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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

May 3: GOP Congressman Says Sick People Whose States Kill Coverage Should Move

The latest in many a revealing quote from GOP Members of Congress on health care policy came from North Carolina’s Rep. Robert Pittenger. I wrote about it at New York with some real anger.

It is not quite down there in the hall of shame with his Alabama colleague Mo Brooks’s suggestion that sick people often don’t deserve health coverage because they’ve brought it all down on themselves with bad habits. But North Carolina Republican representative Robert Pittenger was similarly cavalier about people with preexisting conditions who might lose affordable coverage if their state chose to waive protections for them under the terms of the revised American Health Care Act that the White House and Republican congressional leaders are trying to get through the House this week.

Quoth Pittenger: “People can go to the state that they want to live in. States have all kinds of different policies and there are disparities among states for many things: driving restrictions, alcohol, whatever,” he continued. “We’re putting choices back in the hands of the states. That’s what Jeffersonian democracy provides for.”

Seems Pittenger thinks the sick should vote with their feet, or their other afflicted parts, to live in a place that doesn’t view their health as a disposable asset.

I do believe we had a civil war over the proposition that states can do any damn thing they want with people, and the proponents of the states’-rights version of “Jeffersonian democracy” lost. It’s true that the victims back then did not always have the option to move elsewhere (there was this thing called the Fugitive Slave Act), but it should be beyond argument now that some rights and privileges of citizenship ought to be national in scope. Maybe health insurance is one of them, and maybe it’s not, but Pittenger’s glib assertion that the theoretical option of flight for poor, sick people makes it okay to discriminate against them is morally and politically obtuse.

This is not Pittenger’s first or worst comment of this nature. Last year, after protests broke out in Charlotte (a city partially represented by Pittenger) when an African-American man (Keith Lamont Scott) was fatally shot by police, here’s what he had to say:

“The grievance in their minds — the animus, the anger — they hate white people, because white people are successful and they’re not,” Pittenger told BBC Newsnight when he was asked about what is driving heated protests in Charlotte.

He later apologized for the nasty racist slur, but perhaps he should have moved to a different state.

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