A late year political potpourri

The Republicans remain, still, happily ensconced in the cheap seats, cheering for the Affordable Care Act to fail.

It's a train wreck, they repeat, while righteously pointing to the rollout of healthcare.gov. What they cynically ignore is that ACA is not a website (for all its debut flaws), and to discuss this enormous change in health care accessibility as if it were is to callously ignore its intent and thereby diminish the massive changes it will bring about in the lives of millions of Americans.

Clearly, this act is Byzantine, a tortured labyrinth that tries to address countless aspects of the nation's health needs. All while allowing the for-profit health care providers to remain in the mix (a far more simple and elegant solution would have been Medicare for all Americans, no exceptions).

ACA is a vast and stunningly complex undertaking, as were Social Security and Medicare. But its fundamental purpose, lest we forget, is to better the common good, to bring affordable health care to millions who have never stood under the umbrella of insurance with any semblance of security. That would include those millions of Americans who have never had insurance and those who have had policies canceled or have been denied coverage in a moment of crisis or been told that a pre-existing condition was a disqualifier.

What is unfortunate is that the flawed beginning of the ACA gives conservatives the ability to ideologically lock and load, resurrecting their familiar mythology that government cannot do big things. It cannot create programs that nurture and protect the common good. Republicans now live by the tea party bumper sticker that begins and ends with "Congress shall make no law." Period.

Of course, to embrace this mythology they have to ignore the efficacy of Social Security and Medicare, two immense strands woven into the social safety net without which millions of our older citizens would drop into an abyss of poverty and despair. It was government that, in one of the greatest acts of concentrated courage and logistics, defeated, almost simultaneously, fascism in Europe and Japan. Government built the interstate highway system and maintains the roads and infrastructure that bring customers to the doorstep of private enterprise. Government educates our children. And it maintains a system of national parks that are a marvel, as are countless libraries and public universities.

So if conservatives subscribe to the belief that "Congress shall make no law," then it would follow that they would do all things possible to not only slow down legislation, but also shut down government entirely, as they recently did. Governing for the GOP has become the art of not governing, and raises the question why conservatives come to Washington at all if their only intention is to block any legislation that is proffered. As recently reported by Politico, the current Congress has enacted only 49 laws, the lowest number since 1947. It is reprehensible that tea party conservatives take pride in the belief that when it comes to government legislation, less is more, a nihilistic posture that is often framed as "gridlock" but is something far more insidious. Theirs is a reflexive, mean-spirited ideology that has forgotten who and what we are as a nation.

Consider that lawmakers exited Washington during Thanksgiving sans a farm bill, while insisting that food stamps, which have historically been part of the bill, be cut by some $40 billion over the next decade, ending benefits for at least three million people each of those years. These draconian cuts would affect millions below the poverty line and push many, including countless children, into deeper poverty.

Immigration remains unsolved, and the House has expressed no desire to respond to the bipartisan Senate bill that addresses the millions of people (including young Dreamers brought here as children) whose purgatorial circumstances beg for a humane solution. And not to forget that 1.3 million people will lose their unemployment insurance by the end of the year while the House has shown no interest in renewing it. Workplace discrimination for gays has been ignored, despite best efforts, as has equal pay for women. Gun control is a chimera.

The sequester ($1.2 trillion in arbitrary budget cuts lasting until 2021) continues to inflict needless damage to our nation. Consider, as reported by the New York Times, that the National Institutes of Health was required to cut $1.55 billion from its budget in 2013, affecting potential medical breakthroughs in research involving diabetes, cancer, autism, Parkinson's and heart disease.

The work at the NIH is but one example. The list of truncated programs that affect the common good is extensive, all in the name of a bizarre form of indiscriminate austerity.

And in the interim, conservatives continue to embrace the fantasy that less government is more and, of course, "Congress shall make no law."

Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.

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