As health care debate intensifies, GOP takes aim at empiricism

The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/13/17, 9:00 PM ET

24 million would lose insurance under GOP health plan: CBO

Rachel Maddow reports that the Congressional Budget Office figures 24 million people would lose their health insurance under the Republican plan to dismantle Obamacare.
Rachel Maddow reports that the Congressional Budget Office figures 24 million people would lose their health insurance under the Republican plan to dismantle Obamacare.
The Republican campaign against the Congressional Budget Office, an office headed by a Republican, has been ongoing for months, and the ferocity of the criticism intensified last night in response to the CBO’s score of the American Health Care Act (“Trumpcare”). It’s worth pausing, however, to note something important about Congress’ official scorekeepers:

The CBO is not perfect. It’s run by people relying on the best information availabile, which officials use to make estimates shaped by models. Sometimes those projections are excellent, sometimes they’re close, sometimes they’re wrong. Far-right Republicans are going after the CBO now, but there have been all kinds of instances in recent years in which these same partisans – including Donald Trump – accepted CBO data as gospel when it suited their purposes.

The problem with the ongoing attacks is not that the CBO should be shielded from any and all criticism; the problem is that Republicans are trying to delegitimize any neutral source of independent information. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent put it this way yesterday:
We’re seeing a broad White House effort to corrode the very ideal of reality-based governing, something that includes not just a discrediting of institutions such as the CBO but also the weakening of the influence of science and data over agency decision-making and the deliberate misuse of our democracy’s institutional processes to prop up Trump’s lies about his popular support and political opponents.
Welcome to the war on empiricism. For Team Trump and its Republican allies, some may present themselves as authorities – on health care data, on the unemployment rate, on climate science, on how many people showed up to witness a presidential inauguration – but right-thinking people should dismiss those sources as illegitimate.

It’s become a staple of the Trump presidency. As we discussed last month, the White House isn’t exactly subtle about its vision: Don’t trust news organizations. Don’t trust the courts. Don’t trust pollsters. Don’t trust U.S. intelligence agencies. Don’t trust unemployment numbers. Don’t even trust election results.

Some Republicans are actually inclined to go along with this style of authoritarian thinking. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Science Committee, recently advised Americans “to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”

He wasn’t kidding.

If Republicans have a problem with a CBO report, fine. They can and should make their case, point to flaws, present evidence, and respond with competing data. The rest of us can then evaluate that data and draw conclusions. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But when far-right officials make the case that there are no authorities, and subject-matter expertise is an illusion intended to distract people from “alternative facts” that Republicans find more satisfying, the damage to our discourse and policymaking process is incalculable.