"Freedom" from health care

Jacob Cook examines the career of North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows in the wake of his efforts to protect health care companies' profits at our expense.

Rep. Mark Meadows (Gage Skidmore | flickr)Rep. Mark Meadows (Gage Skidmore | flickr)

NORTH CAROLINA Republican Rep. Mark Meadows has been grabbing headlines as leader of the faction within the GOP that derailed the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

Though Donald Trump publicly blamed Democrats for defeating his pledge to repeal Obamacare, the truth is that the Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House--and the House Freedom Caucus, a far-right Tea Party-aligned group of about 30 congressional representatives, is chiefly responsible for denying Trump the majority he needed to get his legislation through the House of Representatives.

Meadows' unremarkable career has mostly involved repeated failed efforts to repeal Obamacare--while collecting donations from the finance, insurance and real-estate sectors. Installed into the U.S. House in 2012 thanks to gerrymandering by the North Carolina General Assembly and funding from right-wing PACs, the Koch brothers, and student loan companies, Meadows joined the effort to shut down the federal government in 2013. This was itself a move to repeal Obamacare.

Along with other Freedom Caucus members, Meadows endorsed Paul Ryan to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House in 2015.

As noted by Trump during the confrontation over the AHCA, Meadows supported Trump during his presidential campaign. Like the various right-wing advocacy groups that he represents or is allied with, such as FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, Meadows extols the virtues of free trade, free markets and opposition to regulation of industry as ways to improve the lives of everyday people.

Meadows' biggest chance yet to settle his political debts and justify his existence to his benefactors came recently with the Republican attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. However, not only did he and his fellow conservatives fail to repeal Obamacare, they actually torpedoed the efforts to do so and in the process angered leading Republicans such as Trump and Ryan.

The Freedom Caucus opposed Trumpcare for three main reasons: the legislation did not lift the requirement on insurance companies to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions; it did not put enough restrictions on the types of illnesses that insurance must cover, and; it did not prevent young people from being covered under their parents' insurance up to the age of 26.

In other words, when Meadows and other conservatives blather on about free markets and deregulation, what they mean is that workers should be deprived of the basic necessities of life, including health care, in order to protect their corporate backers' "rights" to hoard the wealth created by labor.

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MEADOWS' OPPOSITION to Trumpcare isn't based on compassion for the more than 400,000 North Carolinians denied health care due to his party's refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid. It's based on his loyalty to the corporate lobbies and PACs that helped place him and his kind into office.

These are his real constituents.

All of the representatives in the House Freedom Caucus are funded by lobbyists and professional groups--and especially wealthy conservatives such as the Koch brothers, whose net worth is more than $44 billion each. To give a sense of how much wealth this really is, for the 81-year-old Charles Koch this is the equivalent of collecting more than $62,000 per hour from the moment he was born. (North Carolina's median household income is about $45,906 per year.)

Keeping the focus on Meadows' actual constituents, taking only half of the Koch brothers' hoarded gold would cover the cost of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina for the next decade, extending health insurance coverage to at least 400,000 people.

Here in the 11th district of North Carolina, the local chapter of Our Revolution--the political organization that's emerged from Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign--is demanding Mark Meadows appear at a town hall this April 23 to face voters' anger over his attempts to repeal Obamacare.

While activities like this are a good opportunity for people to meet and discuss the tactics that will help us win health care for all, North Carolinians especially should harbor no illusions in the Democratic Party after their shameful compromise on HB 2, a state law attacking the rights of transgender people.

We must organize larger and more frequent mobilizations that unite demands for expanded access to, and full funding of, health care, child care, housing and education with the broader fight for workers' rights, including living wages, wage equality and paid parental and sick leave.

The Republican disunity around Obamacare repeal will be temporary. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has announced plans to push for a Medicare-for-all single-payer system. This effort is likely to face strident opposition from both parties.

That will make it even more important for our side to build the struggle to fight for the kind of health care we deserve--because without overwhelming pressure from the grassroots, single payer has no chance of being implemented.