This week, Republicans in the House of Representatives unveiled their plan for an Affordable Care Act replacement, a plan that will involve rolling back Obama-era expansions to Medicaid that helped millions of low-income Americans obtain coverage that wasn’t previously available to them. Addressing the plight of those Americans on CNN today, Republican Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz took what could be generously described as a callous tone.
“You know what? Americans have choices, and the’ve got to make a choice,” Chaffetz said. “And so, maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and that they want to go and spend hundreds of dollars on that–maybe they should invest it in their own healthcare.”
— CNN (@CNN) March 7, 2017
Chaffetz’s soundbite was a particularly vivid and honest rendering of what has long been the Republican party line on social welfare programs: Poor people are poor because they choose to be, and taxpayers and the government aren’t obligated to help them. Any attempt that poor people make to brighten the grind of their lives and enjoy the fruits of American capitalism whose very existence depends on cheap labor from poor people–going to the movies, buying ice cream for their kids, owning a smartphone–is hopeless decadence, illustrating the bad lifestyle choices that made them poor in the first place.
It’s true that Obama once made a similarly tone-deaf remark about cell phones and insurance. “If you looked at their cable bill, their telephone, their cell phone bill, it may turn out that it’s just they haven’t prioritized health care,” he said to a constituent about health care costs in 2014. But ultimately, the president was arguing for the expansion of care, not rolling it back.
You might think that a person inclined to take this view of America–a nation beseeched by bums leeching off the hard work of upstanding wealthy taxpayers–would also have a keen eye for the ways in which he himself benefits from government funding. If Chaffetz were self-aware, he might remember that as a member of Congress, he has a very nice healthcare plan that is subsidized in part by the federal government–paid for, in other words, by taxpayers like you and me and the low income people he patronized this morning. Also, from photos of the congressman at work, it’s clear that Chaffetz himself is an iPhone user–and considering that congressional employees get government-issued phones to use at work, it’s possible that Chaffetz’s shiny new iPhone is paid for by taxpayers, too.
Republican legislators like Chaffetz who support the Obamacare replacement will soon find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side, there are their constituents, who will not be happy to learn that their health insurance is going away; on the other, there are hardline conservative professional ideologues and fundraisers like the Koch brothers, who will not be happy with anything short of a full repeal of the ACA. (The current plan keeps some provisions, like the preexisting condition protection and the ability to stay on your parent’s insurance until you turn 26.) Right now, it looks like GOP infighting about the new bill might stall it before it even gets off the ground. Whatever happens, however, Chaffetz gets to keep his phone.