Republicans’ aggressive obstruction of the Affordable Care Act has mystified me at times. I’m pretty sure I get it now, though. This is about the relationship between you and your employer.
Corporations try to be rational about their costs, which is why so many jobs are outsourced to low-wage countries. Nevertheless, companies appear to see value in locating some operations in the US. The problem with this, however, is the cost of maintaining American workers’ standards of living. We’re not cost-competitive.
Republicans, on behalf of their corporate backers, have long wanted to change that. They began making real headway in 1981, when the Reagan Administration, in its true defining moment, fired over 11,000 striking air traffic controllers, banning them from federal jobs for life. This was not just a blow to public sector organizing; it was the beginning of the end for unions generally. This is consistent with a core conservative strategy: To hold down labor costs in the US by shifting the balance of strength in wage and benefit negotiations as far as possible toward the side of management.
A few years ago, General Motors tried to blame its poor financial performance on its health care obligations to its employees and retirees. For each car that rolled off its assembly lines, GM attributed about $2000 of the price to workers’ and retirees’ health care benefits. One might think this would make companies like GM strong backers of universal, single-payer health care, which would shift the burden of health benefits off the backs of employers altogether, making them more competitive with companies in countries with single-payer or heavily subsidized systems. But no. It doesn’t work that way here.
How much have you given up just to keep your present corporate job? Ever thought about ditching it and starting your own business? What stopped you? What stops a lot of people isn’t the lousy economy – it’s health care. Buying insurance as an individual or a small start-up is daunting. It’s impossible for a lot of freelancers. Health insurance binds you to your employer. Haven’t had a raise in four years? Fed up with long hours, doing what used to be two or three people’s jobs, doing without niceties like IT support? Hey, at least you’ve got health insurance. Sure, the co-pays keep going up, but at least they can’t dump you altogether because of your migraines.
It matters, strategically, to your employer to have you dependent on them for your benefits. It keeps you complacent and willing to accept a much weaker negotiating position when it comes to your own future.
Perhaps this is what makes it so attractive for globalized corporations to maintain operations in the US – Europeans do strikes and boycotts. Americans have never gotten the hang of those things – this in a country where a typical CEO makes over 400 times what an average worker makes, a ratio an order of magnitude larger than anywhere else in the developed world.
Corporate executives and their toadies in Congress have no trouble squaring this with their consciences. No, it isn’t only Republicans. The erosion of workers’ positions toward their employers, in good markets and bad markets, has been a Republican project since the Nixon Administration (the folks who midwifed the birth of Managed Care in the US). But since 1968, only two US Presidents have not been parties to this undertaking: Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.
This helps to explain the relentlessness of conservative campaigns to destroy the reputations of these two men. And it explains 37 votes to repeal ObamaCare.