in jeopardy with their health, and hospitals will be hurting without ACA insurance for patients and cutbacks in Medicaid. But by golly, the GOP will have repudiated that President Obama but good.

Victory will be delicious, no doubt. But as millions of Americans see millions more suffering without health insurance, Republican reality will hit and the political indigestion will be painful. And maybe, come November of 2018, the prognosis will be dire.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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