WASHINGTON – Two words lately lost on many Republicans in Congress are disinterest and generosity, particularly in the way their behavior impacts health care policy.
“Disinterest” is an old-fashioned word, meaning impartiality. It can also mean “stewardship,” a 19th century Revivalist term, meaning the responsibility of the more fortunate to provide for the less lucky.
The word disinterested was brought to mind in a Facebook posting of an acquaintance, Ron Cohen, author and retired senior editor of Gannett News Service and United Press International.
Cohen, reacting to President Trump’s inappropriate political remarks at a Boy Scout event, cited a 1925 statement by former President Theodore Roosevelt, then the first honorary vice president of the Boy Scouts of America.
In his message to the Scouts, TR cited the qualities most needed in a president of the United States. One of them, TR wrote at the time, was a president’s responsibility to provide “disinterested service to the nation as a whole.” Disinterested service.
The phrase translates into a national imperative for generosity, financial and regulatory. For Trump and squads of reckless House and Senate Republicans, these ideas somehow got lost.
Apparently, even their parents and grandparents forgot to lecture them about disinterest and generosity.
In the Senate, two men in particular want to lead us back into a health care dreamworld that no longer exists. They are Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. They and their Republican followers prefer to see medicine as provided by a doughty country doctor, riding in a horse and buggy through the rain who has only the tools in his worn leather bag to save us.
They offer empty “magic of the marketplace” solutions to health care issues, such as insurance companies crossing state lines and health savings accounts, or collectives, which, of course, have value only for Americans who have thousands in reserve.
Any American who suffers from a chronic life-threatening illness knows that medicine is practiced in groups of specialists, who “speak” to each other via computer across municipal and even state lines. These healers, working in inter-city teams, ply experimental and expensive pharmaceuticals, even injections of atomic substances, to save, or at least prolong, life.
The horse and buggy and the black bag of nostrums hasn’t applied for 50 years, and the legislators well know it.
Yet early Friday morning, 49 Senate Republicans parked their understanding of “disinterested service to the nation as a whole” somewhere under the carpet in the Senate chamber and voted for what the American Medical Association said was an empty proposal that would deprive tens of millions of the less lucky Americans of their health insurance.
Fortunately, three Republicans – Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – (Murkowski withstood withering threats from the White House) joined with the Democrats to vote down what is hoped is the last secret GOP leadership bill to repeal Obamacare and leave millions of the poor and elderly with nothing.
After the vote, McCain, who heroically rose from a hospital bed to vote this careless bill down, said in a statement:
“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from all sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of the nation’s governors and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.” He sounded like Teddy Roosevelt.
McCain, who had warned Trump in a dramatic floor speech earlier in the week that he would vote against an empty, or “skinny” repeal bill, kept his promise.
Nobody outside the Washington Beltway wanted this bill – not the governors, not the nation’s mayors, not the hospitals, not the doctors, not the insurance industry. Only Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s gang of 13 senators wanted it. It was an exercise in Republican selfishness.
After the vote, McConnell muttered on the floor something about working with the Democrats to produce a better bill. But will he?