House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sat down with Fox News’ Chris Wallace over the weekend, and the host confronted the congressman with some pertinent details about the Affordable Care Act.
“Under Obamacare, 16 million Americans have gained health coverage. Healthcare costs have risen at their slowest level in 50 years and up to 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions are no longer in risk of losing coverage.“And meanwhile, for all of the complaints, Congressman, we’re five years into Obamacare, Republicans have still not come up with a coherent plan that will ensure that all of those millions of uninsured people get coverage.”
Wallace’s summary had the benefit of being true. Ryan responded by ignoring the good news and noting that some congressional Republicans offered alternative proposals, which is true – though none was endorsed or embraced by GOP leaders, and none offered the kind of comprehensive solutions found in the Affordable Care Act.
The host asked, “Do you have a plan that would make sure that, for instance here, 16 million Americans who didn’t have health insurance will get health insurance?” Ryan replied, “Yes, we will,” but after five years of Republican promises, it was clear that such a plan does not currently exist.
The broader political context matters, of course. Paul Ryan, despite his routine difficulties with the basics of health care policy, is often seen as one of the sharper and more knowledgeable voices in his party. Indeed, few congressional Republicans seem to enjoy the kind of Beltway credibility Ryan has as an ostensible policy wonk.
If anyone else in GOP politics has that kind of reputation, it’s former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and even a former Commerce Secretary nominee in the Obama administration. Maybe he can offer a more accurate Republican take on health care developments?
Well, he probably could, though last night on msnbc, Gregg was no better than Ryan.
The New Hampshire Republican sat down with Chris Hayes, who seemed a little taken aback when Gregg said the costs of the ACA have “gone up significantly” and added that the uninsured rate hasn’t plummeted. “It has not plummeted,” the former senator insisted. “It has gone from 44 million [uninsured] to 40 million.”
The two went back and forth for a couple of minutes, before Gregg told the host, “Your ability to understand your numbers is worse than Obama.”
So, 12 hours later, who was right? I’m afraid Judd Gregg, despite his apparent interest in the subject, was badly confused about, well, everything. He said the cost of the law has gone up, but it’s actually gone down. He said the uninsured rate hasn’t plummeted, but it has. He effectively argued that only 4 million uninsured consumers have gained coverage, but that number is topped by Medicaid expansion totals alone.
Given the circumstances, “Your ability to understand your numbers is worse than Obama” seemed like a rather ironic thing to say. The president’s grasp of the data is fine, as is Chris’.
The broader point, however, is that folks like Paul Ryan and Judd Gregg are supposed to be the best the GOP has to offer. Among inside-the-Beltway Republicans, these two are supposed to be the best “numbers guys” available. Some rank-and-file freshmen may flub the details, but Ryan and Gregg are the knowledgeable experts.
And yet, even they don’t seem to be up to speed on ACA basics.