Lies, Damned Lies, & Claims Of Legislative SuccessJune 29, 2012
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I thought it might be instructive to recall the halcyon days of December 2010, when newly elected Rep. David Meeks (R-Conway) pre-filed HB 1053, entitled “AN ACT TO ENSURE FREEDOM OF CHOICE IN HEALTH CARE FOR ALL ARKANSANS; AND TO PREVENT INVOLUNTARY ENROLLMENTS IN HEALTH CARE INSURANCE PROGRAMS.” Under that bill, Meeks would have told the federal government that they could not impose a mandate on Arkansans, nor could they impose a penalty on Arkansans who did not buy insurance.
At the time that he proposed it, the reaction among people who weren’t trying to score political points with constituents who don’t understand how such things work was that the bill was absolutely worthless. In fact, it was slightly worse than worthless: at best, it would be superfluous if the Supreme Court struck down the mandate.
If, instead, the Supreme Court upheld the mandate, as they did today, passing that bill could have had a much more deleterious effect, embroiling Arkansas in a lawsuit — paid for by tax dollars — once someone filed a suit challenging the law. Either way, there was simply no remotely likely set of circumstances in which HB 1053 would have had any positive, practical effect.
But Meeks was not done. In March 2011, he co-sponsored Sen. Missy Irvin’s (R-ALEC) attempt to do more or less the same thing regarding the individual mandate, SB 709, “AN ACT TO CREATE THE HEALTHCARE REFORM ACCOUNTABILITY ACT AND TO DECLARE AN EMERGENCY.” Had this bill passed, the outcome would have been the same as with HB 1053, resulting in either absolutely nothing or a lawsuit. Mercifully, this bill also died in committee.
Imagine for a moment that you are David Meeks. (Try not to let the existential embarrassment lead to clinical depression.) Imagine that you’ve got two bills with your name on them, and neither of them made it out of committee. Imagine further that, if they had passed, neither would have had the slightest impact on Arkansans as of June 28, 2012. Now, whether because they didn’t pass or because they were worthless from the jump, answer me this (while still imagining that you are David Meeks): isn’t it pretty fair to say that these bills in no way blocked the implementation of the PPACA in Arkansas?
If you were really in character, you should have answered “not as far as what I’m going to tell my constituents!”
He even goes so far as to call HB 1053 the “Healthcare Freedom Act” on the legislative tab of his website. Because, you know, “Act” is TOTALLY not designed to make people think that the law passed and that Meeks “protect[ed] Arkansas from being forced to purchase health insurance.” Nope, not meant to mislead at all.
By which I mean it is meant to completely mislead.
In a perfect world, Meeks’s opponent, Cody Bassham, could capitalize on the fact that he’s running against a Representative who has accomplished nothing in his first two years and has gleefully attached his name to terrible bills (in addition to the above, he also co-sponsored Rep. Ed Garner’s unconstitutional attempt to remove Arkansas’s capital-gains tax, sponsored a bizarre bill to let doctors refuse treatments based on the dictates of their own conscience, and co-sponsored the kind of asinine resolution to “claim states rights under the Tenth Amendment” that Tea Party backers think has any meaning whatsoever). Sadly, Faulkner County ain’t a perfect world, and Bassham is fighting an uphill battle; he doesn’t have a website, and Meeks has been able to outraise him by a wide margin thus far.
Worse still, Bassham is running against a Pastoral Ministry major who is willing to blatantly lie to his constituents about what he’s done while in the House, and there’s no reason to think that the people of Faulkner County will realize this and hold Meeks accountable for his deceit.
I would suggest, however, that there is a difference between a politician repeating a Fox News-type lie about a policy issue and a politician who has to lie about a red-meat Tea Party issue like “Obamacare” just to hide the fact that he has accomplished nothing. The former is doing what politicians do, in a form that you expect; the latter is acting in desperation, hoping to fool people into re-electing him so he can . . . I dunno . . . propose more bills that might get the state sued? Continue to milk at the teat of mileage and expense reimbursements? Not have to get a real job in a poor economy that he and his GOP buddies have helped make worse?
Something like that. (My money is on the real-job thing. Because small government starts at someone else’s home for the ARGOP.)
[^1] Protip: You can save yourself a couple seconds when writing about David Meeks’ 2011 session by writing “HB” before checking the number of any bill on which he was the primary sponsor; you never have to worry about writing “Act,” because he didn’t manage to pass a single bill in 2011. Does this make Arkansas Watch’s listing of Meeks as the Best Legislator In Arkansas borderline absurd? No. In fact, it makes it completely absurd. Which is par for the course with Arkansas Watch.
[^2] Technically, this isn’t even his first falsehood of 2012: he distorted the hell out of the truth during the primary in order to explain paying his unqualified wife to be his legislative assistant.