The past several weeks have not seen the American political system at its finest. The government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has presented an image of a Congress populated by intransigent narcissists, incapable of accomplishing even the most rudimentary of government tasks.
The unsavory behavior over the health care bill has not been confined to the government, either. Several weeks ago, a Koch-brothers-funded ad began airing that attempted to dissuade young people from obtaining health insurance. The now-infamous ad, put forward by the conservative group Generation Opportunity, portrayed an over-sized Uncle Sam and implied that young people will be forced to undergo a series of unnecessary invasive medical procedures at the hands of an equally invasive government-controlled health care system. The ad has been called a blatant attempt by conservative groups to convince young people to opt out of the ACA, which would effectively make it impossible for the law to work as intended.
Seeing as how young people are essentially the backbone of the Affordable Care Act — and how young people are far more likely than your average person to be without medical insurance — PolicyMic headed down to Capitol Hill to get the opinions of policymakers on the ads and their content.
In conversations with 41 different House members of both parties, the opinions broke down as you would expect. The Democrats interviewed, 17 in all, all expressed their outrage at the push by Generation Opportunity, while the Republicans interviewed, 24 in all, all professed ignorance.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) , the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, was unequivocal in his denunciation: "That's the worst thing that I've heard of in this thing. I don't think it's sensible. I hope young people reject that notion, because we need young people in the health plan to help balance out all the seniors that use health [insurance], as we all know, more than other people."
In a larger interview with PolicyMic, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democratic member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, also expressed his outrage at the conservative push: "I think it’s pretty outrageous. It’s a disservice to young people, to try to keep them from being able to go and get health insurance, which they ought to have for their own protection."
When asked about the conservative groups airing the ads, perhaps the most succinct answer on the Democratic side came from Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.): "They obviously have health insurance themselves or they wouldn't do something so stupid."
The Republicans, however, were more muted in their reactions: Of the 24 House GOP members approached for a statement for this article, not a single one professed to having seen the ad. The vast majority of the GOP responses followed a pattern of either professed ignorance, emphasis on "freedom of speech", or encouraging young people to "make their own decisions."
"I don't know about any efforts like that," said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), before launching into an attack on the law itself.
"I simply think that young people should be encouraged to do what is best for them," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), chair of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution. "I don't know about [the ad], but I do think it's important for young people to understand the difference between free markets and government-controlled markets."
"I don't know anything about it," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chair of the House Financial Services Committee.
"I think young people are smart enough, they'll figure out what's best for them," said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). "I'm not involved in that, but if they, very frankly, get information, they check it out and try to make their own decisions."
"It should be an individual choice," said Joe "You Lie" Wilson (R-S.C.), before attacking the cost of the ACA.
Only one Republican House member, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, admitted to having even heard of the ad, while only one GOP member, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, actually condemned the effort to dissuade young people from purchasing insurance under the ACA.
It is difficult to believe that not one Republican has formed an opinion on these ads. Rather, one is led to conclude that Republicans are unwilling to risk the wrath of the Tea Party by condemning the ads, even if it means a greater number of young people will go without insurance as a result. Say what you will about Congress as a whole, but for at least one party, that "intransigent narcissists" label is starting to make sense.