Media Help Republicans Gut Obamacare Behind Closed Doors

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Media Help Republicans Gut Obamacare Behind Closed Doors

"Shouldn’t we have the public debate before the vote this time, and not have people scrambling to call their congresspeople at the last minute?"

"Tens of thousands losing health insurance as a GOP Obamacare overhaul looms is, one would think, a pretty big deal," Adam Johnson writes. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Senate Republicans have been quietly working to eliminate Obamacare while avoiding media attention—and major papers and television news are playing along.

"The moves being made now in almost total secrecy may not have the sexy visual qualities of a Warriors NBA title or protests in Russia, but they will be, for the vast majority of Americans, far more consequential."

Axios (6/13/17) reported that attempts by the GOP to dramatically reshape healthcare—through a bill called as the American Health Care Act (AHCA), popularly known as Trumpcare—are deliberately being done with as little visibility and oversight as possible:

Senate Republicans are working to finish their draft health care bill, but have no plans to publicly release it, according to two senior Senate GOP aides.

“We aren’t stupid,” said one of the aides. One issue is that Senate Republicans plan to keep talking about it after the draft is done: “We are still in discussions about what will be in the final product, so it is premature to release any draft absent further member conversations and consensus.”

 This is similar to a strategy Senate Republicans’ counterparts in the House used to jam a bill through last month, announcing the vote the night before so as to leave no time for meaningful public discussion or debate—or even a Congressional Budget Office score, as is customary.

Congressional Republicans even attempted Tuesday to bar TV reporters from the halls of Congress so they couldn’t ask questions about the AHCA—only retreating from the plan after public outcry. One would think that after such transparent efforts to avoid meaningful public debate on the gutting of Obamacare—especially given the GOP ran the exact same playbook just last month—the press would be sounding the alarm nonstop on a potentially radical shift in policy affecting tens of millions Americans.

Except they’ve done the opposite. As Vox’s Jeff Stein noted, GOP efforts on Monday to push through an overhaul of healthcare—which comprises one-sixth of the US economy—did not crack the front pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times or Wall Street Journal on Tuesday morning. All four publications lead with protest crackdowns in Russia as their biggest stories. The AHCA was also noticeably absent from the front pages of USA Today, Houston Chronicle and the Chicago Sun-Times.

All of these publications except the Chronicle, it should be noted, did report on the basics of the AHCA law (the New York Times even had an editorial—6/13/17—critical of Republicans on the subject), but these articles were buried in the paper or in the online blogging section.

The AHCA bill did not make the front pages for New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times or Wall Street Journal the following day either.

"Tens of thousands losing health insurance as a GOP Obamacare overhaul looms is, one would think, a pretty big deal."

Network nightly news programs fared even worse. Republicans’ AHCA push was not brought up at all on the NBC Nightly News (6/13/17), CBS Evening News (6/13/17), ABC World News Tonight (6/13/17) or PBS NewsHour (6/13/17). All lead with either the release of a US student by North Korea or the testimony of Attorney General Jeff Sessions before Congress on potential collusion between President Trump and Russia. Ten-and-a-half of CBS Evening News’ 18 minutes were on Russia-related news. NBC Nightly News made time for a manipulative two-minute segment on a 7-year-old who for some vague reason tours the country hugging police officers.

It’s not as if there isn’t a story to be told on the GOP’s AHCA designs. Reports over the past few days have trickled in, detailing possible Republicans plans to “phase out Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid enrollment.” Vox (6/12/17) reported that insurers are fleeing the Obamacare marketplace as the specter of some type of AHCA grows more likely:

In the past week, the number of counties with zero health plans signed up to sell Obamacare has doubled. There are now 38,000 Obamacare enrollees scattered across 47 counties where no insurers want to participate in the marketplaces….

Anthem announced last week that it would exit the Ohio marketplace, leaving 20 counties and 15,000 Obamacare enrollees with no 2018 option.

Tens of thousands losing health insurance as a GOP Obamacare overhaul looms is, one would think, a pretty big deal.

Then there’s the urgent meta-story about the Republicans planning the future of one-sixth of the economy and the health of millions in virtual darkness—not bothering to answer questions from the press, much less holding public hearings. Shouldn’t we have the public debate before the vote this time, and not have people scrambling to call their congresspeople at the last minute?

If and when Congress passes a variation of the AHCA, this will no doubt make the front pages and nightly broadcast news—but by then it will be too late. The moves being made now in almost total secrecy may not have the sexy visual qualities of a Warriors NBA title or protests in Russia, but they will be, for the vast majority of Americans, far more consequential.

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson is a New York-based  journalist, a contributing analyst for FAIR.org, and co-host of the Citations Needed podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @adamjohnsonnyc

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