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Redistribution and the Healthcare Law: Take from the Red and Give to the Blue

David Callahan

During the fight over national healthcare reform, I often made the point that it was deeply backward how members of Congress were lining up on this debate. The healthcare law promised to redistribute wealth from affluent coastal and metropolitan areas represented by Democrats to poorer, more rural parts of the country that send Republicans to Congress.

So if politics were really just about who gets what, Democrats should have fought the law -- saying, hey, don't take money from our constituents and give it to someone else -- and heartland Republicans should have been cheering: Yes, bring our people better healthcare paid for by the residents of Manhattan and Malibu. 

Of course, as we all know, that's not the way American politics works. For decades, Republicans have fought a range of policies that redistribute wealth from affluent blue states to less affluent red states. And, strangely, voters from poor states have kept voting for Republicans. As I have pointed out here, the states with the highest proportion of citizens who receive public benefits have gone Republican in the past few presidential elections by huge margins. For example, West Virginia, with the highest level of government dependency -- nearly 30 percent of residents receive public benefits -- went for McCain in 2008 by 13 points, Mississippi, which is number two, backed McCain by the same margin.

In any case, all this is a lead up to mentioning a new study just out from the Kaiser Family Foundation that provides the most detailed look yet of who will benefit from the new healthcare law. Take a look at the map below: the darker the shade of blue, the more an area benefits. It's very striking: the Northeast, now the most reliably Democratic part of the country, will see the fewest benefits, while the south, Texas, and plains states will see the biggest.

It's a good thing that someone is looking our for poorer Americans in the country's heartland. Too bad it isn't their own representatives in Congress.