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If At First You Don't Succeed

By       Message Kurt F. Stone     Permalink
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Although there is a great deal of wisdom in the expression "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," the simple fact is that no one knows to whom to attribute said wisdom. Searching the Internet, one finds the quote ascribed to a crew of worthies ranging from Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and Albert Einstein to the author of the "Twelve Step Program" and novelist Rita Mae Brown. Whenever precise attribution eludes me, I fall back on Dorothy Parker's advice from A Pig's Eye View of Literature:



  'If, with the literate, I am
  Impelled to try an epigram,
  I never seek to take the credit;
  We all assume that Oscar said it.''

Now, if continually doing the same thing, but expecting different results is Franklin's -- or Twain's or Einstein's or Oscar Wilde's -- notion of insanity, what should we call it when a group does the same thing over and over and over, each time meeting with negative results and knowingly expecting -- if not hoping for -- precisely the same results?

In two words: Congressional Republicans.

This past week, the 241 members of that conservative marching and chowder society -- joined by 5 defecting Democrats -- voted for the 33rd time (!) in 18 months to repeal President Obama's signature Affordable Health Care Act (ACA). Talk about an action begging for a definition! Since January 2011, when they first took back the House, Republicans have voted thirty-three times to repeal, defund or otherwise dramatically scale back what they derisively term "Obamacare." And each time they entered into the vote knowing full well that once their bill passed the House -- which it has 33 times -- there were precisely two chances that the Senate would ever concur: absolutely none and even less than that. Moreover if, somehow the stars misaligned to such a strange degree that the measure actually passed the Senate as well, Congressional Republicans knew full well that President Obama would veto it -- thus playing into their hands.

I for one wouldn't mind them voting 33 -- or even 133 -- times if they at least gave us an idea as to what they wanted to replace the ACA with. I do mind, because they don't have a plan, and instead of creating jobs and saving the economy, they are spending upwards of a million dollars a day (what it costs to run Congress) on sound and fury signifying nothing.

Apparently then, the House Republicans' mantra is "If at first you don't succeed, fail, fail, fail again and be damn glad about it." I don't know that Oscar Wilde -- or even H.P. Lovecraft for that matter -- could come up with a dead-on definition for such a pattern of activity. But if they could, would it be "Hypocrisy?" " Disingenuousness ?" "Cynicism?" "Faux-naïvete'?" Methinks the word has yet to be created, for these folks are, to employ a term rarely heard any more, sui generis.

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Of course, Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy, McConnell and the rest don't expect the ACA to be overturned or defunded anytime soon . . . and that's just fine with them. So far as they are concerned, these votes are mere stage-turns and plot twists in a drama whose de'nouement won't be reached until the first Tuesday in November. Illinois Republican (and Chief Deputy Whip) Peter Roskam underscored this reality when, just before last Wednesday's vote, he said "Here's the good news. The voters get the last word in November. Stay tuned."

Time and again, House and Senate Republicans argue that they are merely trying to enact the will of the American people. Time and again, Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader McConnell have proclaimed that "most Americans not only oppose this health care law -- they support fully repealing it." (In matter of fact, the latest Washington Post poll shows that Americans are split right down the middle: 47% of those surveyed said they opposed the law and 47% said they supported it.) Then there is Majority Leader Cantor who, along with his Tea Party minions warns that the ACA, ". . . is making our economy worse, driving up costs, and making it harder for small businesses to hire." And now, in light of the recent Supreme Court decision, the GOP has taken to calling the ACA "the largest tax increase on the poor and the middle class in the history of this country." Rush Limbaugh, in what can only be termed a bout of steroidal hyperbole, called the ACA "The biggest tax increase in the history of the world."

Wrong, wrong, wrong! Although the ACA definitely does include new taxes (much of it on couples jointly filing on incomes of over $250,000 and healthcare providers themselves), it is by no means "the largest tax increase in the history of this country." According to the federal Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan committee of Congress with a professional staff of economists, attorneys and accountants, ACA contains tax increase provisions that will, by 2019, amount to .49% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For those policy wonks who care, this figure doesn't even make the top ten tax increases over the past 70 years. According to an in-depth Treasury Department study conducted during the Bush Administration, the top ten tax increases look like this:

1. Revenue Act of 1942: 5.04 percent of GDP;
2. Revenue Act of 1961: 2.2 percent of GDP;
3. Current Tax Payment Act of 1943: 1.13 percent of GDP;
4. Revenue and Expenditure Control Act of 1968: 1.09 percent of GDP;
5. Excess Profits Tax of 1950: .97 percent of GDP;

6. Revenue and Expenditure Control Act of 1968: 1.09 percent of GDP;
7. Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982: .8 percent of GDP;
8: Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax Act of 1980: .5 percent of GDP;
8: Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993; .5 percent of GDP;

10. Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990; .49 percent of GDP.

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By this point in time, all but the most case-hardened of partisans can see that Congressional Republicans have opted to put politics well ahead of policy; the needs, wants, desires and marching orders of their financial backers over those of the unemployed and uninsured; and above all, victory in November over virtually any and everything else. While Republicans keep beating the drum of repeal, they, like millions of Americans, continue to benefit from those parts of the ACA which are already in effect -- like keeping children on their parents' policies until age 26 and not having to worry about pre-existing conditions.

All but lost in the tidal wave of rhetoric is a fascinating little factoid: if the ACA is not repealed, members of Congress and their staffs will forfeit their government-subsidized insurance coverage after they retire. Unbeknownst to many, the ACA included an amendment sponsored by Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley that essentially insured that members of Congress live by the same rules as their constituents; it forced lawmakers and staff to get coverage through the insurance exchanges created by the healthcare law . (Heretofore, members of Congress and their staffs bought insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program -- FEHBP -- which allowed them to keep their policies after they retired.) Grassley said that without his amendment, Congress would be sending "a message to grassroots America . . . that health care reform is good enough for you, but not for us." In other words, in addition to placing politics above policy and the needs and wishes of corporate America over those of the common clay, Republicans have now voted 33 times to restore a benefit denied to all but members of the political elite.

If at first you don't succeed, fail, fail, fail again . . . and live to reap the rewards.

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Kurt Stone is a rabbi, writer, lecturer, political activist, professor, actor, and medical ethicist. A true "Hollywood brat" (born and raised in the film industry), Kurt was educated at the University of California, the Eagleton Institute of (more...)

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