I received a newsletter from Rep. Drew Ferguson concerning House immigration reform bills. Not surprisingly, his statements supporting them were incomplete and biased … much like his views on the disastrous House health care bill. Rep. Ferguson is so proud of his extreme right-wing stand on the very unpopular health care bill that he refuses to have face-to-face town hall meetings.
By opposing true comprehensive immigration reform (as proposed in detail by President Bush, for example, but sabotaged by his own party) and heavily publicizing that fact, Ferguson and the right wing of the GOP have accomplished two things.
First, they have alienated legal immigrants and their families (like me -- my father is from Paris and my maternal grandparents are from Italy). Second, it blocked any realistic action from taking place in Congress any time soon regarding illegal immigration, because moderate Republicans and the Democrats are opposed to radical proposals.
Hispanic voters are being driven to the Democrats, which will continue to cause losses in key swing states, such as New Mexico and Colorado … and even Texas some day soon. Plus, since there has been no national progress on immigration reform, the problem of illegal immigration just gets worse and worse.
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The GOP policy wonks should understand this reality and for the 2018 election try to figure out how to woo back the Hispanic voters it has lost. But Trump’s insistence on building a wall and pursuing aggressive deportations will alienate them even further from the GOP.
Rep. Ferguson and most of my party are also currently moving in the wrong direction on health reform. This ideological versus pragmatic position is certain to backfire on us, the same way that immigration will in the upcoming elections and beyond. As with immigration reform, the radical wing of the GOP has thus far successfully blocked consideration of effective short-term health insurance reform (modification of Obamacare) or the real long-term solution to ensuring universal coverage while controlling costs (Medicare for all).
Over the last eight years, the Republican Party staked out a losing long-term health care position: Reform of Obamacare is not needed, just repeal it and let competition reign via a GOP replacement plan. Polls showed that the public has no faith in either the GOP House bill, or the Senate revision (17% support).
Independent voters are the ones who decide elections in swing states, and they are tired of the same old worn-out GOP slogans: small tax credits, tort reform, Medicaid block grants, very limited vouchers, selling insurance across state lines and expansion of free markets. These swing voters have friends and relatives who will be devastated if Medicaid is cut and Obamacare subsidies are removed.
This is not to say that Obamacare doesn’t need major modifications. Medicaid cost sharing troubles states considering expansion. The requirement that everyone buy insurance, with government supplements for the near poor and lower middle class, was unpopular from the start and doomed to fail in achieving its goal.
Many of us in the health industry believed (correctly) that the fines were too small to force healthy people to buy insurance, and that made it debatable as to how many young people would actually buy insurance, mandate or not. Therefore, only older and/or sicker people would buy insurance … driving premiums up.
But, as opposed to what Trump and some of my party’s elders now believe, the end result for the Republican Party if Obamacare is repealed and not replaced would be disastrous. Long term, with rising health care costs and cost shifting, combined with 20 million or more booted off insurance, the GOP will lose elections.
Democrats will rightly blame the Republicans for stopping action on more comprehensive reform. Independents, seeing their premiums and deductibles rise and more firms going overseas partly due to rising health care costs, will agree that something must be done. But if the GOP will work with the Democrats short term to make reasonable adjustments, this scenario can be avoided.
My advice to my fellow Republicans long term is to use your reason and not your ideology and consider phased-in Medicare expansion to eventually cover all age groups. Although Nixon called Medicare “socialism” when he debated Kennedy, it has proven to be one of our most popular and effective programs.
Fellow Republicans, we can either get behind Medicare for all and comprehensive immigration reform now ... or wait 15 years or so and become a permanent runner-up party. It’s our choice.
Jack Bernard is a retired former executive of for-profit health care firms, former chairman of the Jasper County Republican Party and the first director of health care planning for the state of Georgia. He lives in Peachtree City.