David Brooks: Trump Healthcare Plan "Obamacare Lite," Recipe For A "Death Spiral"

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PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the debut of the controversial Senate Republican health care bill, the high-profile Georgia special election and why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was invoked by Republicans during the race, plus President Trump’s clarification that he had not taped former FBI Director James Comey.

Brooks called the Trump healthcare plan a "cheaper version of Obamacare," adding, "it’s possible to be a conservative and to support market mechanisms basically to redistribute wealth down to those who are suffering."

Commenting on the string of Republican special election wins Brooks said, "It’s first a sign that there are limits to being anti-Trump, second, that the Trump phenomenon was not just a fluke, that it’s based on some deep structural things in the economy that are driving people to support the Republicans, some deep structural things in the country, that people are extremely distrustful of government and extremely distrustful of Washington."

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: I’m a little surprised.

First, it’s sort of Obamacare-lite. It’s not going to work. It’s functionally nonoperational, because it will encourage, when they’re healthy, to exit the system and then go back into the system when they’re sick. And that’s a recipe for a death spiral in a lot of places.

So I think, functionally, it’s not going to work. Politically, I have to say, it’s kind of canny. Mitch McConnell had these two wings of his party. And I think he steered as well as is possible to steer down the middle to give the right, the Ted Cruz folks the cuts in Medicaid and Medicare and stuff like that.

He gave the center basically the structure of Obamacare with some of the rules about preexisting conditions. So, I think, politically, it’s an act of skill. And as I look forward, is this thing going to pass, I still think probably not because I don’t think you can get the whole Republican Party behind this thing, but I’m reminded not to underestimate Mitch McConnell.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Have the Republicans made the case that this is something better or just that this is not Obamacare?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s not Obamacare.

What it does — you ought to start with, what kind of country are we in? We’re in a country where — widening inequality. And so I think it’s possible to be a conservative and to support market mechanisms basically to redistribute wealth down to those who are suffering.

This bill doesn’t do that. It goes the other way. So, I think, fundamentally, it doesn’t solve the basic problem our country has, which is a lot of people are extremely vulnerable. And so I do think, as a solution any the range of health care problems, I don’t think it’s it. I don’t even think repealing Obamacare. It’s a cheaper version of Obamacare.

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HARI SREENIVASAN: He brought up the special elections. We have had five now. The Republicans seem to be holding, if not winning.

Is this trouble for the Democrats?

DAVID BROOKS: I think so.

I think the Georgia loss is a big loss. I don’t think it’s, oh, this is always a Republican district, it’s not such a big deal. If the Democrats are going to pick up seats, it is going to be in upscale, highly educated suburban seats.

And this was tailor-made for that, a seat that Trump barely won. And so if after all that’s happened in the last four or five months, they can’t pick up the seat, that to me is an indictment.

It’s first a sign that there are limits to being anti-Trump, second, that the Trump phenomenon was not just a fluke, that it’s based on some deep structural things in the economy that are driving people to support the Republicans, some deep structural things in the country, that people are extremely distrustful of government and extremely distrustful of Washington.

There’s also a sign that the Republicans, despite all that’s happened, are still considered the party of change. And if they want change, they’re still likely to go to the Republicans. And, finally, it’s a sign the Democratic Party is too coherent.

They have got a Bernie Sanders, which is strong and coherent, but that’s not the kind of wing that’s going to work in this district. And the Democratic center, aside from the one candidate they had down there, is meager. And without that, there are going to be just a lot of districts you’re not going to do so great in.

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DAVID BROOKS: I do think — I would be curious to hear Mark’s view on this — I do think, on net, Nancy Pelosi can be a very masterful leader again inside, but I do think she’s become a central liability for people around the country.

Now, the question will be, OK, if they got rid of Nancy Pelosi as party leader, would the next person be just as unpopular? And, potentially, but I think potentially not. And I do think, if you’re a Democrat, you do have to think about, who is currently the face of our party?

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally, some of the statements that have been coming out of the White House, more specifically from Donald Trump, yesterday saying he didn’t know that there were any tapes or any recordings, that he didn’t make any, this follows a dozen false statements at the rally that he had in Iowa this week.

And then you kind of just go right back to how President Obama bugged Trump Tower or the millions of illegal votes for Hillary or the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

Any structural consequence to the office of this? Because it doesn’t seem to be having an impact on him.

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

And I wonder, what’s going to happen to our debate? After Trump leaves, whenever that is, do we snap back to what we consider the normal standards of honesty, or is this the new norm?

And that’s why, even though it doesn’t seem like Trump to point out, as my paper did, in a long list today, the definitive guide to the lies of Donald Trump, I think it’s still worth making that case, because a lot — the thing we have to fear most is essentially a plague of intellectual laziness, a plague of incuriosity, a plague of apathy about honesty.

And once the whole political system gets affected by that, then we’re really sunk. And so I do think keeping his feet on the fire, no matter how little he pays a price for it, is still worth doing.

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