In Washington, acrimonious public disagreements among congressional leaders of the same party are unusual, which was why reporters took note not long ago when Sen. Mitch McConnell publicly spanked Sen. Rick Scott for what he considered an act of monumental stupidity.
What infuriated the Senate minority leader, who yearns above all to become the majority leader again, was Scott's unveiling of a 60-page "plan" describing what the Republicans will do if and when their party regains the majority. As chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Scott's job is to ensure victory in the November midterm by doling out tens of millions to candidates. But McConnell saw Scott's plan as the equivalent of a loud emission of noxious gas: unpleasant, unhelpful and very much to be avoided. McConnell has steadfastly refused to state what Republicans would do if they win the Senate; now, the lunkhead Rick Scott has let the cat out of the bag.
Especially irksome to McConnell were two aspects of Scott's blueprint. "Let me tell you what would not be part of our agenda," snapped McConnell. "We will not have, as part of our agenda, a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda."
Of course, McConnell just doesn't want to tell voters what his party will do, because their ideas are deeply unpopular and always get them in trouble, like when Newt Gingrich proposed privatizing Medicare and former President George W. Bush proposed privatizing Social Security.
Scott's scheme to raise income taxes on most households struck McConnell as politically insane, and so did the plan's endorsement of allowing "all federal legislation," including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, to simply expire within five years.
Scott, for his part, has portrayed himself as a "bold" visionary victimized by conventional thinkers. Polling, however, indicates that the Scott scheme is profoundly unpopular among all voters, including Republicans, with majorities north of 65% rejecting it. No more than 15% like it.
So, the Florida senator has simply lied since then. "No one that I know of wants to sunset Medicare or Social Security," he insists, although that's exactly what his plan urges.
Perhaps McConnell was too polite to mention the other utterly politically crazy aspect of the Scott proposal: namely, the likelihood that attacking Medicare and Medicaid will remind America about the massive health care fraud underlying Rick Scott's enormous personal fortune, estimated at $300 million.
Beginning in 1987, Scott founded and built Columbia/HCA, a hospital chain that included hundreds of health care providers across multiple states and engorged itself on billions in Medicare and Medicaid fees. Unfortunately, this lucrative business involved truly gigantic levels of fraud, which by early 1997 drew the attention of federal investigators. Columbia/HCA illegally scammed billions of dollars intended for patient care, perpetrating what remains the biggest fraud on government ever by any health care institution.
The company's board forced Scott to resign within months after the federal investigation became public. He pleaded ignorance, barely escaped indictment and walked away with vast wealth. He claims to have accepted "responsibility," although he consistently blamed others, adding piously that the experience "made me a better leader."
Somehow, Florida's voters narrowly elected him governor in 2010 and then to the U.S. Senate in 2018. The words of his 2010 primary opponent Bill McCollum, a former Navy prosecutor and Florida attorney general, still ring true. During the campaign McCollum denounced Scott as "the disgraced former CEO of Columbia/HCA who is inseparably associated with one of the most massive Medicare fraud schemes in American history."
Scott's sordid narrative raises an obvious question. How did this come to pass? We know that Florida voters have a habit of electing some truly awful politicians, and that Scott spent $60 million to win his first election. We know that Republican leaders in Washington have no problem with fraud or corruption, so long as it accrues to their own power. Just ask "Moscow Mitch," who was in the tank with Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch with Kentucky investments. We know that the Republican concern for ensuring the fairness and stability of our health care system is nil, given their long war against Medicare and, more recently, the Affordable Care Act. Now, they won't even act to reduce the cost of lifesaving insulin.
Voters should be aware that this corporate malefactor is in charge of handing out the big campaign bucks from the Senate Republican campaign — and that he aims to destroy the nation's most successful and popular domestic programs. Somebody better tell them before November. Buyer beware.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.