In Sickness and In Health
Will U.S. Rep. Martha McSally remain wedded to the GOP agenda or will she show an independent streak?
Southern Arizona Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-AZ02) doesn't typically go out on a limb when it comes to controversial issues. She has sidestepped questions about whether she'd vote for President Donald Trump, how the government should deal with undocumented people now in the country, whether she supports a new tax on imported goods and a host of other topics.
But last week, McSally uncharacteristically went all in on the Trumpcare proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Even as the legislation was coughing up blood toward the end of the week as public approval was dropping to 17 percent in polling, McSally was a loyal soldier for House Speaker Paul Ryan. On Thursday, March 23, McSally's office sent out a press release celebrating her work on an amendment to add $15 billion for the states to provide maternity care, substance abuse treatment and mental health care.
"We aren't landing a helicopter, we are landing a 747, and we need a lot of runway to ensure a smooth transition to a system that lowers costs, expands choice, and increases quality of care," McSally said in her prepared statement.
It was more like trying to land a flaming dumpster. The next day, Ryan pulled the bill after it was clear he didn't have the votes to pass it out of the House of Representatives. As more concessions were made to Freedom Caucus hardliners, more moderate Republicans abandoned a bill that would result in 24 million Americans going without health insurance if it were enacted.
Much of what McSally was celebrating in her amendments wouldn't have been necessary if she hadn't been supporting underlying legislation that gutted requirements that insurance companies cover maternity care, substance abuse treatment and mental health care in the first place.
Whether McSally's full-throated defense of the healthcare proposal will come back to haunt remains to be seen. (And a lot will depend on whether Democrats can find a legit challenger to McSally, a rising GOP star and peerless money-raiser.) But her reputation as an independent voice standing up for Southern Arizona is increasingly threatened by her voting record this year.
Journalists at at fivethirtyeight.com are keeping a running tally of how often members of Congress vote for Trump's agenda. As Monday, March 27, McSally has a perfect 100 percent record of voting for Trump's agenda in Congress. Given that the Democrat she unseated, Ron Barber, was dismissed as a "Pelosi lapdog" for voting with Democrats 75 percent of time, McSally doesn't yet appear to be following through on the promise to be an independent voice standing up against her own party when necessary.
The next big test for McSally—and the rest of the GOP—is the upcoming tax reform rodeo that Republicans are tackling because healthcare couldn't be squared away in four weeks of backroom meetings and middle-of-the-night votes.
As with the ObamaCare repeal, the ultimate goal of the tax reform is granting a massive tax cut for struggling millionaires and billionaires who have done enough to subsidize the poor in this nation. But the healthcare fail means that Republicans have about a trillion dollars less to play when they try to cook the books to make it look as though the tax cuts don't explode the deficit.
One of the key elements of Ryan's reform is a "border-adjustment tax" that would put a 20 percent tax on imports. It's supposed to jumpstart American manufacturing, but it would be disastrous for Arizona at a time when trade relations—and dollars—are rebounding following the SB 1070 disruption.
Last week, Sen. John McCain came out against the border-adjustment tax, telling Politico it "would destroy America's economy. ... First thing will happen is that there'll be retaliation. You think the Mexicans are going to sit still for it?"
McCain's fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake spoke out against the border-adjustment tax on the Senate floor, saying it "could make everyday consumer products more expensive at the very places that middle-class families shop the most."
McSally has yet to stake out a position on the border adjustment tax, which has drawn big opposition from retailers such as Walmart and Target. A McSally spokesman told the Weekly in January that McSally "understands well the economic opportunity that commerce with Mexico brings to Arizona. When Congress tackles tax reform later this year, she will thoroughly analyze all proposals for their impact on southern Arizona residents." Her office hasn't responded to more recent efforts to suss out her position.
Wherever McSally eventually ends up on the border adjustment tax, the overall tax reform package will test another one of her core principles: Lowering the deficit. Is McSally going to support a giant tax cut for the wealthy that will be financed by future generations? We should know the answer soon enough.
Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 5 p.m. Sundays on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM and at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. Sundays on KEVT, 1210 AM. Nintzel also talks politics on The John C. Scott show at 4 p.m. Thursday afternoons.