Soon after Charla McComic’s son lost his job, his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to just $88, a “blessing from God” that she believes was made possible by President Trump.
“I think it was just because of the tax credit,” said McComic, 52, a former first-grade teacher who traveled to Trump’s Wednesday night rally in Nashville from Lexington, Tenn., with her daughter, mother, aunt and cousin.
The price change was actually thanks to a subsidy made possible by former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which is still in place, not by the tax credits proposed by Republicans as part of the health-care bill still being considered by Congress.
Ware hopes that Trump can change this, although she says she won’t fault him if he can’t. She doesn’t believe news reports saying that 24 million people could lose their coverage under his plan.
“Nothing is in concrete yet. Give the man a chance,” she said. “Until you hear it from Donald J. Trump himself — and not the news media — then don’t even worry about it. Wait until you hear the man say it, because he will tweet it, he will Facebook it or he will go onto national television and tell everybody at the same time.”
As the story also makes clear, it would be better in policy terms if the subsidies in the ACA had been more generous, but there’s little reason to believe that this would have transformed any significant number of Republican voters into Democratic ones.
Speaking of which, a lot of people in comments have brought up Jack Meserve’s riff on an amusing rant by one of the Chapo Trap House guys about the needless complexity of the ACA exchanges. Leaving aside the flimsiness of some of the anecdotal evidence (signs touting New Deal programs good, signs touting ARRA programs bad), there’s an obvious problem with the core argument. This is from the Christman argument he quotes:
And as Rick Perlstein has talked about a lot, that’s one of the reasons that Democrats end up fucking themselves over. The reason they held Congress for 40 years after enacting Social Security is because Social Security was right in your fucking face. They could say to you, “you didn’t used to have money when you were old, now you do. Thank Democrats.” And they fucking did.
This is superficially persuasive. But there’s an obvious problem here. It’s true that Democrats mostly controlled Congress and the White House for decades after the New Deal. But this is very misleading: FDR failed in his war on the Dixiecrats in 1938, and Congress during the vast majority of this period was effectively controlled by a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans. The signature legislation of passed by Congress between 1940-1963 wasn’t a major liberal benefit — it was Taft-Hartley, which passed with veto-proof majorities and has more to do with Republicans controlling Congress than any tactical choices made by Democratic politicians in 2016. I mean, Democrats could still have an enduring congressional majority if southern conservatives were a major part of the coalition. Nobody wants that, but the fact that people who now vote for conservative Republicans used to vote for conservative Democrats isn’t going to make it easy to get moderate (let alone liberal or left-of-liberal) Democrats elected in those jurisdictions.
And there’s an even bigger problem here — the Great Society. Medicare is the ultimate simple in-your-face social benefit, and it was more generous than the initial iterations of Social Security and didn’t come at a horrible price in racial exclusion. And yet the result was Republican control of the White House for 28 of the next 40 years (and of the two Democratic outliers, the first accomplished very little with a Democratic Congress, and the second had better-than-Carter but disappointing results in two years of unified government and more conservative policy outcomes than liberal ones in 6 years of divided government.) Intuitively, the popularity of Medicare and Social Security shouldn’t be consistent with control of the federal government by increasingly conservative Republicans, but while it was concealed by much of the 20th century by weak partisan coalitions it’s an enduring paradox of American politics the left needs to face head-on.
To be clear, I agree entirely with Meserve and Christman that simple is better than complex in policy terms, and at the margin the clearer the benefits the easier it is to preserve the programs politically. Simplicity is often easier said than done when dealing with James Madison’s sausage-making machine, but it’s always worth keeping in mind. The story that good policy is always good politics, though, is a nice story but there’s not a lot of evidence that it’s true. The reason to do the right thing is that it’s the right thing, not because it’s guarantee of political success in a system that’s structured in many ways to favor reactionary interests.