Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Channeling William Congreve

                   Wm. Congreve (1670-1729)

                  Wm. Congreve (1670-1729)

Between the ages of 23 and 30, William Congreve (1670-1729) was England's most celebrated playwright.  A writer who all but single-handedly created the English "comedy of manners," Congreve was known for " . . . his brilliant comic dialogue, his satirical portrayal of the war of the sexes, and his ironic scrutiny of the affectations of his age."  His major works - all completed by age 30, included The Old Batchelour (1693), The Mourning Bride (1697) and his last - and most frequently staged piece, The Way of the World (1700). A classmate and lifelong friend of the wonderful satirist Jonathan Swift, devoted disciple of England's first Poet Laureate John Dryden and, along with Philosopher John Locke a member in good standing of the Whiggish Kit-Kat ClubCongreve spent the second half of his life living off royalties before succumbing to the grave effects of a carriage accident at age 59.

Many of you reading this essay are familiar with Congreve's most famous bon mots . . . even if you're unfamiliar with the man himself, or any of the plays he wrote.  For if nothing else, the man was quote-worthy.  Two of his best-known phrases come from a play called The Mourning Bride (1697):

  • Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast (frequently misquoted as "Music hath charms to sooth the savage beast") and 
  • Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned, (generally rendered as "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned).

Trust me when I tell you that this week's essay is neither about William Congreve, Restoration Comedy nor Whig political gatherings in 18th century England.  It's about "Graham-Cassidy," the Republican-controlled Congress's last-ditch effort to finally fulfill its 7+ year promise to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.  During the latter years of the Obama presidency, Republicans voted more than 60 times to repeal the ACA, fully believing that doing so wouldn't involve even a speck of political downside . . . and for several reasons.  First and foremost, they knew that should any repeal measure actually pass, the POTUS would veto it. Second, continually pushing ACA repeal scored points with their rabid anti-anything-Obama base.  And third, they knew there was little political harm in ticking off Democrats, because they weren't likely to vote Republican under the best of circumstances.

I've got to believe that some of the more thoughtful Republicans worried that someday they would actually have to put up a real replacement package - one which would not only pass both houses of a GOP-run Congress and be signed into law by a GOP president, but one which would have a snowball's chance of pleasing someone - anyone - outside their financial backers and faithful flat-earth birther Luddites. When that long prayed-for day finally arrived on January 20, 2017, Republicans began to realize - as said by the new POTUS a  mere five weeks  after his inauguration "Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated."  Really?  Hadn't you been paying attention to all the weeks and months, all the legislative hearings and the incredible hoops the Dems. had to jump through in order to get party-line passage of the ACA?  Where were you?  Out on the hustings claiming that the entire process from day one to day last was done in secret without so much as a single opportunity for debate.

This of course  is simply not true.  Although the final ACA bill was, to a great extent, masterminded by then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), this only came about after 79 separate hearings, a ton of amendments and hour upon hour of open public debate.  Compare this to Graham-Cassidy, which has had virtually no hearings, less debate than a gathering of Trappist monks (who take a vow of silence), and virtually no reaching out to their colleagues across the aisle.  

While it is true that the final version of the Affordable Care Act came to slightly over 2,300 pages where Graham-Cassidy is less than 50, it would appear that neither its cosponsors nor the POTUS know precisely what its mandates mean, how much it would cost . . . or even what it says.  As but two examples of this phenomenon: In a September 20, 2017 interview on CNN's "New Day," Senator Cassidy (who in private life is an MD) said that under terms of his bill “We protect those with preexisting conditions. … The protection is absolutely the same [as under Obamacare]. There’s a specific provision that says that if a state applies for a waiver, it must ensure that those with preexisting conditions have affordable and adequate coverage.”  At best. the senator's statement is highly misleading; at worst, it is utterly untrue.  Then there is 45's recent (9-20-17) Tweet in which he wrote: "I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage of pre-existing conditions. It does! A great Bill. Repeal & Replace."  Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel had the last word on 45's Tweet, saying "Can you imagine Donald Trump actually sitting down to read a health-care bill? It’s like trying to imagine a dog doing your taxes. It just doesn’t compute, you know?” 

The two things all Republicans know for a certainty are that Graham-Cassidy is not Obamacare, and that it would take most of the tax money accrued under the ACA and turn it into block grants for the 50 states . . . essentially permitting each state to figure out how they wish to spend their healthcare dollars. There are, of course, many problems with the "block grant" approach, the most obvious and overwhelming of which being that not all states are equal.  How so? Well, to begin with,  median household income is much higher in New Hampshire than in Arkansas; heart disease and obesity are much bigger problems in Mississippi than in Colorado; the opioid epidemic is much worse in West Virginia than in Nebraska. Relatively sparsely populated areas struggle with the closings of rural hospitals, leaving large geographic areas underserved, while urban areas have a high concentration of large hospitals, many of which struggle with overcrowding. With regard to the first certainty - that Graham Cassidy is not Obamacare, its repeal would represent one more move to remove anything having to do with Barack Obama from the public record. In this it is reminiscent of the Biblical injunction (Exodus 17:45, and Deuteronomy 25:19 concerning Amalek: "Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it (i.e., to blot out the name and remembrance).

The list of public officials (including Republican governors, mayors and state legislators) national medical associations (now above 75) and "just plain Americans" who are on record as strenuously opposing Graham Cassidy is growing by the minute.  And ironically, the number of Americans who are voicing support for Universal Healthcare is also growing.  Ever since Arizona Senator John McCain came out and stated for the record that he will vote against it (despite his closest friend, Senator Lindsay Graham being one of Trumpcare's eponymous sponsors), there is a pretty good chance the bill will crash and burn.  About the only ones who are totally upset about this possibility are the Republican Party's biggest financial backers . . . people like the brothers Koch who, like their fellow multi-billionaires, stand to lose out on one hell of a lot of cash (via tax breaks) if Graham-Cassidy fails.

The game is in the ninth; the home team is down by a run with the bases loaded, two outs and their best hitter coming to the plate.  Indeed, there is a good reason to keep open a hope for victory.  But hoping isn't the same as action. Get up from your seat, call, text or email your senator; make your voice heard. These men and women do pay attention to what their constituents have to say; especially if they are up for reelection. (By the way, if you do not know your senators' phone numbers follow this link. For those who prefer to communicate their thoughts and feelings via email, follow this link.)

We conclude with yet another quote from William Congreve. In  Act 5, Scene 8 of his first play, the above referenced The Old Bachelour the bachelour's best friend, a chap named Sharper, gives his mate the following advice:  "Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure: Married in haste, we may repent at leisure."

Taking a page from the Book of Chutzpah, I will slightly alter the famous part of Sharper's advice,  put the resulting barb into a cartridge, load the cartridge into a blow-gun, and taking deadly aim, send it directly into the heart of the Senate Republican caucus. To wit:

                                              They who legislate in haste must expect to be invalidated at leisure.

247 days down, 1,193 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F Stone