For many of his supporters, Donald Trump’s casual relationship with the truth was at first amusing, part of his brash, anti-establishment appeal. He says what he thinks, went the argument, and if it isn’t true, so be it. His voters, we were told, have learned to take him seriously but not literally.
Now, however, the lies are beginning to hurt. The president’s use of what White House adviser Kellyanne Conway calls “alternative facts” — aka falsehoods — has been mimicked across his administration and by Republicans in Congress. Now House Speaker Paul Ryan, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price have joined the president and others in a fusillade of lies to sell the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
The president promised that the Republican plan would cover “everybody,” that it would offer better and cheaper care than that available under the ACA. Price pledged that “nobody will be worse off financially” under the Republican act. Mulvaney promised that “Medicaid is still there,” and the bill “actually helps a great many people.” Vice President Mike Pence told a crowd in Louisville that the ACA was a “nightmare” that had “failed the people of Kentucky,” a state in which the percentage of people without insurance was cut in more than half by the law. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s lies are too numerous to detail.
The facts are inescapable. The Republican bill offers people less help to purchase health insurance, particularly older workers. Millions will lose coverage or pay more for less. The expansion of Medicaid to lower-wage workers covered 10 million people under the ACA. The Republican bill savages Medicaid — after two years so voters might not notice in 2018 — and millions of the working poor will lose coverage. It does this not to reduce complexity, or regulation, or administrative nightmares, but to pay for a repeal of the taxes on the rich built into the ACA. Congressional analyses show, as The New York Times’ Jesse Drucker reports, Trumpcare’s two biggest tax cuts will lard $144 billion into the pockets of those with incomes over $1 million or more over the next decade. To pay for that, the working poor and older workers take the hit.
And that isn’t all. Rural areas will be hit hard from the cuts in Medicaid and decline of subsidies for poorer workers. Older blue-collar workers who don’t get insurance from their employers will be hurt the most. States will suffer a devastating budget cut that will force cuts in education, in roads, bridges and other services. Jobs cuts will follow in large numbers.
These are not facts that the administration likes, so it lies and then attacks the messengers. This weekend, administration spokespeople fanned out to discredit the Congressional Budget Office’s official assessment before it was released. House Speaker Ryan forced passage of the act through two committees before CBO could complete its assessment so the anticipated bad news would not influence legislators. OMB Director Mulvaney — who knows better — dismissed the CBO estimate as not “the best use of their time.” If CBO isn’t going to deliver good news, it shouldn’t say anything at all.
The president’s bizarre denial of reality — about the election results, about the size of his inaugural crowd, about getting wiretapped — initially were treated as the amusing signature of an entertainer. But now the lies hurt. If the Republican health care bill becomes law, millions will end up worse off. Will a handful of Republican senators have more respect for the truth than the White House? That may be the only thing that will keep Republicans from depriving millions of health insurance and costing jobs, while ladling tax breaks to the very wealthy.