The House Republicans' American Health Care Act was already an unpopular mess, which GOP leaders made worse by gutting protections for those with pre-existing conditions. This has become a key sticking point preventing the regressive legislation from passing: even many conservative members see this change as a bridge too far.The initial argument from GOP leaders to their worried members was that the change wouldn't matter too much when implemented. Most states wouldn't take advantage of the opportunity to hurt those with pre-existing conditions, the Republican leadership said, so the number of families that would be punished would be modest.That was last week. This week's line is to simply play make-believe and pretend the GOP proposal doesn't do what it plainly does. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) published a piece yesterday with an amazing headline:
VERIFIED: MacArthur Amendment strengthens AHCA, protects people with pre-existing conditions.
The MacArthur Amendment refers to the provision, championed by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), which would empower states to waive protections for those with pre-existing conditions that currently exist in the Affordable Care Act.Ryan wants everyone -- his members, the media, the public -- to believe this provision "protects people with pre-existing conditions." The Speaker must know at some level how very wrong this is.It's not especially complicated: the Affordable Care Act requires that those with pre-existing conditions not be discriminated against, while also requiring that these consumers not be charged more for coverage.The GOP proposal used to maintain this protection -- it's wildly popular with the American mainstream, so Ryan was careful to include it in his original legislation -- but far-right members of the House Freedom Caucus balked. The current iteration of the bill, thanks to the MacArthur Amendment, guts the guarantee.I'm especially fond of Ryan's use of the all-caps "VERIFIED," which the Speaker's office appears to have just made up. There's no actual verification of anything; it's just Ryan declaring that his dubious claims are true because he says so.In the broader context, note that Donald Trump, as recently as Sunday, also insisted that protections for pre-existing conditions are in the current version of the Republican plan, which was also untrue, and which led to plenty of commentary about how confused the president is about the specifics of the bill he's eager to sign.There are certain expectations surrounding Trump -- pretty much everyone now knows the president has no idea what he's talking about and is woefully uninformed about what's going on around him -- so when he flubbed this issue, it was seen as another example of Trump's cringe-worthy confusion.But Paul Ryan faces the opposite expectations: it's widely assumed the Speaker has at least some rudimentary understanding of substantive details. That makes it all the more notable when he misstates the facts, because it's easier to believe Ryan is deliberately trying to mislead people than believe he's as ignorant as Trump.For concerned House Republicans, all kinds of alarm bells should be ringing right now. What does it say about the state of the debate that the Speaker of the House finds it necessary to make bold claims that are demonstrably untrue?