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Why Democrats May Be Too Hasty to Claim Victory for GOP Health Care Debacle

When the bill was passed, dozens of Democrats burst into song. Do they have any idea how bad that looks?

Photo Credit: Victoria Pickering / Flickr Creative Commons

Donald Trump’s bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act is barbarous. It would see 24 million more Americans become uninsured. It would fund tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Americans. It would roll back state-level Medicaid expansions. You would think that the immediate reaction from Democrats in Congress, in the face of such callousness, would be abject horror. And yet, they ... burst into song?

“‘Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye,’ dozens of Democrats sang in unison as the healthcare bill crossed the 216 votes needed to pass,” the New York Times reported. “What they lacked in originality – the No 1 song from 1969 by the group Steam is a standard anthem at sporting events – the Democrats made up for in enthusiasm. Their voices echoed throughout the House chamber, loud enough to be heard on a live feed on C-Span and even overpowering some celebrations by Republicans.”

That’s right. While the Republicans celebrated throwing people off their health insurance with Bud Lights, Democrats had a little celebration of their own, thinking that they would be set to gain politically in 2018 and 2020 from the misery this bill is sure to cause many millions of Americans. Such an assumption ignores, of course, all the other times that Democrats thought they had it in the bag, only to suffer a humiliating defeat.

It doesn’t end there. Nancy Pelosi was asked whether this would cause the Democratic party to make single-payer universal healthcare a priority in Congress and on the campaign trail. Her answer? “No, I don’t.”

At a post-roll call rally, Pelosi reportedly added: “Someone asked me: ‘Why don’t you stop them?’ Because we want them to define themselves ... They will walk this plank for nothing.” 

Many might defend Pelosi by saying that Republicans have a majority in the House, and that there was nothing Democrats could have done to stop the bill. But that’s not the reason she gave. She almost sounded happy to see this bill pass just so the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee can have a salient topic to campaign and fundraise on in 2018. 

Such rhetoric might sound great on MSNBC and play to big money donors, but it is sure to disappoint those who want the opposition party to behave like one. But what else should we expect from Nancy Pelosi? 

When interviewed on CBS’s Face The Nation shortly after the election, she told the host, John Dickerson, that she did not think Democrats needed to change their political direction after perhaps the most embarrassing loss the party has ever suffered at the national level. 

When a college student told her that young people did not believe in capitalism any more – for good reason – Pelosi’s response was simple: “We’re capitalist. And that’s just the way it is.”

The rest of the answer was no better. No acknowledgement of burgeoning student debt. No solutions for rising inequality. Just pablum about “shareholder capitalism” (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and “enlightened corporations” that are oh-so-kind enough to give working-class Americans jobs. 

And, of course, how can we forget Pelosi’s recent intervention on reproductive justice, in which she called on the Democratic party to tolerate anti-choice candidates? Weirdly enough, sacrificing the women’s right to reproductive health is Pelosi’s idea of reaching soft Trump voters, but universal healthcare is not.

Pelosi is not alone in her perfidy. On Friday, the US senator Jon Tester stated that he would be willing to vote for the Senate version of the AHCA because of a “lack of modifications” to make the Affordable Care Act “better”. You might be wondering: how many bills Tester has sponsored to make such modifications? The answer would be: zero.

Yet the senator from Montana is willing to vote for a bill that will undoubtedly make American healthcare worse in quality and more expensive for those who can least afford it.

The Democratic party faces a stark choice: it can either be a part of an actual resistance to the ideas and politics of Trump and his merry band of reactionaries, or it can lead a stage-managed #resistance that fails to inspire anything other than an eye-roll and a deliberate sigh from most voters. As the old union song goes, Which Side Are You On?

 

Douglas Williams is a PhD student in political science at Wayne State University, researching the labor movement and labor policy. He blogs at The South Lawn.

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