Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Si Maga'låhi Gadao

This legend of Gådao is an intriguing one.

In some ways it fits the mold perfectly for a Chamorro legend.

In other ways it feels different, like something borrowed from a Greek legend perhaps.

One thing that stands out is the idea of Gådao becoming a Maga'låhi or a king for the entire island.

This stands in contrast to much of what we know about ancient Chamorro culture.

Where they seemed to be like most indigenous people, where they had a society were power was actively distributed and made diffuse to prevent anyone from dominating too much over others.

Although the emphasis on great accomplishments bringing one great social standing feels very appropriate.

If I had to guess about the origin of this story, it seems in some way like a legend made by a Chamorro during the Spanish period, meant to reflect the greatness of their ancient past.

Gådao existed in some form for sure, and perhaps the legend of him and Malagua'i or Malaguaña is an older form.

But this one seems a bit out of place. Especially when you combine the analysis with other variations of it whereby the failure of Gådao and his sons to build a seawall results in the island being conquered by outsiders.


Si Maga’låhi Gådao 

Åntes tåtte na hinanao pulan, guaha un yomsan taotao, metgogot yan taima’å’ñao ya mafa’nana’an gue’, Gådao.  Guiya i maga’låhi giya Inalåhan na songsong.

Un diha, humånao pumeska yan i mangga’chong-ña giya Humåtak.  Annai esta meggagai kinine’-ñiha guihan ya para guatu esta tåtte gi kanton tåsi, ma li’e’ na guaha un dångkolo na halu’u na tumalakguaguatu giya siha.  Ensigidas, tumohge si Gådao ya gotpe ha’, ha håtsa i anåkko tekchå-ña, ya ha tokcha i dangkolo yan dadao na halu’u ni’ minetgot fuetså-ña.  Ensigidas ha’ måtai i halu’u.

Ma hungok este na estoria ni’ pumalu na maga’låhi para i entereru i islan Guåhan.  Meggai ti humongge na magåhet este na estoria put i minetgot-ña.

Mandanña i pumalu siha na maga’låhi gi sengsong siha ya ilek-ñiha na kumu para guiya u i etmas takhelo’ na må’gas, pues u nisisita u kumple tres na ginagågao-ñiha.

I unu, para u nanguyi i entereru i isla singkuenta biåhi sin pumåra.

I mina’dos, na para u tomba påpa’ un tronkyon niyok ni’ un kånnai, ya u ipe’ ni’ mås meggagai na pidåsu siha.

Ya i uttemo na ginagåo, na para u pannas påpa’ i etmas takhelo’ na sabåna gi isla.

Ensigidas, ha aksepta ha’ si Gådao todu i tinago-ñiha, ya ha kumple todu i ginagåo gi tres dihas. 

Guiya ha fine’nana numanguyi i enteru i isla singkuenta biåhi sen håfafa’ na prublema.  Parehu ha’ lokkue’ bidå-ña ni tronkyon niyok yan i sabåna.

 Desde på’go, ma såsangan na siña ha’ li’e’ i un troson åcho’ ginen i sabånan Lamlam, na a’annok ha’ guatu gi kanton tåsi giya Piti.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Independent Guåhan's April General Assembly

Independent Guåhan to hold monthly General Assembly in Chalan Pågo Launching New Village Outreach Campaign

For Immediate Release, April 24, 2017 – In their continuing efforts to educate the island community about decolonization, Independent Guåhan will be holding their monthly General Assembly at the Chalan Pågo Community Center on Thursday, April 27 from 6 -7:30 p.m. This month’s assembly represents a new initiative by the group to bring informational resources and critical conversations about independence as a political status option directly into the island’s villages. 

Since August of last year, Independent Guåhan has been holding monthly General Assembly meetings in the Main Pavilion of the Chamorro Village. This month’s meeting in Chalan Pågo represents a new phase of educational outreach, where each monthly assembly will move to a new village. Jessy Gogue, Mayor of Ordot-Chalan Pågo, is working closely with Independent Guåhan to invite village residents to attend the meeting and learn more about political status change. 

The educational focus for this month’s meeting is “Independence 101” or a basic overview of what possibilities lay in the future should Guam become an independent country, as well as a discussion about some of the basic misconceptions about independence as a political status. 

At each General Assembly, a Maga’taotao or community hero is chosen to be honored. For the April assembly, Ben and Susie Arceo, World War II survivors and prominent residents of Ordot-Chalan Pågo will be honored for their work in promoting and protecting the heritage of the Chamorro people. 

Starting with this meeting, Independent Guåhan General Assemblies will now be held on the last Thursday of each month.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fanhokkayan #4: Minagahet Mission

The other day Independent Guåhan's held it's April teach-in at UOG, this time with a focus on "democratizing the media." The discussion focused on Guam's media landscape and ways that community members can create alternative means of educating or informing people on island about pertinent issues. For years I ran a number of different forms of alternative media, such as blogs, websites, podcasts and even a zine called Minagahet. From 2003-2010 I, and sometimes others edited a zine which focused on Chamorro issues from a critical and largely progressive perspective. You can still find it online, although the last issue was released during the DEIS comment period in early 2010. The name Minagahet which means "truth" came from a comment that a friend of mine had written on a message board many many years ago. It was an exchange with some Chamorros who felt that decolonization was stupid and impossible. My friend had written a long response seeking to counter their points and ended it with this line, "Ya enao i mañe'lu-hu yan mañainå-hu, enao i minagahet."

Here is the statement of purpose or mission that myself and a few others wrote up all those years ago, to explain why we had started the Minagahet Zine. 


Minagahet - in Chamorro is truth. And idea behind the creation of this zine, is to find new access to truth. On Guam for so long, the idea of truth as been either dictated to us, or imported into Guam by others. Most of our ideas about ourselves, about life, about the world, and therefore the ideas that control and influence our future have been imposed on us through our affiliation with the Untied States. This is not to say that there have been no benefits, but only that while we praise and hold up for all to see the benefits, we hide, do not discuss or ignore the ill effects and the negative impact it has had on our island and culture. 

The hope of this zine is to discuss our past, present and future in our own terms, and in different terms than we traditionally find ourselves speaking in. If you look at the media make-up of Guam, there is one big newspaper, one big news program, and one news radio channel. With this kind of unilateral approach to truth and truth-telling it would be very easy to see things, and think of things in very specific ways.

What we need to do is go beyond the traditional modes of thought. In a very basic way, Chamorros are beginning to re-take and re-tell their history and so on in small academic circles, however as far as media, and daily media representations,  the presence is limited and shaped by a very small circle of people.

This zine is committed to promoting alternative ideas and ways of thinking about Guam and its status, whether political, social, cultural, economic and so on. It is committed to the decolonization of Guam, and educating Chamorros and others on Guam about decolonization, and the vital need for it. It is also committed to promoting Chamorro ideals and their way of life, which does not necessarily mean ancient latte stones, or working on the lancho, or being Catholic. But rather implies that Chamorros and their way of life, their thoughts, their ideas and forms of expression have value has being Chamorro first, rather then being American first and Chamorro second. 

It is the belief of this writer, that the first step to providing a better future for Chamorros as well as the island of Guam is to decolonize our island politically, as well as socially, economically and culturally. This does not mean, the US vanishes in instant overnight or we completely cut ties with modernity and live in huts. The first step, and the hardest mental step to decolonization is the deconstruction of America. The reduction of our dependency on, not necessarily America in any material sense, but the idea itself, and the ideas we put on it. Democracy is not an American invention, ingenuity and hard work are not American inventions, human rights and liberty, freedom are not American-only commodities. In fact, considering Guam's history for the past century, the opposite could be just as true.

Chamorros existed long before America did, and they believed in ideas of freedom, liberty and hard work long before America came into being. And if Chamorros are still on this planet today, it is not because of America, but because of themselves, their efforts and their strength, and that mane'lu-hu yan manaina-hu siha is the minagahet. 

Si Yu'us Ma'ase

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Korea Policy Institute Interviews

The local media coverage of possible conflict on the Korean peninsula seems to be paradoxically vapid and obsessive. It is a constant for the media to cover, as it is a threat to our very life on the island and also something which provides an outlet for US military commanders to speak in strong terms about defense, stability and deterrence. The media seems to adore these moments, just like they love it when there are war games or large-scale training exercises in the region, as you get to play dress up for a day, and take rides in helicopters or an armored transports. When North Korea is saber rattling your average journalist in Guam seems excited to escape the tedium of local news coverage and regurgitate some exciting Department of Defense talking points. But for something that is covered so much, it is fascinating and frustrating, at how little is actually discussed. How little the media actually contributes to people understanding the relationship between Guam, the US and potential conflict in our region. How little the media helps your average person understand the politics of the Korean peninsula itself. We saw similar limitations years ago when the US military buildup was announced and that Marines were to be transferred out of Okinawa and into Guam, and the media did very little to further the community's understanding as to why Marines needed to be moved out of Okinawa.

The Korea Policy Institute is something I have followed closely since I hate the fortune of visiting South Korea seven years ago. I find that their articles and interviews as pasted below, often provide key details about what is happening that goes far beyond the hawkish accounts of your average media outlet.


The Overlooked Past Behind U.S.-North Korea Tensions

The Real News.com
April 12, 2017
Aaron Maté and Christine Hong

AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea are rising. North Korea has warned the U.S. that sending a Navy strike group, including the aircraft carrier Karl Vincent to the Korean Peninsula, could lead to war. North Korea’s official newspaper said its, quote, “nuclear sight is focused on U.S. forces and the U.S. mainland.”A new ballistic missile test last week is said to have prompted the Trump administration’s move, sending a U.S. Navy force into the area. In a Twitter post President Trump said, quote, “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them. USA.” Joining us is Christine Hong, Associate Professor at UC Santa Cruz. She is on the executive board of the Korea Policy Institute. Welcome, Professor Hong.

CHRISTINE HONG: Thanks, Aaron.

AARON MATÉ: This is not the first time that the U.S. has moved a Navy force into that peninsula, but the first time it’s done so under President Trump. Talk about what’s going on.

CHRISTINE HONG: Well, I mean, you raise a very interesting point. You know, the question is to what degree is Trump’s hawkish, very aggressive, bellicose stance toward North Korea a continuation of the policies of his predecessors? And, in fact, it was Trump the candidate who struck a very different note. If you recall roughly a year ago Trump stated, when he was on the campaign trail, that he would be willing — and this is a very maverick statement — to actually sit down with Kim Jong-un and speak with him. And it was that that represented the possibility of something different. What’s happening right now, unfortunately, is business as usual. And, in point of fact, under President Barack Obama, the policy that was carried out, the U.S. policy that was carried out with regard to Asia and the Pacific, was what he called his “pivot policy.” Under that pivot policy, that was later called the rebalancing policy, the balance of U.S. naval forces went from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so that 60% are concentrated now in the Pacific. Whereas a lot of people are looking at Trump right now and rightly recognizing that his very aggressive language is bringing us to the brink of something very dangerous, we were on the brink during the past presidency, as well.

AARON MATÉ: When North Korea launches a ballistic test, what should the U.S. do?

CHRISTINE HONG: You know, unfortunately right now, we’re in this very lamentable situation in which North Korea’s launching of these tests is a kind of way of communicating with the United States. Much as Trump’s air strike was also meant, as his administration openly admitted, to be a form of communication with North Korea, as well. And so, we have this sort of very dangerous mode of communication where these kinds of bombs, bombs are substituting for actual dialogue. So, I would say that right now Trump is sort of walking a very tried and true regime change-oriented path that many of his predecessors have also walked along. But if there’s any way for Trump the maverick who is willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un, if there’s any possibility of that, I think that that is one of the only ways forward.

AARON MATÉ: There have been talks between the U.S. and North Korea before. There was the agreement in the ’90s between Clinton and the North Korean regime to get North Korea to freeze its plutonium production. These agreements worked for a bit, but then they collapsed. Can you talk about the history of recent U.S.-North Korean engagement and how we got to where we are today?

CHRISTINE HONG: You know, I think that we have to actually look at the long history, and then look at the more recent history. From its very inception as a state, North Korea has been subjected to a policy that we can just broadly call regime change on the part of the United States. You can understand the Korean War as an extensive campaign, an asymmetrical war, that was aimed at regime change. And you can understand more recent policy in that same light. But you’re very right. At the end of the Clinton administration there was the possibility of engagement. And when George W. Bush came into office he adopted what was known as the ABC policy, the All But Clinton policy. And as I’m sure your viewers recall, he nominated North Korea as part of the infamous ‘Axis of Evil’. And also, the other thing that happened during his administration is that, as part of the U.S. nuclear posture review, it listed North Korea among several other states as a likely and possible target of a pre-emptive U.S. nuclear strike. From mid-century onward, the United States has had a very aggressive nuclear policy toward North Korea. It contemplated using nuclear weapons against North Korea and China at mid-century. And, in fact, some of the U.S. strategic planners envisioned a kind of Cobalt Zone where no life could live for hundreds of years. Against the conditions of the Armistice Agreement, which was concluded in July of 1953, the U.S. stationed — and this was illegal — nuclear weapons on the southern part of the Korean Peninsula until the end of the Cold War. Over a dozen times the United States has threatened North Korea with nuclear annihilation. But if you look at this long history you can understand that, from North Korea’s perspective, it’s eminently rational to actually develop a nuclear weapons program as a self-defense measure. And I also do want to say that one thing that very few people in the United States have is a memory of ruin, in terms of its hot wars during the Cold War. Throughout the Cold War the United States waged really destructive hot wars in the Third World, most infamously on the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam. And, you know, an estimated 4 million people — Koreans — were killed during that asymmetrical war in which the United States unleashed bombs with absolutely no regard for human life. 70% of those who were killed were civilians. Chinese statistics have North Korean casualties at one-third of the total population. And so, when you’re talking about North Korea’s memory, in terms of people who are alive today, there’s not a family that was untouched by the ruination of the Korean War.

AARON MATÉ: Okay. So, you’re saying that this very devastating and long history fuels some of the antagonism that North Korea projects towards the U.S. today. Going back to the devastating Korean War. But what to do now? I mean, people look at the Korean regime and say, you know, this is the worst government in the world. How do we deal with them? What’s your response to that?

CHRISTINE HONG: I just say that the primary ways that we know North Korea are through lenses of war. And so, you know, if there are other ways of engaging with North Korea, and this is the other thing, too, throughout the presidency of Barack Obama there was absolutely no engagement with North Korea. And I think that that is one of those options that, you know, supposedly, the Trump administration has stated that all options are on the table, and that’s meant very ominously. You know, I mean, we’re made to understand that a nuclear first strike is possible. But I hope that one of those options is also engagement.

AARON MATÉ: And what would engagement look like?

CHRISTINE HONG: Engagement would look, it would look like a much more humane policy toward North Korea. Right now, the United States, against the wishes of the South Korean people, is deploying what they call a missile defense system, the THAAD battery, to South Korea. And it accelerated that under Donald Trump. The people in the communities in which these systems will be located have actually really protested against this. And that was also part of the protests against the former South Korean president Park Geun-hye, that you saw those massive, millions of people who went to the streets in South Korea, that was one of the issues that was animating those protests. Another way in which engagement would appear would be — it would be actually North Korea has repeatedly stated that it’s willing to cap its nuclear program — not do away with, but cap its nuclear program — if the United States stops performing war exercises with South Korea. And these are the largest war exercises in the world.

AARON MATÉ: Can there be direct talks now between the Trump administration and North Korea?

CHRISTINE HONG: You know, I think the interesting thing about Trump is if his predecessor, Barack Obama, had a policy of strategic patience toward North Korea, Trump’s has been strategic unpredictability, and strategic opaqueness, with the threat of a nuclear first strike thrown in. I’m not sure what’s possible at this present juncture because things do seem so dire. But it was Trump the candidate who did speak in very unorthodox fashion about being willing to actually sit down with Kim Jong-un. And if that’s at all possible now, I’d say that that’s one of the only pathways forward. The other thing that’s happening is, although the Trump administration is speaking to its conservative counterpart in South Korea, as you well know, the South Korean president was ousted. And all signs suggest that the next administration in South Korea is going to be progressive. And so, that’s a wind of change that’s happening. And in actually, in planning its North Korea policy, the Trump administration can’t but deal with South Korea. And so, we do have change that’s happening there and that actually suggests another sort of possibility of engagement.

AARON MATÉ: Professor Christine Hong of UC Santa Cruz, thanks so much for joining us.

CHRISTINE HONG: Thank you very much.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.
To see the video or hear this interview.

Christine Hong is on the Board of the Korea Policy Institute, and a professsor at UC Santa Cruz.


Dialogue with North Korea is the only sensible path
Janine Jackson | April 11, 2017
Originally published on Counterspin / FAIR
An Interview with Hyun Lee of Zoom in Korea.
MP3 Link

Janine Jackson: The Washington Post suggests that people in Seattle and San Francisco “should be worried” about being hit by a ballistic missile from North Korea, citing an analyst who described such an event, a bit cryptically, as “a looming threat but not a current threat.”

If the concern is that the saber-rattling between Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump could indeed have dire consequences, it’s hard to see how such stories help, or maps that show ranges for North Korea’s missiles far greater than any actually tested missiles have gone, or the conflation of nuclear and non-nuclear weaponry. But we’re equally ill-served by a failure to interrogate US policy on the Korean peninsula, and corporate media’s reduction of North Korea to caricature in the time-honored method reserved for official enemies.

As we record this show Trump is meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, and we’re told North Korea is at the top of the agenda, Trump having declared, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” What does that mean, and how has it come to this? We’re joined now by writer and activist Hyun Lee of Zoom in Korea, a project of the Solidarity Committee for Democracy and Peace in Korea. She’s also a Fellow at the Korea Policy Institute. Welcome to CounterSpin, Hyun Lee.

Hyun Lee: Hi. Thanks for having me.

JJ: Well, the Chinese foreign minister just described the US and North Korea as like two accelerating trains coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way, and I think people may well wonder how we got to such a disturbing point. Let’s start with the US. What, historically, have been the US’s intentions or goals with regard to North Korea, and have those changed?

HL: So, many people in the United States don’t realize that the US has maintained the threat of a nuclear attack against North Korea for decades. From 1958 to 1991, the US had hundreds of nuclear weapons in the southern half of the Korean peninsula, in South Korea. So at that time, North Korea’s countermeasure to deter a US nuclear attack was to forward deploy all of its conventional forces near the DMZ.

In 2001, when George W. Bush came to power, many things changed. There were technological advancements, and he also made doctrinal changes, centered around very high-tech, precision-capable weapons that gave the US preemptive strike advantage. He named North Korea part of the “Axis of Evil.” He also listed North Korea as one of seven countries that were potential targets for a US preemptive strike in the US Nuclear Posture Review. So then, in response to that, North Korea had to develop a new kind of deterrent, and that’s when it seriously turned to developing nuclear weapons, and its first nuclear test was in 2006.

Since that time, what the United States has tried to do is stall North Korea’s nuclear development, tying it up through negotiations that basically went nowhere, at the same time constantly threatening to bring about North Korea’s collapse, through sanctions that were crippling its economy, and also military exercises that were very provocative. They simulate war plans that now include the decapitation of the North Korean leadership, and include nuclear first strike.

US/North Korean relations during the Obama administration was a contest between Obama’s policy of “strategic patience,” which is basically waiting and preparing for the eventual collapse of the North Korean regime, and then North Korea’s policy called byungjin, which was making parallel progress in economic development, and also developing its nuclear deterrence capability.

Towards the end of Obama’s presidency, the consensus in Washington was that strategic patience had basically failed. North Korea obviously has not collapsed. On the contrary, many people who have been there recently come back and report that they’ve made progress in their economic development, and now experts are warning that North Korea will soon have, if it doesn’t already have, the capability of launching an ICBM with a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can strike the continental United States. Kim Jong-Un’s New Year’s speech earlier this year contained a message that basically they were ready to test-launch an ICBM.

So that’s basically how we got to this situation. The US and South Korean militaries are now developing and also deploying missile defense capability. The aim of that is basically neutralizing North Korea’s nuclear weapons. So now, in response to that, what North Korea is doing is developing countermeasures that can evade the missile defense system, and that’s what the recent missile tests have been about. So it’s this basic back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse game of US developing nuclear first-strike capabilities, and then North Korea developing deterrence capabilities.

And we’ve become very confused in the United States, because the mainstream media like to exaggerate the North Korean nuclear threat, but we never get news of what the US has been doing over the past decades. And we should be very clear that what this is all about is actually US nuclear first-strike advantage against North Korea, and North Korea reacting to that by developing its deterrence capability.

JJ: Well, yes, reporting is this world where there’s just an unspoken acceptance of the legitimacy of the United States doing things that official enemies are not allowed to do. The very idea of strategic patience—we’re just going to wait until the regime collapses—we can understand why North Koreans might not want to co-sign that as a plan. But it also depends so much about where you start the clock. In the US media, as you’ve said, it’s always North Korea taking the provocative action and the United States responding, and that’s getting it backwards, you think.

HL: You know, there is a double standard in US condemnation of North Korean missile tests, because the US also continuously tests ballistic missiles. In 2015 alone, the US flight-tested the Minuteman 3 ICBM from California, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, five times in 2015 alone. So, I mean, every country has a sovereign right to test its weapons capability. That’s how you know if it works or not, and that’s precisely what North Korea is doing. So we should also note that there is a double standard there.

JJ: What concerns do you have specifically about what looks like being the Trump administration’s approach? We’ve seen both Trump and Nikki Haley say China has to deal with North Korea, and that’s supposedly the point, or one of the points, of this meeting with Xi Jinping. What do you make of that?

HL: Many experts have noted that it is not a good idea for the United States to outsource its North Korea policy to China. First of all, we should be very clear that the two countries have very different strategic interests in the region. So it is not a good idea, from the US point of view, to rely on China so much to carry out its policy, because it doesn’t make sense.

China has made very clear to the United States that if it wants cooperation in North Korea, it should first reverse its very controversial decision on the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, that is right now in the process of being deployed, and it is a very controversial issue. It probably will be on the agenda of the summit this weekend. China considers the THAAD system, if it’s based in South Korea, a threat to its security, because the radar that comes with the system can be used for surveillance activity on Chinese missiles.

And so far, the Trump administration has been very aggressive in pushing THAAD deployment forward. Meanwhile, people in South Korea have been opposed to it, and are protesting every day outside the deployment site. If the US continues to push that forward it may make it very difficult to get Chinese cooperation on North Korea.

Secondly, China does not want the collapse of the North Korean regime, because that would create a huge refugee crisis at its border, and that’s the last thing that China wants. China also does not want the prospect of a unified Korean peninsula that is led by a pro-US South Korean government right next door as its neighbor.

So for all of these reasons, it’s probably not a good idea for the US to rely on China to carry out its policy, based on its strategic interest. It is more in US interest to negotiate directly with North Korea for North Korea to basically cap its nuclear and missile tests.

JJ: That moves me to the final question, because I’d like to talk about other ways forward. We know media get into saber-rattling mode, and it gets very difficult to hear other voices—and people who seek peace, or an end to conflict, are almost in a parallel conversation. But what possible ways forward do you see for those who seek an end to the conflict?

HL: The only sensible path at this point is dialogue: sitting down with North Korea and coming up with a fundamental solution to the crisis. We should note that last year in July, North Korea basically put out a statement that was not picked up or noticed by the Western media. But it laid out the terms for denuclearization, and all of the conditions that it laid out had to do with removing the threat to its sovereignty that’s posed by US nuclear weapons. That gives an indication that that’s what the North Koreans are fundamentally interested in resolving.

US Navy ships participating in the annual simulation of war against North Korea.

So a fundamental solution in my mind would be, first of all, ending the annual provocative war exercises that the United States military does every year in South Korea, abandoning the US nuclear first-strike prerogative, and then signing a peace treaty that will bring closure to the unended Korean War, eventually leading to the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean peninsula.
And then, in exchange, North Korea should halt its nuclear weapons development—meaning no more tests, no more nuclear tests or no more missile tests, basically capping it—and a commitment to nonproliferation. In my mind, that is the only sensible path to resolve the current situation.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Hyun Lee of Zoom in Korea, online at ZoomInKorea.org. Thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

HL: Thank you.

Hyun Lee works with Zoom in Korea and is a Korea Policy Fellow.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Trumpcase Updates

Like many issues that straddle both the US and Guam, there are ways in which their may be a shared, similar experience, but always ways in which geography, culture, identity, history and coloniality will make it different and distinct. For example, within a US context I may be on one side of any health care debate, but in Guam I may take a completely opposite position. Part of it depends on how I may see myself ideologically and politically in relation to issues of power, justice and progress in the US context. But when the discussion extends to the colonies, my sense of things tends to become more Guam and Chamorro focused. If Guam were a full part of the US, I might feel differently, but as it is not, I do not and should not assume that however things work in the US, is how they should work in Guam. Or that, like the colonial mantra goes, whatever is good for the US must be good for Guam. Because of this colonial difference, I haven't been following the Trumpcare debacle as much as I should. I spent the morning reading up on it.


Trump threatens to stop insurance payments to Democrats negotiate on Obamacare
by Lauren Fox
April 13, 2017

(CNN) - President Donald Trump is threatening not to reimburse health insurers for covering low income people as a way of forcing Democrats to the negotiating table on health care. 

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Wednesday, Trump said health care remained a top priority for him, but that he was still undecided about whether his administration would fund what are known as cost-sharing reduction payments, which reduce deductibles and co-payments for lower-income people.
Without the payments, insurers could try to pull out of the Obamacare marketplace immediately. Already, the uncertainty is prompting some insurers to drop out for 2018.
"I don't want people to get hurt," Trump said in the interview. "What I think should happen — and will happen — is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating."
The payments were the subject of a House lawsuit under House Speaker John Boehner, which argued the Obama administration did not have the authority to make the payments without congressional approval. A district court judge last year sided with the Republicans and declared the subsidies illegal. The Obama administration appealed, and the lawsuit is still ongoing.
Trump was unclear about whether Congress might vote to authorize the payments, conceding only that as more time goes on, he does worry that his administration will be held responsible for any problems with Obamacare.
"That's part of the reason that I may go the other way" Trump said about paying the insurers. "The longer I'm behind this desk and you have Obamacare, the more I would own it."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed Trump's comments, saying, "This cynical strategy will fail."
"President Trump is threatening to hold hostage health care for millions of Americans, many of whom voted for him, to achieve a political goal of repeal that would take health care away from millions more," the New York Democrat said in a statement. 
Some 7 million people, or 58%, of those who signed up for Obamacare coverage for 2017 qualify for these cost-sharing subsidies. 
In the same interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump claimed his administration was "very, very close" on coming to an agreement with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus on health care.
"They want to do the right thing," Trump said, referring to the conservative group. "They do like their president."
After Republican House leaders failed to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in the last congressional session, the White House is claiming it is taking a more active role in moving the negotiations along -- encouraging private talks between the Freedom Caucus and the moderate Tuesday Group.
But there is still no proof that Republicans are any closer to repealing Obamacare than they were six weeks ago. The effort appears to be little more than talks.
"Nothing major" is happening on the health care front aside from conversations, a GOP source very close to the negotiations told CNN.
According to a senior administration official, the White House believes there has been some progress on health care in recent days. But rather than take another stab at the very public lobbying and arm-twisting effort that the White House embraced twice and failed, this time the administration is keeping their private prodding out of the spotlight.
The White House official said they're largely leaving it up to the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group to try to work out a plan that both sides can agree on with the White House quietly weighing in throughout the process.
During his news conference Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the administration was "getting closer and closer every day."
"More votes are moving in our direction," Spicer said. "And these ideas, I think, are very helpful and the conversations are getting closer."
Ever since Republican leaders were forced to pull their health care bill because there were not enough votes to pass it, the House Freedom Caucus has been very public about their attempts to negotiate with the White House. The conservative group took a large share of the blame for the legislation's failure the first time around even though there were several moderates who also refused to vote for the bill.
On Tuesday, a source with the House Freedom Caucus familiar with health care negotiations told CNN that caucus chairman Mark Meadows had been in discussions with both the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan and had presented a plan to Ryan over the phone that would essentially allow states to wave certain regulatory requirements. It was unclear if the proposal had any support from moderates.
The fallout for the Freedom Caucus has been intense over the last month with Trump calling out leaders of the group -- including Meadows -- by name on Twitter. South Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Sanford told the Post and Courier last month that White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, a former House Freedom Caucus member, delivered a message to him from Trump that Trump hoped Sanford voted against the health care bill so the President could support a primary challenger against him.
The White House has tried to down play tensions.
On Wednesday morning, Mulvaney appeared on CNN's "New Day" and argued the whole Freedom Caucus-White House showdown had been overblown by the media.
"That story got a little blown out of proportion," Mulvaney said. "It's been an interesting process. I went to go talk to the Freedom Caucus about health care a couple weeks back. They knew what the deal was. The deal was that I'm just on a different team right now. But it's good competition. It's a real collegial thing still."
The closer is now the loser.

President Donald Trump's plan to repeal Obamacare and overhaul the health system crashed into the ground on Friday as Speaker Paul Ryan pulled a bill shortly before a scheduled vote.

The two-month drama was the first test of Trump's ability to apply his business skills to the Congress, a historic graveyard for presidential priorities.
It didn't go well.

Trump, who ran as a self-proclaimed master negotiator and who White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer touted "the closer" in the final stages of the health care talks, bet everything on a power play Thursday night in which the White House dared members to either vote yes or keep Obamacare.
It was right out of "Art of the Deal," Trump's old business book in which he stressed the importance of being ready to walk away to force a sale.

But Republicans called his bluff. Some of them had studied the "Art of the Deal" themselves — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) handed out copies to Freedom Caucus members — and reached a similar conclusion.

"The person who enters the negotiation looking like they have to do the deal is in a disadvantage," Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a holdout from the House Freedom Caucus who read the book last week, told reporters on Friday.

Ryan and the White House gushed about Trump's unprecedented engagement, but the president found there were limits to schmoozing — even with members with close personal ties.

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY), the lone GOP member from Trump's hometown of New York City, told reporters he had been a personal friend of the president for two decades. But that didn't change his "laundry list" of complaints, from Medicaid cuts to tax credits that didn't go far enough.

Trump's limitations

The president's disinterest in policy and his refusal to guide the process until after a bill was nearly complete created unique problems.

On health care, Trump instinctively sided with the more moderate wing of his party, and arguably even more with Democrats.

He promised universal coverage, lower deductibles, zero cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, touted a Democratic plan to negotiate prices with drug companies, and even flirted with heretical ideas like Obamacare's individual mandate and single-payer healthcare in prior years.
But Trump was light on policy knowledge and his ideas only became less clear with time. During the campaign, he proposed achieving universal care through vague ideas like "deals with hospitals" or by allowing insurers to sell across state lines, a policy that was at best tangential to the overall health care debate.

This lack of basics left him reliant on others to carry out his vision. In his case, he drew from conservative ranks: Ryan, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
The marriage was an awkward fit for policy purposes. Trump had relied on conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation for advice throughout the campaign and his burn-it-down rhetoric often drew him closer to tea party politicians.

But his stated policy goals were still much closer to politicians like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who urged Trump to negotiate with Democrats and adopt their own bill that would allow states to keep Obamacare or adopt a system with universal catastrophic coverage.

Some in Trump's orbit noticed this dynamic and warned that trouble was brewing. Newsmax editor Chris Ruddy, a Trump confidant, argued he should ignore Ryan, dump conservatives, and establish a bipartisan commission to expand the safety net through Medicaid.

Even as Trump placed his trust in conservative advisers inclined toward smaller government, he kept promising better, cheaper health care that covered more people. If anything, his promises escalated, culminating in a pledge to provide "insurance for everybody" in a Washington Post interview. 
The combination left lawmakers more and more confused. A civil war was in the making and Trump offered few details as to which side he favored or how to resolve their differences.

He promised an imminent White House plan while House leaders worked on their own and it wasn't clear for weeks that they were ultimately the same thing. All the while, conservatives, moderates, and White House officials rushed to claim they were on the same page as the president.

This split was a major contrast with the way President Barack Obama led Democrats in passing the Affordable Care Act after over a year of near-death experiences.

The party had spent decades forging a consensus through failure after failure before the 2008 wave gave them the votes to try again. By then, they had negotiated buy-in from every wing of the party on a plan to expand private insurance through a regulated exchange with subsidies. There were major fights over whether to include a public option or how to handle coverage for abortion, but they never threatened the basic structure and goals they agreed to at the outset.

"We didn't struggle with health care because we're stupid, we struggled with it because it is an incredibly complex, massive challenge," Adam Jentleson, a former top aide to retired Senator Harry Reid, told NBC News. "They convinced themselves that we were just idiots and they would quickly take care of it."

The final push

Facing a divided party and unpredictable president, House Republicans finally settled on a plan with the White House to release a finished bill almost out of nowhere and pass it as fast as possible.
In doing so, they skipped the usual process of painstaking hearings, town halls, and negotiations that characterized Obamacare.

Within days, though, it became obvious the plan that tried to placate all sides left no one satisfied and many deeply upset. The party's goals were fundamentally different, not just their methods.

As for Trump? He didn't have much to say publicly, especially when it came to the specifics of the legislation and how it would help the average American.

Even in speeches promoting his plan, he told audiences he had considered letting Obamacare remain in place rather than handing Republicans ownership of health care. He said he was eager to move on to tax reform, but had to take care of health care first for procedural reasons. This made for an odd pivot when he warned conservatives in the home stretch that they would be wiped out in 2018 if they failed to support his bill.

This ambivalence, though, might explain why Trump sounded almost relieved on Friday to be back in his old comfortable position of dumping on Obamacare rather than slogging through the hard work of passing landmark legislation and then spending his presidency defending it.

"I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because now they own Obamacare, they own it 100% own it," he said on Friday.
The Affordable Care Act overcame the tea party protests of 2009 and the Democrats losing their filibuster-proof Senate majority in 2010. It survived two challenges in front of the Supreme Court and the calamitous rollout of healthcare.gov.
Now it has withstood the attempt to replace it with the American Health Care Act, better known as Trumpcare.

Somehow, despite the intense political forces arrayed against it, and the mind-boggling policy problems it tries to solve, the 2010 health care law keeps defying efforts to wipe it out. That says something about the people who wrote it ― and what they have achieved.
Obamacare has never been hugely popular, and it has never worked as well as its architects hoped. Millions of Americans don’t like it and, even now, there are parts of the country where the markets are struggling to survive.

But the program has provided security and access to care for millions of others. More importantly, it has shifted the expectations of what government should do ― and of what a decent society looks like.
This week’s defeat of the Republican repeal effort shows just how hard it is to undo those changes. And it won’t get any easier.

What Obama And Pelosi Did (And Trump And Ryan Didn’t)

On Friday, hours before President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) formally conceded their bill lacked the votes to pass, White House press secretary Sean Spicer signaled what was coming. Trump, he said, had “left everything on the field.”
The statement was preposterous
Trump and the Republicans in Congress had spent all of 63 days trying to pass their Obamacare repeal ― less than three weeks of which were spent actually debating the text of the AHCA. They held votes before Congressional Budget Office evaluations were ready, and were about to ask the full House to decide on the proposal just hours after making major changes to it. 
Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had already indicated he intended to bypass his committees altogether and take legislation directly to the floor ― perhaps with a quick House-Senate negotiation, a fast vote and a signature from the president.
By contrast, it took former President Barack Obama, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) more than a year to pass Obamacare ― a politically tortuous period that many people later blamed for Democrats losing their House majority in 2010.
At the time, every apparent error loomed large ― from taking on health care at all, to letting the process drag out for more than a year, to slavishly crafting a proposal as CBO specified, to cutting unpleasant deals with health care’s special interests.
Lost amid the recriminations was the talent each player brought to his or her task ― and the Democrats’ single-minded focus on avoiding mistakes of the past in order to achieve something their party had been trying to do since the days when Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House.

 The work had begun long before Obama even ran for president. In the aftermath of the defeat for Bill Clinton’s 1994 health care plan, activists, advocates and intellectuals regrouped ― and then spent literally years hashing out their ideas for achieving universal coverage in a politically viable way. When Obama did run, he borrowed their work for his own plan. When he was elected, the most pivotal committee chairman of the process, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), was ready with his own blueprint that looked nearly identical.

Baucus had done something else: Working with then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), he had convened meetings with virtually every health care stakeholder, from hospitals to unions to insurers to patient advocacy groups, exchanging ideas and negotiating over principles. It meant that when the actual legislating started, the channels of communication were already open and the groundwork for a common vision was already in place.
And still it was a nearly impossible task. Like the Republicans this year, Democrats found consensus difficult to achieve ― among the outside groups, and within their own ranks as well. Liberals wanted a more generous program, and a public option. Moderates wanted to avoid too much government spending and too much meddling with the way independent businesses operate.
But unlike the Republicans, the Democrats’ reaction was to work with the different groups and slowly bring them along ― most vividly, by negotiating with a handful of moderate Republicans, in the hopes that one or two (or maybe more) would sign onto the plan. It never happened, but the effort to woo those members helped secure moderate Democrats who needed to tell their constituents that, yes, they had tried to be bipartisan.
One reason Democratic leaders were able to preserve legislative momentum was that they understood, at all times, where they were trying to go ― and they were fluent enough in the policy to handle direct negotiations on their own. One of the enduring images of Obama during the Affordable Care Act fight was his visit to a Republican Party policy retreat in Baltimore, where he fielded questions and parried criticisms from the assembled members for roughly 90 minutes.

Trump, by contrast, seemed to lack anything beyond a superficial understanding of the bill, to the point where allies worried about letting him negotiate details. “Either doesn’t know, doesn’t care or both,” a Capitol Hill aide told CNN about the president.
As for Pelosi, her job was easier than Ryan’s in one important sense. Nobody in her caucus was as extremist or nihilist as the Freedom Caucus, partly because Democrats had done so much prep work and hammered out a rough consensus before the hard legislating work began. 
But Pelosi didn’t try to jam through “slapdash” legislation, as Harold Pollack, writing in Politico, recently called the AHCA. And she didn’t flinch when her political task looked utterly hopeless.
When Kennedy’s seat went to Scott Brown, depriving Democrats of a filibuster-proof majority to approve a final compromise, she told Obama she would get the votes for the Senate’s bill ― and she did, taking charge of the whip count personally ― and working her caucus, one member at a time, until she had a majority.
On Sunday, during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), conceded that maybe the Democrats knew what they were doing.
“When the Democrats came to power in 2009, for 60 years at least, they had been pursuing a national health care system, yet they didn’t introduce legislation for eight months, and they didn’t pass it for over a year of Barack Obama’s first term,” Cotton said. 
“I am not saying we needed 14 months to do this,” he added, “but I think a more careful and deliberate approach, which we now have time to do because we are going to have to revisit health care anyway, would have gotten us further down the path to a solution.”

The Resilience Of Obamacare

But the Republican failure wasn’t just about process. It was also about policy ― and a failure to realize just how profoundly the Affordable Care Act has changed public expectations for how the U.S. health care system operates.
The end product of that long, cantankerous debate in 2009 and 2010 wasn’t pretty. Keeping the health care industry on board meant heeding their demands to ratchet back aggressive cost controls. Holding moderate Democrats in the coalition meant putting a tighter lid on what the program would spend. Passing the Senate bill meant accepting statutory language that its authors had hoped a conference committee would clean up before enactment.
These compromises and concessions made implementation difficult. The sloppy language from the Senate bill exposed the program to the lawsuit King v. Burwell, which, if successful, would have destroyed the exchanges. The deals to secure support from individual members, like the “cornhusker kickback” that helped reel in Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), stained the whole effort with a tinge of corruption. The stingy funding meant that some middle-class people wouldn’t get much financial help, despite high premiums.
Republicans proved exceptionally adept at turning these problems into political advantages. But more frequently than not, they attacked the law because it wasn’t living up to liberal ideals ― because it left middle-class people on the hook for premiums, or because the plans had onerous deductibles, or because it was insufficiently harsh to the health care industry. McConnell was fond of pointing out that the law had left some 25 million people uninsured.
The message was unmistakable: The health care law had failed because it had made health care harder for people to get, and the GOP had a better way.
These arguments helped Republicans grab and hold congressional majorities, and they helped put Trump in the White House. But McConnell wasn’t interested in covering more people any more than Ryan wanted to lower people’s deductibles. And the need to write legislation exposed their real policy preferences ― which were lower taxes, fewer regulations and less government spending on the poor.
The combination meant that more people, not fewer, would be exposed to crippling medical bills. When the CBO finally did weigh in, the number of people predicted to lose their insurance, 24 million, was so big that even Republicans couldn’t spin or lie their way out of it.
“All politicians overpromise,” Jonathan Chait, of New York magazine, observed. “But the Republicans did more than overpromise. They delivered a policy directionally opposed to their promises.”
Republicans had also convinced themselves that nobody who had insurance through the Affordable Care Act liked it. The media coverage made it easy to believe this. Stories of people losing their old plans or paying more for new ones were all over the press for the first few years of the program. Stories of people saving money, or getting insurance for the first time, were much harder to find. 

But as surveys showed, the majority of people getting coverage through the Affordable Care Act were actually satisfied with it ― and quite a few were deeply grateful. In the last few months, finally, their stories became part of the conversation. They showed up on television, in the print media, and especially at town hall meetings ― forcing Republicans to answer questions they’d successfully dodged for years by tapping into anger with “Obama” and glossing over details about the “care.”
“If it wasn’t for Obamacare, we wouldn’t be able to afford insurance,” an Iowa farmer told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Recalling Grassley’s 2009 false warning that the Affordable Care Act had “death panels,” the farmer said, “With all due respect, sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panel. We’re going to create one big death panel in this country if people can’t afford insurance.”
At a CNN town hall, in front of a live national audience, an Arizona man with cancer told Ryan that the health care law was paying for his cancer treatment. “I want to thank President Obama from the bottom of my heart because I would be dead if it weren’t for him,” the man said, adding that he was a Republican who once opposed the law and had volunteered in GOP campaigns.
The backlash left Republicans visibly rattled. And although leaders tried to write off such incidents as paid activists making trouble, they couldn’t explain why nearly every group connected to health care ― from the American Medical Association to AARP ― was making the same arguments.
Nor could Republicans explain plummeting public support for the legislation. By the end, the GOP bill had support from just 17 percent of the population ― much less than Obamacare, at its worst, ever polled.
Up until the end, Republicans had the votes to pass the House bill or something like it, and deliver Trump the big win he craved. It’s not so difficult to imagine a scenario with slightly better leadership, and slightly less obstreperous Republican factions, in which the legislation would have gone through both chambers and eventually to the White House.
But doing so would have almost surely produced a massive political backlash, because taking health insurance away from millions of people ― depriving people of health care because they have a pre-existing condition, or because they don’t have enough money to pay for it ― is no longer acceptable. 
It was the status quo until 2010. That was seven years ago and there is very little enthusiasm for going back.
As Sen. Bill Cassidy, a conservative doctor who represents the conservative state of Louisiana, told The New York Times, “There’s a widespread recognition that the federal government, Congress, has created the right for every American to have health care.”

What Happens Now

Obamacare remains a shaky enterprise, with markets in several states down to two or even one insurance company. And Trump, who has already taken some actions to sabotage the program’s performance, might make it even a shakier.
“Bad things are going to happen to Obamacare,” Trump said from the Oval Office on Friday, making what sounded to a lot of people like a threat. “There’s not much you can do to help it.”
Nobody questions that Obamacare requires reinforcement and repair ― or that someday it might need total replacement. Conservatives and liberals each have plenty of ideas along those lines. 
But the standard for judging any of these proposals, or some bipartisan combination of them, will be the same one that Trumpcare failed to meet: Does it protect the people who need protection? Does it improve access to care? Does it reduce financial insecurity? Does it move the U.S. closer to a system where all Americans truly have a way to get the medical care they need ― at a price they can afford?
This, in the end, is what Obama, Pelosi and their allies achieved with the Affordable Care Act ― not the creation of a jury-rigged system of regulations and tax credits, or the expansion of an overtaxed Medicaid program, or any of the myriad smaller policy initiatives the Affordable Care Act. The true legacy of Obamacare is the principle that everybody should have health insurance. 
Erasing that is not something that can happen in 63 days. And it may never happen at all.


 What Wasn't Trumpcare More Popular?
by Olga Khazan
April 14, 2017
The Atlantic

Spring is a time for rebirth, and at least for some Republican leaders, that goes for health-care legislation, too. Talks have reportedly resumed on reviving a version of the Republicans’ Obamacare alternative, the American Health Care Act, as my colleague Russell Berman reports, even as House Speaker Paul Ryan called Obamacare the “law of the land” just a few weeks ago.

The bare bones of the AHCA will likely form the basis of whatever the party does next on health care, according to two Republican Capitol Hill aides. That might be concerning to the various physician, hospital, and insurance groups who opposed the bill, not to mention the many conservative, centrist, and liberal health-policy wonks who reviled it. (One of the staffers said outside groups simply misunderstood “what our bill did and did not do.”)

The AHCA’s epic failure, and potential resurrection, makes it worth asking—why has it been so difficult for Republicans to come up with something that’s at least more popular than the IRS? (To name just one example, Politico magazine, a publication not exactly known for partisan snark, called the bill “a Dumpster fire.”) And will anything be different if Republicans try their hand at health-care reform again?

I spoke with half a dozen conservative-leaning health-policy experts for their take on why Republicans didn’t have something better than the AHCA ready. Four broad theories emerged:

Republicans just didn’t give themselves enough time

A decade ago, the Democrats also had conflicting health-care ideas, squabbling over single-payer and a public option, but they worked it out in legislation, says Dan Holler, the vice president of communications for Heritage Action for America. “That’s not something that was capable of happening in 17 days” for Republicans, he said. The rush to pass the AHCA “was a misread of where the [Republican] conference was.”

James Capretta, with the American Enterprise Institute, said outside groups—he implicated Heritage Action and Club for Growth—were urging Republicans to repeal Obamacare as quickly as possible. Because of that, House Republicans “didn’t give themselves enough time to ... develop [Paul Ryan’s plan] ‘Better Way’ into a more politically viable replacement plan.”

Perhaps it would have become more palatable if they had spent nine months on it, as the Democrats did on Obamacare.

It wasn’t clear what the goal was

“Repeal and replace” seemingly meant different things to different Republicans. Moderates wanted to protect the law’s more popular provisions while tweaking its subsidy structure. The House Freedom Caucus thought Obamacare should be uprooted entirely. It’s hard to write a bill that simultaneously bolsters and destroys a federal program.
John Goodman, with the Independent Institute, believes the AHCA was authored in a way such that it would cut federal spending—the goal of conservative Republicans—not necessarily boost health-care coverage. The comparatively lower health-insurance enrollment levels under the AHCA were a feature, not a flaw, in other words. “If 24 million people don’t get health insurance, 24 million people won’t be getting subsidies through Medicaid or through the tax credits,” Goodman wrote in Forbes recently. “That means less spending.”

There are only so many ways to do health-care reform

Some nicknamed the AHCA “Obamacare lite,” and it does, indeed, have lots in common with the Democrats’ law. But it was also similar to past GOP proposals, like Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s “Empowering Patients First” plan, as well as the plan offered up by Jeb Bush on the campaign trail. In fact, a 1989 plan from the Heritage Foundation—the one that started it all—also included tax credits and an individual mandate.

“Every time I put Obamacare in my search engine, someone has a snarky headline: ‘Republicans are starting to like Obamacare,’” said Bob Laszewski, an insurance-industry analyst. “The original outline was their idea!”

That’s because there are two basic models for health systems, Laszewski says: single-payer or Obama/Ryan/Trump/Heritage/PriceCare. One is a government-run system offers a rudimentary plan to everyone. The other one is a delicate Jenga tower of mandates, credits, and incentives, all balanced on the rickety table of the private-insurance industry.

Republicans had to go with the AHCA, that is, because there just aren’t that many other, non-socialist ways to do health insurance coverage.

And why did it take them so long—seven long years of the Obama administration—to come up with this particular formulation? Laszewski reminded me that the Democrats also hemmed and hawed for years over health care—decades, if you include the Hillarycare debacle of the early ’90s. Ultimately they settled on Obamacare, helping the poor at the expense of the better-off, while the AHCA would have done the opposite.

In other words, “when the Democrats had their shot, they took care of their base,” Laszewski said. And the Republicans took care of theirs.

Republicans just aren’t into health-care policy

Most politicians’ knowledge of the issues is “miles wide but less than an inch deep,” says Michael Cannon, the director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute. When it comes to many Republican policymakers and health care, though, that depth might be closer to a centimeter.

The reason? Republicans tend to like limited government, and health-care legislation is, well, governmenty. Sure, you could de-regulate health care to reform it, but usually new health laws result in the federal government telling doctors, insurers, or states to do something. That just isn’t the GOP’s thing!

“When Republicans have tried to apply their limited-government philosophy to health care, they’ve been beaten over the head by Democrats who say you’re trying to take away access to care,” Cannon said. “They’ve decided, ‘I don’t want to get hit on the nose with a crowbar anymore. I’m going to focus on other issues.’”

But their disinterest hurts them even more, Cannon says. Moderates in the House fear being pilloried at town halls and in ads for voting for a law that might make medical care more expensive. But Cannon feels they haven’t put much effort into explaining what they think is wrong with Obamacare’s more popular provisions, like the ban on excluding people with pre-existing conditions. “They just haven’t done their homework,” Cannon said.

“We used to say Republicans didn’t have the health-care gene,” added Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation. “It just was not their issue.”

Now that health care is the Republicans’ problem, though, maybe it will become their issue, as well.


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