Remember the old rule, all politics is local? It’s dead. That local representatives can vote to toss 711,000 Washingtonians off health care, and get no political blowback for it, proves it.
This past week Congressman Dave Reichert voted to boot about 70,000 of his own constituents off health care. But he didn’t get any flak about it.
His Washington, D.C., office wasn’t flooded with calls. Nobody even bothered to tweet angrily at him.
His colleague, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, had it almost as easy. In the same party-line vote on Wednesday to repeal most of Obamacare, she voted to phase out newly acquired health coverage for about 81,300 of her Eastern Washington constituents.
That’s a huge number of people — 11.3 percent of all the people in her district. The reason there are more folks signed up for the various planks of Obamacare in her district east of the mountains is because the jobless rate is higher over there, and incomes lower.
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In all, the bill to repeal Obamacare would have phased out the system of taxes and subsidies providing health insurance right now to 711,000 Washingtonians.
It’s hard to overstate how unusual it is, historically speaking, for members of Congress to agree to cut off major benefits for that many of their own people, in one fell swoop. It’s akin to voting to cut off all Medicare beneficiaries. (There are 1 million Washingtonians in that program.)
But even more unusual is that it doesn’t seem to matter, politically. Reichert, R-Auburn, got no blowback at all and won’t be challenged in his 8th District. The day after the vote, McMorris Rodgers held a Facebook chat and did get a few questions about the repeal. (“How can you in good conscience vote to take away health insurance for thousands of your constituents without showing everyone a replacement plan first?”)
She provided a link to a website with some alternative ideas but no plans, and that was it.
Now, the public probably realizes this is all Kabuki theater. Though Republicans’ drive to cancel Obamacare finally reached the president’s desk on Friday, he promptly vetoed it. So for now, nobody is being cut from anything.
It also could be that of McMorris Rodgers’ 5th District constituents, the 81,300 directly helped by Obamacare are not the most active voters. So her risk in voting to cut them off may be smaller than it appears.
But political scientists are starting to wonder if one of the old standby rules of politics might finally be breaking down. Namely, that all politics is local.
It used to be that no matter how big the arguments about cultural issues or wars or whatever national topic, politicians also took close care of their districts. The premise of “constituent service” was that you’re there in part to help your residents — even when it may go against your political stripes.
Now extreme polarization may be trumping all that. In addition to not acknowledging that, say, 81,300 of your constituents are being helped by a law you’re voting to repeal, some GOP members of Congress have stated they won’t even assist people having any problems involving Obamacare.
“The idea of not just neglecting but actively refusing constituent services, for reasons of ideology, would be unimaginable to the constituent-focused members of Congress of both parties elected beginning in the 1970s,” wrote Mark Schmitt, a fellow at New America, a think tank in Washington, D.C., in an article last week about the phenomenon.
It’s not that support for Obamacare equals compassion for your constituents. There are plenty of well-documented problems with the law that need to be fixed. But to vote to cut hundreds of thousands of state residents off health care without any plan for what to do instead is the kind of ideological action a politician might have once paid some price for back at home.
But politics has been “recast as a winner-take-all conflict between wholly incompatible ideologies and identities,” Schmitt wrote. The number of swing voters has shrunk dramatically. As a result, actual problems, difficulties and concerns of regular people are becoming irrelevant compared with tribal appeals to the far-right or far-left base.
So all politics isn’t local anymore. All politics is ideological warfare.
If we elect a Republican president to go along with the Republican Congress, I wonder if they’d really have the guts to throw this many people off health care. My bet would once have been no, they wouldn’t. But the rules, they are a-changing.