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The GOP's Most Cynical Anti-Obamacare Attack Yet

Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty

My colleague Jonathan Cohn has done heroic work cataloguing and rebutting some of the most nonsensical right-wing attacks on Obamacare as the enrollment deadline looms. But I fear he may have missed a leading candidate for the top spot: Tennessee congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.

Appearing on MSNBC this morning, Blackburn was asked whether she disputed poll numbers showing the percentage of uninsured Americans to be steadily falling. Here’s how Blackburn responded:

Well, I think what we, there again, have to do is look at what you find in those numbers. And I would direct you to the 2012 Kaiser report that said 33% of all physicians are not seeing new Medicare enrollees. Now, if we have a lot of Medicaid enrollees—excuse me, I mean Medicaid enrollees. They’re not expanding their Medicaid population in their patient base.

At which point anchor Chris Jansing rightly pointed out that Tennessee, along with several other Republican states, has refused to sign on to the very Medicaid expansion Blackburn says isn’t happening. “But you didn’t offer that in Tennessee, correct?” Jansing said.

Back to you Rep. Blackburn:

Let me finish my thought here, then we’ll talk about Tennessee. What we are doing, if we are giving an insurance card to those individuals who do not have access to the doctor. Basically, it’s a false promise, because you say, “You have insurance to the queue, not to the physician.”

Now the reason there was not a Medicaid expansion in Tennessee is because we have been to this dance before. It was in the mid-‘90s, the test case for Hillarycare. It was an abysmal failure. We have Secretary Sebelius, who has called the rollout of Obamacare a debacle. That is exactly what happened in Tennessee. A debacle. The legislature has chosen not to expand Medicaid in Tennessee, and with good reason. They know it’s not an affordable premise. And they are very concerned about the impact that would have on the access to health care within our state.

So, to review: Blackburn says Obamacare is a failure because the promised Medicaid expansion isn’t happening. Journalist points out that Blackburn’s own state has blocked Medicaid expansion from happening. In response to which Blackburn says, Damn right! No way would we ever let Medicaid expand! 

Actually, that’s not entirely fair. Blackburn’s response was more like: Hillarycare-Sebelius-debacle-no way would we ever let Medicaid expand! But you get the idea. It’s quite possibly the most cynical exercise in Obamacare-bashing I’ve ever seen. (Video embedded below.)

Update: Ross Douthat makes a fair point in Blackburn's defense: It is coherent to say that Medicaid expansion won't work if doctors are refusing to take new Medicaid patients, and then to defend your refusal to expand Medicaid. After all, if doctors won't accept Medicaid patients, why bother? It's not a real expansion of access. The problem with this is that it's not, you know, true. According to Blackburn's own numbers, most doctors will accept Medicaid patients. Which still leaves her criticizing Obamacare for failing to give people health care while preventing efforts to give people health care. In short, not incoherent, just cynical. 

Noam Scheiber is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow @noamscheiber