Opinion

Opinion: The (White) Boys’ Club That’s Taking on Health Care

Senate health care working group is all men, all white

Maine Sen. Susan Collins wrote an entire health care replacement bill with fellow Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, but she’s not on the Republicans’ Senate health care working group. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Is there an Obamacare provision for self-inflicted wounds? If so, Senate Republicans should file a claim pronto before they repeal and replace the offending legislation. 

It’s hard to understand how the GOP leadership could run head-first into such an avoidable misstep. They appointed 13 members to the Senate health care working group last week, either not noticing or not caring that all 13 of those senators are white men.

A Republican leadership aide dismissed the ensuing uproar over the all-male review of Obamacare as nothing more than a game of “identity politics” that the Senate leadership refuses to engage in. Is the Republicans’ lack of self-awareness a chronic illness, a pre-existing condition, or both?

I’d like to start by saying there’s nothing wrong with white men per se. I love so many of them in my life. But the optics of a panel of white men making hugely consequential decisions for everybody else is a movie we’ve all seen before, and not just from the Republicans.

The most famous was the Senate Judiciary Committee that grilled Anita Hill during the 1991 hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. The men, who were Democrats and Republicans, grilled Hill like a murder suspect, oblivious to the reality of sexual harassment that women in the workplace face every day. Justice Thomas was confirmed, of course, but the all-white, all-male committee sent a message to millions of Americans that they did not have a voice in their own government.

Even then, at least the Judiciary Committee could say that they didn’t have a lot of options to diversify their ranks. There were just two women in the Senate at the time, two Asian-Americans and no African-Americans. Parity was not an easy target back then.

Man moments

There have been plenty of other 100-percent-man moments in politics — OK, nearly all of American politics has been 100 percent men. But we’re in a new time and it’s hard, no it’s impossible, to understand as a woman in 21st century America how there is not also a new mindset to go along with it. How can a sixth of the economy get repealed and replaced without the leadership (not the input … the leadership) of qualified, diverse voices, of which there are plenty in the Republican ranks?

Let’s start with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Is it identity politics to say that she has already written an entire Obamacare replacement bill with Sen./ Dr. Bill Cassidy, R-La.? Or that she is one of the few Republicans left who was in the middle of the Affordable Care Act drafting process and therefore may know more than anybody about the guts of the law they’re about to repeal? Or that the Collins-Cassidy bill, which has been available in its entirety online since January, somehow gives states the flexibility conservatives say they need, while also maintaining coverage for pre-existing conditions a majority of Americans say they want?

Also, Sen. Collins is a woman.

Is it also identity politics to point out that Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is arguably as conservative as either Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, or Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, two fellow freshmen who are both on the panel, but that before Sen. Scott was in Congress, he was an insurance agent?

That means he wrote health insurance policies for his customers and had the benefit of hearing from them first-hand what they needed and wanted in their insurance coverage.

Also, Sen. Scott is African-American.

A different perspective

It is not Sen. Collins or Sen. Scott’s jobs to speak for their entire gender or their race. But they would, at the very least, bring their own personal experiences to the debate, along with the expertise they also have.

They could raise their hands and voices on topics that disproportionally affect women and minorities, which a panel of all-white men might misunderstand or forget, even without meaning to.

Are any of the senators part of a group significantly more likely to live longer, but with lower incomes, and thus in need of more affordable health care over the course of their lives? Every women in America is in that group.

Are those senators also in a group with a higher incidence of chronic disease, like African-Americans, and thus more likely to require ongoing medical interventions over the course of their lives?

Have any of the senators on the panel ever struggled with infertility? Or considered suicide as they fought postpartum depression? Have they ever been pregnant and on bed rest? Have they ever had a miscarriage and then not been able to afford the hospital bill?

How often have those senators waited for a two hours in a pediatrician’s office? How many times a week do they drive their elderly parents to doctors’ appointments? How many have a special needs child that they worry every day will have no one left to dress her and brush her hair if something ever happens to her mom?

That is the reality of American health care for the majority of people who will be directly affected by the changes in this law. They are women. They are minorities. They are white and male. Many of them are struggling. All of them deserve to have a voice in this process.

Those voices exist in the Republican caucus. Let’s hope their party listens to them.

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.  

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