A print-out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (R) sits next to a copy of the plan introduced to repeal and replace the ACA during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC on March 7, 2017.

By pointing to piles of paper, Spicer makes the worst argument of all

Before today’s White House press briefing got underway, aides put two piles of paper on a table near the press secretary’s podium. One was much taller than the other, and it seemed pretty obvious what was about to happen.

Sure enough, Sean Spicer delivered the punch-line to a sad and unnecessary joke: the tall pile paper was the text of the Affordable Care Act, while the short pile is the House Republicans’ new bill, called the American Health Care Act.

Apparently, the point is that the Republicans’ proposal, panned by practically everyone who isn’t an elected GOP official, is better – because it’s shorter. This was Spicer’s exact quote to reporters:
“People who have concerns about this, especially on the right, look at the size. This [puts hand on tall pile of paper] is the Democrats’; this [puts hand on short pile of paper] is us. There is, you can’t get any clearer, in terms of this [puts hand on tall pile of paper] is government; this [puts hand on short pile of paper] is not.”
Please note, this wasn’t a joke. Spicer wasn’t kidding around. In 2017, the chief spokesperson for the president of the world’s dominant superpower argued, in all seriousness, that the merit of a national health care plan can be measured in part by page numbers.

This is the status of the political discourse in contemporary American life.

And why is Spicer wrong? First, because the 66-page American Health Care Act, as unveiled last night, isn’t the entire Republican plan. It’s a modest bill that hasn’t been amended or even debated, and according to none other than Donald Trump, it’s the first in a series of “phases.” The Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, is existing law that’s provided health security to tens of millions and brought the nation’s uninsured rate to the lowest point on record.

In other words, “Obamacare” is complete; “Trumpcare” is just getting started. The fact that the former will have more words in it than the latter should be obvious to anyone above the age of six.

Second, the adage “it’s easier to tear down than build up” comes to mind. The Affordable Care Act overhauled the health care system in a country of more than 315 million people. That takes time, effort, and a whole lot of legislative text.

Republicans want to piggyback on the existing framework, make coverage more expensive, cut the number of people with health security, and deliver a big tax cut to the wealthy. That takes less time, less effort, and far fewer pages.

For years, various voices on the right have tried to argue, “The ACA can’t be good because it’s long.” In Grown-Up Land, however, word-counts are a ridiculous metric for legislative merit.

As we discussed a few years ago, when opponents of a bill are reduced to talking about the literal, physical size of the legislation, they’ve completely given up on the pretense that public policy matters. When they’re more inclined to put a bill on a scale than actually read the bill and evaluate its real-world impact, they’ve embraced post-policy anti-intellectualism with both arms.