As someone who grew up in the segregated South in the 1950s and ’60s, I find it interesting that not only is my workplace overwhelmingly white, but so is my neighborhood, my church; even my gym. In fact, only when I’m home alone with my wife do I typically find myself in a majority black setting. The choices I made to create that reality suggest I don’t rush to blame racism for every fight or slight. But neither do I naively believe prejudice is nonexistent.
I think racism may be playing a role in the way some Republicans seem hell bent on tarnishing President Obama’s legacy, including by repealing Obamacare. Republicans say they want to replace it with something similar but better. That shouldn’t require repealing the law, unless that’s not really your goal. The Constitution has been amended 27 times, yet the Affordable Care Act cannot?
Despite efforts to diminish his years in the White House, history is likely to place Obama in the top tier of American presidents. The first person of color to win the presidency subsequently was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for trying to change America’s image abroad. He fulfilled an election promise to bring most of our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and resisted pressure to increase our military presence elsewhere. Along the way, he conquered one of the worst recessions this country ever faced.
That last accomplishment seems to particularly gall some Republicans. They point out that America still has poor and jobless people, as if a Republican president would have eradicated poverty. Obama is handing President-elect Trump a healthy economy, which is a far cry from the fiscal mess that George W. Bush handed over to Obama. Complaints that the economic recovery under Obama hasn’t been as robust as it should gloss over the fact that he has engineered a successful recovery.
The recovery has been slow but that’s because U.S. consumers, who accumulated record amounts of mortgage, credit card, and auto loan debt leading into the recession, weren’t spending enough to speed it up. The recession also weakened the world market for U.S. goods. Nonetheless, Obama’s policies worked. The unemployment rate is below pre-recession levels. Wages are up, modestly. Inflation is low. And the stock market is booming. And remember how Republicans talked about deficit reduction as if it were the Holy Grail? Obama has cut the deficit from $1.4 trillion, nearly half of the total federal budget, to $438 billion.
So why – with the election over and their man set to enter the White House – are congressional Republicans trying to rub Obama’s face in the mud at the expense of the millions of Americans who finally have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Even if the law is repealed and replaced, history will give Obama credit for initiating an overhaul of America’s health care system. Bill Clinton tried to do that and failed. George W. Bush was only able to get a prescription drug plan added to Medicare.
Republicans have wanted to kill the ACA ever since it was signed into law six years ago. But many of their horror stories about higher premiums have more to do with the avarice of insurance companies. They expected to make a lot of money off the new customers that the law required to have insurance or pay fines. But a miscalculation of how many new clients would be healthy and how many would need costly medical treatment cut into their profits, so they jacked up their premiums. People who don’t have Obamacare policies saw their premiums go up too.
The Republicans have had six years to come up with a replacement for Obamacare and they still have nothing to offer. Obama is urging fellow Democrats not to help the Republicans. He wants them to suffer the political consequences if they repeal Obamacare before they have figured out how to provide coverage for the 23 million Americans who are insured through the program. But politicians won’t be the only ones to suffer if the ACA dies before it has a replacement.
An independent study by the Commonwealth Fund, part of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, says repeal of Obamacare’s federal funding for tax credits and Medicaid expansion would cost 2.6 million jobs in 2019. Most of those lost jobs would be in the private health care industry, but related professions, including construction, real estate, and retail would also be hit, causing a cumulative $1.5 trillion loss in gross state products and a $48 billion drop in state and local revenues.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says repealing the tax increases included in Obamacare – including the Medicare payroll surtax on wages above $200,000 – would cost an additional $800 billion, and repealing Medicare provider and related cuts in the ACA would cost $1.10 trillion. The committee further noted that a reduction in health care costs now being attributed to Obamacare would be reversed if it becomes invalid.
Twila Brase of the conservative Citizens Council for Health Freedom says if Obamacare is “still around” in 2020, “the Republicans who won on it this year stand to lose big.” She said, “Not repealing the Unaffordable Act would be bigger than President (George H.W.) Bush’s broken ‘read my lips’ campaign promise.”
Political threats like that have apparently instilled fear in some congressional Republicans who want to kill Obamacare. But bashing the president’s legacy has a more sinister context, which you can find on a website called The Daily Stormer. A recent lead story on the site, which calls itself “America’s #1 Most Trusted Republican News Site,” had this headline: “Tom Hanks’ Jigaboo Granddaughter Reminds Us Why Race-Mixing Shouldn’t Happen.”
The fact that such a website would suggest that it represents Republican views should trouble members of that party. But then again, the racist website speaks to an element that often made its presence known at some Donald Trump election rallies. Does the party of Abraham Lincoln really want to be seen as trying to dump on the legacy of America’s first black president? Or does it want to build on Obama’s legacy to make this country even greater than it already is? What Congress does with Obamacare may provide the answer.