A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. 
Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty

Republicans take health care make-believe to a new level

Updated

One of the unexpected elements of the 2018 election cycle has been watching Republicans pretend to be progressive health care advocates who love the core elements of “Obamacare.” It’s a rather transparent sham, but with polls showing Americans ranking health care as the year’s most important issue, GOP officials and candidates apparently feel as if they have no choice but to keep the charade going.

But as it turns out, Republicans aren’t just playing make-believe on their policy positions; they’re also playing make believe on their actual legislative record. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank flagged an especially brazen example that hadn’t crossed my radar.

Embattled incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) stands accused of voting against health care for more than 100,000 Mainers. “To clarify,” a reporter for the local ABC affiliate asked Poliquin recently, “did you vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act?”

“No,” Poliquin said. “I voted for a replacement plan.”

Here is the roll call on the House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a regressive alternative. A total of 20 House Republicans voted “no” – and Maine’s Bruce Poliquin wasn’t one of them.

The GOP congressman is playing a rather silly game, making the case that when he voted to “repeal and replace” the ACA, he was really only voting to “replace.”

The vote Poliquin and 216 other House Republicans cast in May 2017 was quite controversial at the time. They knew the bill hadn’t yet received any meaningful committee scrutiny; they knew it faced long odds in the Senate; they knew it was deeply unpopular with the public; they knew it would hurt a lot of families; and they knew Donald Trump might not provide them with backup when it counted. (The president turned on the House bill six weeks later, condemning it as “mean,” hanging his ostensible allies out to dry.)

But they cast the vote anyway, inviting the consequences. It’s a little late to pretend that vote never happened.

Nevertheless, that’s precisely what many GOP incumbents are trying to do. Milbank’s column added that Poliquin’s posture “is part of an elaborate attempt at a midterm hoax: Republicans convincing the public that they did not try to repeal Obamacare and its preexisting-conditions protections, and that they would again not do so if reelected.”

Rep. Tom MacArthur’s (R-N.J.) website told voters last year, for example. “Tom will work to repeal Obamacare, but won’t stop there.” Now visitors see, “Tom opposed his own party’s efforts at a speedy Obamacare repeal.” (MacArthur, like Poliquin, voted for his party’s far-right repeal-and-replace bill.)

As Milbank went on to explain, “Of the 73 incumbent House Republicans in competitive races, 67 voted at least once to eliminate Obamacare’s protections for those with preexisting conditions, according to an analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.”

Looking over the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s list, many voted to scrap those protections a lot more than once.

It’s one thing for guys like Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker to play dumb, pretending their efforts to gut Americans’ health security aren’t dangerous. But if members of Congress weren’t prepared to defend their anti-health-care votes, they shouldn’t have cast them in the first place.

Affordable Care Act, Health Care and Obamacare

Republicans take health care make-believe to a new level

Updated