To Counter Obamacare Repeal Pushback, Republicans Should Pass School Choice

The diminishing Democratic Party in Washington D.C. is stirring. With the unexpected victory of President-elect Donald Trump, liberals are scrambling to figure out just how they’ll use what little political capital they have to thwart congressional Republicans’ agenda, which is only days away from realization with control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the White House.

In a recent feature story in New York magazine, Democrats broadcasted their first futile effort to be relevant in this new Congress: opposing the nomination of Rep. Tom Price, M.D. (R-Ga.) as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. According to reporter Jason Zengerle, they’ve already concocted their grand scheme:

“Senate Democrats appear to be unanimous in their opposition to Tom Price, Trump’s choice for Health and Human Services secretary, and they hope to raise such a ruckus about Medicare during Price’s hearings that at least three Republicans decide to vote against Price, too, thus handing Democrats their first scalp of the Trump era.”

Of course, the ridiculous delusion that Price, the chairman of the House budget committee who just so happens to be one of the country’s most successful orthopedic surgeons, wouldn’t receive unified GOP support for the job smacks of the same hubris that caused Democrats’ widespread, humiliating losses up and down ballots this cycle. Their strained efforts to derail the nomination of arguably Trump’s least salacious nominee signals their tantrum is less about his fitness for confirmation and more about convincing voters that Republicans are totally disinterested in their health or wellbeing.

It shows us, too, that Democrats will rely upon their trusted messaging playbook throughout the Obamacare “repeal and replace” fight that will dominate the first few years of the Trump Administration. They’ll wail about Republicans ripping health care from poor people, the elderly and the chronically ill. They’ll march across Washington in matching t-shirts, thrusting posters portraying women’s IUD-clad uteruses into the sky while chanting in unison that Republicans’ opposition to using taxpayer dollars to fund their abortions amounts to an assault upon their civil liberties.

The message coordination is stunning. Need proof? CNN is already running an on-air package about black lung victims and their families in coal country losing access to vital medical care and benefits once Obamacare is repealed.

The Washington Post’s liberal commentator Greg Sargent followed up with a written report calling the segment “fantastic” and asking if Trump’s voters in these states knew the harm he’d do to them when they cast their ballots. The storyline, naturally, is intended to make the GOP waiver in its commitment to repealing Obamacare by fomenting doubt among Republican lawmakers that the voters who put them in power really want the law replaced.

Despite the Democrats’ most frenetic organization, Republicans will not be deterred in their long-awaited quest to repeal and replace Obamacare with patient-centered reforms. They know that the law is not working for patients, families, doctors, hospitals, workers, employers or taxpayers.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, meets with Secretary of Health and Human Services-designate Rep. Tom Price, R- Ga., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, meets with Secretary of Health and Human Services-designate Rep. Tom Price, R- Ga. Both leaders will be instrumental in the GOP’s plan to repeal and then replace Obamacare. | Photo: AP

Still, there is an assumption among many industry insiders that the road from repeal to replace necessarily includes a transition period between the two. This “delay” will inevitably invite an onslaught of Democratic attacks over the course of several months as the changes, whether delivered as a comprehensive bill or piece-by-piece reforms, take place.

From teary-eyed press conferences to cherry-picked fact sheets, Democratic lawmakers and their allies will do all they can to scare voters and vilify Republicans. They’ll ignore the true, painful human consequences of President Obama’s signature law, like quadrupled premiums and denied access to care, that affect far more families than they purport it helps.

With an eager press corps and a relentless activist base, the Democrats are armed and ready to win the public relations war. But are Republicans?

The GOP has the truth of the horrors of Obamacare on its side. Republicans also have sustained public opposition to the law, especially as Americans grow restless and exasperated by the unencumbered problems associated with its implementation and their compliance with it.

Even as they disapprove of Obamacare, most Americans believe that the status quo isn’t acceptable, either. Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. did not enjoy truly free market-based, patient-centered health care. That’s why most conservatives have long argued that any repeal of Obamacare must be complemented with legislation that actually repairs a broken system.

But the Democrats don’t care about the merits of Republican ideas for reform. They will simply frame any undoing of Obamacare as yet another example of heartless, corporatist Republicans feeding the least among us to the ravenous wolves of the medical industry. Any GOP policy proposal, no matter how sound or worthy, will be condemned as regressive and unfeeling, meant only to take something away from people that they feel is rightly theirs.

Republicans should not be deterred, but they also shouldn’t be foolish. While they work on reinforcing the current consequences of Obamacare and explaining the potential benefits of replacement legislation, they should concurrently promote and pass aspirational legislation that shows the GOP is serious about solving challenges facing the average American family.

Republicans should concurrently promote and pass aspirational legislation that shows the GOP is serious about solving challenges facing the average American family

The most obvious issue to address is our country’s crumbling public education system. And like Obamacare, the facts on this are on the Republicans’ side.

Here are just a few:

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. spends 39 percent more on public education than the average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The average cost per pupil in an American public school is $12,054 annually.
  • Despite committing an abundance of taxpayer resources to educating young people, nearly 10 percent of all American public K-12 institutions are deemed “failing” by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • This means that approximately 3.5 million American children, the vast majority of whom come from low-income families, are without adequate education.
  • As of 2014, there were more minorities in public schools than white students. That means failures in public education disproportionately affect African American, Hispanic and Asian children.

Meanwhile, private schools, 79 percent of which are religiously affiliated, cost far less than their public counterparts. Catholic schools, which make up nearly half of all private educational institutions in America, cost an average of $6,890 across all grades, while other religious schools charge just $8,690 — 43 percent and 28 percent less than per pupil costs in a public system, respectively.

Despite costing less per pupil, private educational institutions consistently outperform their public counterparts, exceeding their test scores, graduation rates and college success rates.

In an October 2016 study by the College Board, researchers discovered parochial and independent private schools outperform public schools on their SATs by an average of 44 points in reading, 58 points in writing and 64 points in math. According to the NCES, just 42 percent of public school fourth graders and 38 percent of eighth graders were “proficient” or “advanced” in reading, compared to 63 percent of fourth graders and 67 percent of eighth graders in private educational institutions.

The National Catholic Education Association reported that in 2010, 99 percent of its students graduated high school, along with 98 percent of students from other religious schools and 96 percent from unaffiliated private schools. Just 76 percent of American high school students attending public schools earned a diploma.

Private schools also better prepare students for higher educational opportunities. A 2014 NCES study surveyed adults who were high school sophomores in 2002. By 2012, 61.9 percent of Catholic high school graduates and 57.1 percent of non-Catholic private high school graduates had received at least a bachelor’s degree. Only 31.1 percent of their public high school counterparts had done the same.

This is the result of a public education system that all too often lacks accountability, local oversight and parental control. It is notorious for putting the whims and desires of adults in teachers’ unions over the needs of children they’re meant to educate.

The current education system is notorious for putting the whims and desires of adults in teachers’ unions over the needs of children they’re meant to educate

True educational justice, also known as “school choice,” would allow money to follow the child to whichever educational institution her family chooses for her — whether it be public, charter, non-religious private or faith-based school. It would empower parents and students the freedom to decide for themselves what works and what doesn’t while simultaneously creating competition that improves the existing public options available.

This approach enjoys broad support across the political spectrum, and it’s somewhere Republicans can build trust among unlikely allies who share their commitment to reforming education in America. It also pressures Democrats to make the tough choice of either rewarding their political supporters in teachers’ unions or providing better opportunities for underserved families. As Democrats paint the GOP as eager to harm people by repealing Obamacare, Republicans can show they have the ideas and the courage to make things better for them by improving education.

But, they probably won’t convince anyone merely with statistics. The beneficiaries of school choice can be found in places like Louisiana, a state destroyed during Hurricane Katrina and whose vibrant rebirth is due, in part, to school choice offering a way out of poverty for its people.

Many of these children grew up sharing a rundown hotel room with a dozen family members in the aftermath of the nation’s worst natural disaster. Their earliest memories are of running out of clean towels after weeks of being crammed with relatives of all ages and not having homes after the flood waters finally receded.

Now, they are experiencing the joy of a quality education that is opening the doors of the world to them, whether at charter schools like Warren Easton or Catholic schools like St. Joan of Arc. Their teachers educate, nurture, discipline and love them.

And parents are thrilled with the results. According to the Louisiana Federation for Children, 91.2 percent of parents are happy with their child’s scholarship school, 91.6 percent believe that the program benefits their child academically, 99.1 percent say their child feels safe in his or her scholarship school and 98.4 percent of parents say their children feel welcome.

Their stories are true, compelling and found everywhere. Their voices deserve to be heard. And children across America deserve the same chance to get a quality education that prepares them to achieve their dreams.

Most importantly, Republicans should embrace school choice as their top domestic agenda priority not because it’s great politically, but because it meets the very purpose of government: to serve. There are children in every corner of America, many of whom are truly disadvantaged, whose opportunity at economic mobility hinges entirely upon a quality education. Republicans cannot delay.

Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.

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