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Republicans turn to 'gaslighting' in the health care debate

Proponents of the Republican health care plan aren't just lying, they're lying in such a way as to make people question their own sanity.
Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) celebrates with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved...
In recent months, you've probably seen references to the politics of "gaslighting" and it's worth appreciating why. The origin of the word comes from a British play featuring a man, Jack Manningham, pushing his wife, Bella, deeper into madness, deliberately hiding items from their home and making her believe she misplaced them. As the story progresses, she increasingly questions her own mental health as a result of her husband's duplicitous manipulation.While executing his schemes, Jack dims the gas light in the house -- something Bella notices, but which Jack insists is part of her mental deterioration.As Lauren Duca explained very well in December, to "gas light" is to "psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity."As the health care debate progresses, it's hard not to notice the Republican gaslighting underway -- and the degree to which we've been cast in the role of Bella. Take this Slate report, for example.

Slashing $880 billion from Medicaid will help make the program "more responsive" to users, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said. During an appearance on CNN's State of the Union, [...]When confronted with the cuts, Price repeatedly refused to admit that the health care bill would cut Medicaid saying the Congressional Budget Office used the Obamacare numbers as a baseline for its analysis. Price insisted, "There are no cuts to the Medicaid program," adding that resources would be doled out "in a way that allows states greater flexibility."

This, of course, is completely bonkers. The Republican plan, at least as it existed on Thursday when it narrowly passed the House, cuts Medicaid by $880 billion. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this would cause 14 million low-income Americans to lose the coverage they currently enjoy under the Affordable Care Act.And yet, there was Donald Trump's HHS secretary, insisting that the bill doesn't cut Medicaid. On "Meet the Press," Price argued to NBC's Andrea Mitchell that under the Republican approach, "absolutely nobody" would lose Medicaid coverage. He added that the Medicaid program will actually have "more resources" to be utilized "for the disabled and the aged."Everyone involved in the debate -- including, in all likelihood, Price himself -- realizes how stark raving mad this is, but GOP officials appear determined to push us to the point at which we question our own sanity.Alas, it's not just Price. House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) chief spokesperson, AshLee Strong, tried to argue over the weekend that the GOP legislation "was posted online a month ago," went through four committees, and was scored by the Congressional Budget Office -- "twice."In reality, the final version of the bill passed by the House was posted online less than one day before the vote, none of the committees held substantive hearings on the proposal, and CBO didn't score the final bill -- because Republicans didn't want to know about the measure's cost or impact before the vote.A day later, Ryan himself insisted his bill included "multiple layers of protections for people with pre-existing conditions" (no such protections exist in reality) and no one would be hurt by the massive Medicaid spending cuts (millions would be hurt from lost coverage).At the White House on Friday, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Republicans "saw the mistake" Democrats made in 2010 "by trying to force and rush" health care legislation through Congress. This is the sort of lazy lying one does if he or she assumes everyone is dumb: Democrats spent months carefully deliberating before passing the ACA; House Republicans just passed a bill without a CBO score or a substantive hearing.Meanwhile, Mick Mulvaney, Trump's budget director, argued yesterday, "I think everybody will have coverage that is better than what they had under Obamacare," which, once again, is demonstrably ridiculous.We're not just talking about dishonest political figures dissembling during a debate; this is the sort of lying a party embraces when it's trying to make the public feel like Bella Manningham.In the story, Jack Manningham was eventually arrested. That's an unlikely outcome in the health care debate, but here's hoping folks can take some comfort in the fact that no matter how many falsehoods they hear from GOP officials about their plan, reality has a way of asserting itself.