Editor's note: Jules Witcover is filling in while Clarence Page is away.
WASHINGTON -- Amid all the partisan argument over whether the new Republican tax bill helps or hurts lower and middle-class Americans, its killing of the health care mandate is an indisputable blow to both.
Disguised as a mere revenue issue, eliminating the mandate (which requires people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty) inevitably cuts the heart out of the concept of shared responsibility in dealing with the nation's health care burdens. It enables healthy citizens to walk away and leaves the rest holding the bag.
On the face of it, the decision may seem merely an endorsement of the good old American right of free choice to do without another federal program. But the estimate of experts that as many as 13 million previous enrollees will have to leave the Obamacare rolls is an invitation to deepen the country's collective health hazards.
In a real sense, it enables President Trump and the Republican Party to claim a victory in the ideological war on the bugaboo of "socialized medicine" it has waged for years, and it hands Trump a singular major legislative achievement in his first year in office.
After twice failing to "repeal and replace" his predecessor's namesake law in more than 60 stand-alone efforts over the years, and then even in majority-GOP House and Senate chambers, they have finally struck a heavy blow against it.
Trump himself carefully staged the victory party on the White House lawn, for which many Republican members of Congressmen were shipped in by bus to be praised and to praise him. He claimed that erasing the Obamacare individual mandate amounted to repeal of the entire program, and he may well prove to be right.
With health care exchanges for buying coverage in various states struggling to hang on, the Trump administration, in collusion with a compliant Republican leadership on Capitol Hill, strives to sabotage Obamacare by a thousand bleeding cuts.
The long and intensive opposition effort to demean and demonize government-backed but still privately maintained nationwide health insurance goes on. The term "Obamacare" remains a dirty word in much of the Grand Old party's vocabulary, a slam on both the plan and man.
Yet numerous public opinion polls indicate public-supported health care remains very popular. More American have come to favor fixing its acknowledged flaws and shortcomings, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water.
The Republicans jammed their little-explained and little-understood bill through Congress with not a semblance of bipartisanship in its authorship or public sausage-making. Republican advocates confessed to not having read all or even much of the voluminous product that will critically touch the lives of all Americans.
As Trump leads his party with bravado, with his transparent need for public adulation distorting reality, American politics lurches from one uncertainty to another. After the crushing Republican defeat in the special Senate race in Alabama, in which Trump invested much in the loser, he now turns to claims of broad benefits and tax cuts for working stiffs, although they are microscopic compared the tax breaks headed to already wealthy individual and corporate businessmen like himself.
As the end of Trump's first year in office approaches, he promises that the major tax rate reduction for the highest corporate interests will lead to great job growth -- the old Republican establishment trickle-down litany.
Meanwhile, the party's supposed commitment to a balanced budget and hatred of deficit spending are now getting short shrift. The Congressional Budget Office has "scored" the bill as raising the deficit by about $1.4 trillion.
The political question is how this will affect voting in next November's midterm congressional elections. The sustaining strength of the bull market Trump inherited, and the nation's record low unemployment, remain his best counters to public displeasure with his impulsive and impetuous nature, amid continuing public doubts about his fitness for the presidency.
The impact on voters of his huge tax cuts is yet to be determined. And the jury is still out on that broader question of presidential qualification, which drives the Justice Department and congressional investigations threatening and challenging Donald Trump's incumbency.
(Jules Witcover's latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at email@example.com.)(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.