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The Great American Overdose

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Government is a drug. It’s not always easy figuring out the right amount to take. But it is easy to get hooked on dangerously high doses.

And perhaps nowhere can this be better seen, right now, than in the Republicans’ ObamaCare mess.

Republican politicians feel trapped. They may know that ObamaCare amounts to government overdose — regulation and subsidy at poisonous levels. Why else would they have promised to get rid of it? But kicking a government habit is hard to do. It’s not just that regular people get hooked on benefits, no matter how ill-conceived, ill-funded, and unsustainable. More importantly, politicians get hooked on giving people benefits. Taking benefits away is not exactly a proven vote-getting strategy.

Especially when the main pushers of the drug, the major media and coastal cultural elites, go into hysterics the moment even the newest and most creaky program is targeted for mere modification.

And yet promises were made. For years Republicans have won election after election by putting the kibosh on ObamaCare high on the priority list. Last year Donald Trump got elected president in part on a promise to repeal. But how serious he was, or how serious any of them are, in repealing the program is not at all certain.

I take that back: At least five members of the Senate do seem serious about taking America off the ObamaCare fix: Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, and , Dean Heller of Nevada.

Last week, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) introduced a bill to compromise between the House’s recent Affordable Health Care Act and the current ObamaCare (Affordable Care Act), the first four objected.

‘‘Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill,” their joint statement from Thursday reads.

Their objections? Well, they agree that there are “provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current healthcare system but . . .”

— and this is a big but

“ does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their healthcare costs.’’ Their opposition puts McConnell’s snake-oil cure in jeopardy.

Dr. Rand Paul is the key figure in this opposition. One of Capitol Hill’s ongoing amusements has been watching the junior Kentucky senator repeatedly pit himself against his state’s senior member — who, the Boston Globe tells us, is threatening “to bring the bill to a vote next week even if he doesn’t have the necessary votes.”

Pressure tactics.

Which is awfully helpful in shoving an obviously bad bill through Congress.

Though ObamaCare’s demerits are manifold — it has hit many people with huge insurance price spikes and coverage downgrades, does little (if anything) to restrain healthcare costs in general from spiraling ever upward, and is increasingly unstable on an institutional level (with major insurance companies pulling out of the state exchanges) — it has succeeded in “covering” a cohort of patients that had not had medical insurance before. And some of these folks had indeed suffered, previously, from lack of access to treatment. It is those latter beneficiaries who can be pointed to by ObamaCare’s supporters as proof of how vitally necessary the program is — even if they can do so only by ignoring those whom the program over-burdened or hurt outright.

This is understood instinctively on Capitol Hill. Few government programs help everybody. Some people gain; others lose. But recognition of this is suppressed by major media and cultural elites. They focus on beneficiaries, ignoring both those directly harmed by regulations and those who are made to bear the bulk of the financial burden. (The only major exceptions are those cases when those burdened are directly targeted as apt “donors,” as “the rich” or “top one-percenters” from whom more wealth not only can but must be extracted.) And, above all, they deny any investigation into broader negative results.

For they have a narrative — a pro-drug narrative, in that it is a pro-government narrative. Though only addicts and pushers pretend that more drugs are always better than fewer drugs, that is the precise tack our cultural elites take in pushing for ever-increasing doses of State intervention.

The upshot? The media and cultural mavens have sane politicians (a rare breed in any case) over the proverbial barrel. The Republicans who promised an end to ObamaCare serve as the fish, easy targets. Pressuring would-be reformers proves easy — as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Which is why so few politicians dare do what Senators Paul, Cruz, Lee, Johnson, and Heller are doing: sticking to the idea of a more thorough dismantling of ObamaCare.

While many news sources are highlighting how McConnell’s bill greatly reduces federal spending on health care, the legislation “looks a lot like ObamaCare, actually,” according to Dr. Paul, an ophthalmologist when not wearing his senatorial hat.

Shortsightedly, the Republicans long ago gave up on the best plan: repeal ObamaCare in toto, then follow up by repealing other, previous federal regulations and even tax law, allowing medical and insurance markets to become unstuck. This would leverage the power of markets to do what government cannot: provide better service at ever-cheaper (not ever-increasing) prices.

President Trump, when campaigning, even suggested doing some of these things. His statements in favor of opening up the insurance markets, rather than micro-managing and subsidizing them, provided some of us with hope. But after he took office, the consistent message from Republicans has been “repeal and replace.”

Not “repeal and more repeal.”

Too many mainstream Republican congressmen lack the courage of their constituents’ convictions. They apparently do not really believe that a freed-up health care system and insurance market can work to the general good.

At least, not in time for the next election.

And that’s the trap. Fearing short-term flak, they don’t dare stick up for doing what they surely know to be the best thing for the country, sticking to their promises and thereby producing long-term gains.

We’ve seen this kind of desperation before. In addicts.

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