A protester demonstrating against the GOP health-care bill outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office / CNS photo

Republican lawmakers scrambling to repeal the Affordable Care Act are working overtime to make life harder for those already living on the edge. Under the GOP’s proposed restructuring of Medicaid, people with disabilities, sick kids, those in nursing homes, and pregnant women—you know, those lazy fat cats who get all the breaks—would face a devastating new reality. The politics of such cruelty and indifference is a stunning and stomach-turning process to watch, even when you already have learned to expect so little from Congress.

A party that prides itself on being “prolife” and standing up for “family values” is taking hypocrisy to new heights. Vice President Mike Pence, in a recent tweet that encapsulates a libertarian ideology rooted in social Darwinism, boasted that the GOP will create a health-care system “based on personal responsibility, free-market competition, and state-based reform.” When you move beyond such tired, ideological slogans, you’re left contemplating a worldview that puts profits before people and rich donors before human decency. Reality, Pope Francis reminds us, is more powerful than ideas.

And the reality, if Republicans succeed in their efforts, will be nothing less than a moral scandal. Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, which includes more than six hundred hospitals and 1,400 long-term care facilities, describes the proposals as likely to have a “devastating impact on our nation’s most vulnerable populations.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—an institution that opposed final Obamacare legislation because of concerns over contraception and abortion funding—said that elements of the Senate health-care bill would “wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported.” The American Medical Association announced its opposition on Monday, writing in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the draft legislation violates the first principle of medicine: “Do no harm.” The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office scoring of the Senate bill found that it would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026. Decades ago Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. captured well the upside-down priorities we’re seeing now when he noted that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

If Republicans succeed in their efforts, it will be nothing less than a moral scandal

An estimated 64 percent of Americans in nursing homes rely on Medicaid, and Republican proposals will make them more vulnerable. Imagine Mike Pence meeting with elderly men and women who simply want dignity in their final days and lecturing them about personal responsibility. Approximately half of all U.S. births, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, also are covered through Medicaid. Low-income women and women of color disproportionately rely on Medicaid to pay for maternity care. It's a surreal situation when politicians who oppose abortion would make it harder for low-income women to absorb the significant financial costs of having a baby.

As political strategists plotted tactics and talking heads crowed on cable news, parents of seriously ill children came to the U.S. Capitol last week to remind members of Congress that their backroom deals have real-life consequences. Mothers wheeled kids with oxygen tanks and feeding tubes into congressional offices. These are families that lose sleep at night worrying about costly medical bills and twenty-four-hour care. A mother of a one-year-old who needs an IV that pumps fluid directly into his heart told the Washington Post that if the GOP health-care plans become law “my son would likely die, it would be a catastrophe.”

Some conservative commentators and Republican leaders over the years have dubbed Democrats the “Party of Death” because of support for abortion rights, and in some cases, physician-assisted suicide. But our national debate over what it means to be “pro-life” has frequently been narrowly framed and selective. GOP proposals on health care and the social safety net are not simply bad policy ideas. The bottom line is that more poor, sick people will suffer and die because a powerful few in the richest nation in the world decided tax breaks for the wealthy and fealty to anti-government ideologies are more important than making sure those least able to help themselves are treated with dignity. Those few but increasingly vocal Republican members of Congress who are raising objections need to evangelize their colleagues, and fast. 

John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, an advocacy group in Washington, and a former associate director for media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) and a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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