Will the end of the Kansas tax-cut experiment — hey, that’s what Brownback himself called it, although he refused to accept the crystal-clear results of that experiment — mark a turning point in U.S. politics? Michael Tomasky thinks it might: not because it refuted supply-side fantasies, which have been refuted by experience and events again and again, but because Republicans themselves (sans Brownback) decided that enough was enough, and returned to fiscal sanity.
But I have my doubts. When I look at events in Washington, it seems to be that Republicans have moved on in ways that may eventually cause us to think about the Kansas experience almost fondly, as a relic of a better time when conservatives at least pretended to have intellectual justifications for their policies and proved, in practice, to care at least a bit about results.
For there was an idea, a theory, behind the Kansas tax cuts: the claim that cutting taxes on the wealthy would produce explosive economic growth. It was a foolish theory, belied by decades of experience: remember the economic collapse that was supposed to follow the Clinton tax hikes, or the boom that was supposed to follow the Bush tax cuts? And it was a theory that always survived mainly because of the Upton Sinclair principle that it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
But still, it was a theory, and eventually the theory’s failure was too much even for Republican legislators.
Now consider the AHCA, aka Trumpcare. What’s the theory of the case behind this legislation?
When Obamacare was enacted, Republicans had some claims, almost a theory, about why it was a terrible idea. It would, they claimed, fail to improve coverage. It would be a massive “job-killer”. It would cost far more than predicted, and blow up the budget deficit.
In reality, the percentage of Americans under 65 without insurancefell from 18 percent in 2010, the year Obamacare was enacted, to 10 percent in 2016 (and less than 8 percent in Medicaid expansion states). Unemployment was 9.9 percent when the ACA was passed, 6.6 when it went into full effect, 4.8 by January 2017. Costs have come in well below expectations.
There have been some disappointments: fewer people than expected signing up for the exchanges, although this has been offset by the surprising durability of employment-based coverage and stronger than expected Medicaid. But the point is that none of the things Republicans cited as their reason for opposing the bill have come true.
So what’s the theory behind their proposed replacement? Where’s their analysis showing that it will be better? There’s no hint of anything on either topic. You might have expected some kind of appeal to the magic of the market, some claim that radical deregulation will produce wonderful results. It would have been silly, but at least would have shown some respect for the basic idea of analyzing policies and evaluating them by results.
But what we’re getting instead is a raw exercise of political power: the GOP is trying to take away health care from millions and hand the savings to the wealthy simply because it can, without even a fig leaf of intellectual justification.
The point is that what we’re seeing now is so bad, so cynical, that it makes the Kansas experiment looks like a model of idealism and honesty by comparison.
I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. We’re now in someplace much, much worse.