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The "health care debate" going on in Congress has nothing to do with health care. The bill being pushed is a political bailout.

Arkansas agreed to accept money for Medicaid expansion years ago. So did 30 other states. But deeply Republican Texas turned its chance down. So did other hard core GOP states like Alabama.

The "health care" bill now being pushed in Congress would take the taxpayer money already being spent on Medicaid expansion and spread it among all the states. States that missed the train like Texas would get billions at the expense of others, like Arkansas.

Not even TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008 that rescued troubled financial institutions, was such a unmixed bailout of bad decision makers from the consequences of their own actions. Unlike this bill, TARP at least bailed out something else out along with the bad actors -- the economy.

Picture the joy on the faces of GOP congressmen from Texas if this passes. And grabbing that money with both hands would be their governor and members of their Legislature. They could all brag about how they and their predecessors were right to forsake that evil Obamacare money. How marvelous for them that taking that money suddenly became virtuous once a Republican president got elected. The fact they would really be taking that money from the working poor in better-governed states would not bother them one bit.

But the Obamacare train is going to crash, they've said -- every day for seven years. We have to get off. Fine. Get off. If you never got on, stay off. But that is not what this "health care" bill would do. It would stop the train and tell the people on it to get off. Then the train would go back to the station. It would pick up the people who had refused to get on board because they thought the train would have crashed by now. When it returns with no added cars, the people who had enough sense to get on board in the first place will find their seats taken and no room for their luggage.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is a good Republican soldier who helped craft this plan. He says it will give the states more flexibility by distributing the expansion money in block grants. Therefore, the state will not have to come up with matching funds for Medicaid, which are set to rise over time for Medicaid expansion. I have a few thoughts on all that.

First, "flexibility" in this bill includes letting insurance companies charge more to cover pregnancies and pre-existing conditions, among other things. So the sick and the pregnant would also get to pay for making Texas look less stupid.

Second, it has been my experience that enormous grants of strings-free federal taxpayer money generally do not flow all the way down to the benefit of the low-income people currently and clearly benefiting from Arkansas' use of Medicaid expansion money, at least not for long. The block grant provision with no matching fund requirement removes any clearly defined purpose for this money other than a purely political distribution of spoils.

Third, speaking only from personal experience, I have found that having a whole lot less money tends to cancel out any "flexibility" my finances might gain. If I gave up my car payments, I would have great flexibility to walk everywhere I go or hitchhike like the governor did in his younger days.

Fourth, not having to come up with a Medicaid match might look a whole lot better to me if I were governing and my chief goal was to keep cutting taxes -- or justify the tax cuts I already steered through even when I knew the big increase in the Medicaid match requirement in Obamacare was looming.

In closing, note how the Senate is trying to pass this "health care" bill with no finished analysis of what it will do or cost. They do not care. Veteran Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told Vox magazine their real and only concern:

"If we do nothing, I think it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections. And whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel," he said. Oh, here is a surprise. Kansas did not expand Medicaid either.

Sometimes, it seems the only goal of the GOP majority in Congress is to keep a GOP majority in Congress. But I guess they can bail out their friends, too.

Commentary on 09/23/2017

Print Headline: TARP for Texas

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