American voters have spoken, and what they demanded is a repeal of the excise tax imposed on medical device manufacturers.
That, more or less, is what the incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in his post-election remarks about the Republican agenda for the new Congress. Eliminating that tax, which is one of the lesser known provisions of the Affordable Care Act, is on the short list of the GOP’s legislative priorities.
I think it’s safe to say that the medical device issue, which is of great concern to companies such as Medtronic and Boston Scientific, was not uppermost in the minds of voters who pulled Republican levers on Tuesday.
It’s no surprise that the Republican members of Congress and the corporate interests that bankrolled their campaigns are engaged in another massive bait and switch. After subjecting the electorate to a torrent of ads that whipped up a frenzy of fear about Ebola and ISIS and demonized President Obama, they are now returning to the real objective: using government to serve big business.
What makes this ruse tricky to carry out is that voters provided telltale signs that they were not endorsing that self-serving agenda. The biggest clue was the overwhelming support for ballot measures on raising the minimum wage in solidly red states such as Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. These measures were so popular that some business opponents gave up long before November 4, prompting the Employment Policies Institute, the mouthpiece for low-wage employers, to make the lame assertion that the votes did not mean much because its side did not really try.
Voters in Massachusetts; Oakland, California; and Trenton and Montclair in New Jersey voted in favor of requiring employers to provide paid sick days. And in Illinois, voters approved a measure favoring an amendment to the state constitution allowing an additional 3 percent tax on personal income above $1 million. That was on the same day they chose a wealthy private equity dealmaker to be their next governor.
If the GOP has any mandate, it’s certainly not one to pursue a pro-corporate agenda on employment and income distribution issues. On the contrary, there is reason to believe that much of the reason for voter rejection of Democrats was not because they are too far to the left, but rather that they are not far enough, at least on economic justice matters.
Take the issue of Obamacare, which many right-wingers foolishly believe is the greatest assault on personal liberty in the history of the republic. Ever since the legislation was being debated, the media has conflated that sort of opposition with the more appropriate criticism that the law did not go far enough in taking profit out of healthcare. Today, one does not have to be a reactionary to believe that the Affordable Care Act is seriously flawed, as evidenced in the ability of the insurance industry to go on peddling ultra-high-deductible junk plans through the exchanges.
Just as there is little room in mainstream discourse for the varieties of discontent on issues such as healthcare, the choices that people have for expressing their displeasure are limited. Many of those voting GOP were doing so simply to register dissatisfaction, not to endorse a party whose policy prescriptions are often out of cloud-cuckoo-land. If the Republicans and their corporate handlers forget this, they will be assuring that 2016 is a rerun of 2012 rather than 2010.