Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly voted to pass the American Healthcare Act, now referred to as the AHCA. The bill purports to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (the ACA or Obamacare). The AHCA would undo the requirement that all individuals have health insurance and the income-based premium tax credits of the ACA. In its place, the AHCA would establish a system of age-based and capped refundable tax credits (older Americans receiving more than younger). Like the ACA, the AHCA gets pretty complicated. It keeps certain required essential benefits and restrictions on the denial of coverage to those with preexisting conditions. That’s right. The AHCA keeps those requirements and restrictions. However, it also allows states to request waivers, allowing the sale of plans without the essential benefits and to charge more for people with preexisting conditions. There’s more, but I’ve already given more detail than I need for this essay.
After the House passed the bill, social media erupted with commentary, some from journalists writing articles, but much of it from ordinary Americans. A good deal of the commentary, though far from all, contained scathing rebukes. And, oddly, much of it seemed to unintentionally assume that the AHCA was already law.
What I saw varied, but enough of the posts insinuated that people were losing their health insurance, premiums were going to skyrocket or the world would otherwise end, that I feel the need to clarify: The AHCA is NOT yet law. It takes two houses of Congress and the President to make a law. The AHCA has only been adopted by the House, and by all accounts has no hope of passing the Senate in its current form. The Senate Republicans just won’t have the votes without significantly overhauling the bill, and if that happens, it has to go back to the House. Then, even if it passed, many of the provisions that people are finding most offensive will require states to go through the same process in their own legislatures in order to become effective.
I don’t like the bill. I wrote a previous blog on a prior version of it. I can criticize it on several levels, but I suspect that this vote came from a Republican party desperate to look like it has the capacity to govern, desperate for any victory after months of stumbling and desperate to get healthcare off their backs so that they might pursue other policies. After all, they promised their constituents that healthcare would be first. They haven’t been able to deliver. And, despite the vote, they still haven’t. In my mind, this bill represents a thin effort by House Republicans to unburden themselves. The work of making policy and the accompanying politics are just nasty. That’s not new, even if the country feels more divided than it has in many decades. Politicians compromise themselves all the time in an effort to show something for their work and yes, to try and protect themselves from election losses.
I wish that wasn’t so. It just is. But, I’m writing today to ask everyone who isn’t making policy a rhetorical question. I’ve taken way too many words to get to this, but here’s the focus of my blog today: what’s with all the anger?
I’ll be honest, I’m not good at social media, and I don’t really understand it. I really only engage it because the publisher of my book would like me to. At different points in my life, I’ve even been a proponent of just avoiding the whole mess of Twitter and Facebook. This morning, the posts about the AHCA have only heightened my skepticism.
A writer I really respect, even when I sometimes disagree with her, Rachel Held Evans, tweeted last night “It’s okay to be angry. You should be.” This wasn’t the only post like this, and in many ways, it’s a lot more reserved than many. I’m focusing on it because it seemed to express all the general emotion coming out since the vote, emotion that’s been all too common with respect to politics for a long time, that haunts people of all ideology and opinion. Evans’ tweet is also simple, making my response easier to focus. “It’s ok to be angry. You should be.” I guess I respectfully disagree.
First, the AHCA is not yet law. As I’ve said, I suspect, though I don’t entirely know, the vote was as much about political cover for a struggling party trying to govern. Republicans are not fools, even if you disagree with them. The ones I’ve met, even in Congress, don’t seem like they’re out to hurt people intentionally. Some of the politicians may be selfish and self-centered, but they seem to imagine they are doing what’s best, even if what’s best is more about them holding onto control of Congress than it is about creating a good policy (the same could be said of Democrats). That aside, let’s just take a deep breath and acknowledge: the AHCA is not yet the law and while anything is possible, it probably won’t be in its current form. Why be angry about something that isn’t yet real? Perhaps there’s a response to that, but I have deeper concerns about getting angry.
Second, I wonder what the anger is really all about. I remember once watching a You Tube video of Richard Rohr, the contemplative monk and author of Falling Upward and several other books. Rohr writes a lot about working to open our true selves, and in the video, Rohr centered on anger and resentment. He commented on people who were “outraged” when politicians misbehaved. His response, “Oh come on!” Basically, Rohr pointed out that misbehaving politicians had no real impact on most of the individuals who were outraged. Sure, we can hurt for their families and pray for them. We can think they’ve sinned and are in need of forgiveness, but to be outraged? To be angry? That’s wasting energy that could be better spent working on ourselves.
It seems to me that Jesus said a little about being angry, and he typically didn’t affirm the emotion (e.g. Matthew 5:21-24). When someone wrongs us directly, then we might be justifiably angry. That’s human and normal and maybe even healthy. But even then, when anger is normal and healthy, if we aren’t careful, anger quickly turns to resentment and that can quickly consume our lives in destructive ways. This is the lesson of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Sometime, we are more than justified in feeling angry, but it has to be owned. If we aren’t directly hurt, then maybe we’d do well to find a different outlet for our energies.
Anger over a vote in the House? I guess I’m with Rohr. “Oh come on!”
Jesus also said something about judging others. He said, “How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5). What if we thought about the House vote on the AHCA as a splinter in the eye of brothers and sisters in Congress? If we do, what might be the log in our own?
Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with healthcare. I work to provide health insurance to United Methodist pastors across Missouri. For those working full-time, I think we’ve done extraordinarily well, but I’m also aware that we have hundreds of part-time pastors with much less access to insurance and healthcare. We have families, even of full-time pastors, who struggle to pay premiums for plans we provide. I’m proud of this work and the team that does it, but I want to do and be better. But, the problem is extremely difficult. Taking care of the sick is inordinately expensive, complicated and difficult, whether it should be or not. And, I confess, I’m not doing a whole lot to help non-pastors who can’t afford health insurance. I’m letting Congress and the President shoulder the weight of that one, and I don’t even know how to help. Maybe I’m overthinking things, but I just don’t feel like I can condemn either party for working in a system, broken as it is, trying to do work that I’m not willing or able to do myself. It just seems that I ought to work on my own logs (plural) before I over-react to a single vote in the House that may or may not produce an actual law.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t voice an opinion or let Senators and Representatives know they don’t agree with the AHCA. In fact, for the first time in my adult life, several weeks ago, I wrote Missouri representatives to express my own distaste for the bill. I’m sure their staff was thrilled to hear from a pastor/lawyer and his fairly technical, politically naïve and uninformed suggestions. That said, my letter was cordial and collegial. I even confessed that I’m not much of a Republican or Democrat, but that I wanted to help if I could. I thought the bill could be improved and said so, but I don’t think getting angry about it is really very helpful.
I’m also not saying anyone should disengage from social media. It’s not my cup of tea, but I won’t judge anyone. I hear all the time how Facebook and Twitter keep people informed and connected to people with whom they otherwise wouldn’t have a connection. Maybe it does sell books, especially really good ones. That all seems valuable even as I worry that the short, punchy, faceless commentary allows people to give rise and expression to their basest emotions, those that need intentional attention to curb and control.
And to Rachel Held Evans, I really didn’t mean to take you to task. I respect and appreciate so much of what you do. I just want pastors and theologians and writers to be careful with the anger congregants and followers and readers express. It’s a dangerous game to affirm anger that isn’t clearly justified or controlled. We have enough resentment in this country as it is, some of it entirely understandable and justified.
As to the AHCA and the House vote, like the bill or hate the bill, instead of getting mad on Facebook and Twitter, maybe it would be better to use our energy to care for someone we know whose sick, to think about how we might help someone who’s in financial need, someone with a preexisting condition or worse, a child who has one, how WE might help. Then, we can engage Congress and see what we can do about the speck.