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GOP falsely claims Dems did 'exactly the same thing' on health care

To defend the indefensible, Republicans are clinging to an important lie. If the strategy works, American policymaking may never be the same.
In this March 23, 2010, file photo, President Barack Obama is applauded after signing the Affordable Care Act into law in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)
In this March 23, 2010, file photo, President Barack Obama is applauded after signing the Affordable Care Act into law in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has raised concerns about his party's approach to health care and the process in which the GOP bill is being crafted, but he felt compelled to tell reporters yesterday that congressional Democrats did "exactly the same thing" when putting together the Affordable Care Act several years ago.

Reminded that his claim is ridiculously untrue, Paul replied, "I'm not going to debate you."

That's not surprising. People caught in a lie rarely welcome an in-depth discussion of the topic on which they're trying to deceive people.

To be sure, if Paul and his Republican colleagues were correct -- if Democrats really did write "Obamacare" in secret, bypass committees, refuse to hold hearings, shut out industry stakeholders and subject-matter experts, shield the proposal from any kind of public scrutiny -- then GOP officials would be justified to pursue their current strategy. Indeed, everyone involved could credibly blame Democrats for creating an awful standard for American governance.

Reality, however, is stubborn. The Huffington Post's Jonathan Cohn explained yesterday:

... Democrats spent more than a year debating their proposal out in the open. Five separate committees, three in the House and two in the Senate, held literally hundreds of hours of hearings and produced testimony from experts representing multiple philosophical views and officials from pretty much every group or industry involved with health care. Republicans had opportunities to question those witnesses and to propose amendments, some of which actually ended up in the legislation. [...][Congressional Democrats] used the traditional committee process -- if not so much to write the legislative language then at least to give the media, interest groups and ultimately the public an opportunity to understand what was up for discussion and eventually form an opinion on that.

To say that Democrats in 2009 did "exactly the same thing" as Republicans are doing now is completely bonkers.

The New Republic's Brian Beutler, responding to Rand Paul's absurd claim, added, "The insistence or implication that Democrats did it first is fabricated to protect the Senate health care bill from being treated as the scandal it is. Senator Rand Paul didn't defend his claim, because he knew it was false; he just wasn't expecting a reporter to challenge his perversion of historical fact."

The irony is, congressional Republicans are turning to lies about norms and American political traditions to defend the indefensible. In effect, GOP officials are saying, "Democrats rewrote the rules of the game, so we're just playing along." This perversion of the truth is intended to be a credible shield, though anyone with even a basic understanding of the facts recognizes how insulting the lies are.

But what happens if the gambit succeeds anyway? What happens if the Republicans' scandalous approach to governance works according to plan, and the party's secretive and regressive bill becomes a legislative victory for the radicalized party?

The answer is disheartening, but straightforward: a new standard will be set, and the norms GOP officials are pretending to care about will be shredded further. Policymakers will be told that, going forward, this is how the legislative process can and should work in the United States.

One of the underappreciated aspects of politics in the Trump era is a question for which there is no good answer: how can Americans reestablish norms and traditions once they've been destroyed by a party that's rewarded for destroying them?