When the misnamed Affordable Care Act passed into law in 2009, the GOP promised to repeal it. Finally, in 2016, the voters granted the Republican Party the majorities that it had long sought—as well as control of the White House. In keeping with their promise to overturn the ACA, the GOP focused their legislative agenda on first replacing Obamacare. And, it was a flop. A majority of Republicans cared little for replacing Obamacare. They simply wanted it gone. But, the GOP leadership convinced themselves that the American people wanted more than simple repeal.
You see, according to the thinking of most conventional elected Republicans, it is not enough simply to be opposed to something. Politicians also have to be for something! There is something to this in that voters expect politicians to know and understand their principles and priorities. But it is not always necessary for Republicans to offer a policy just because Democrats have offered one on a subject. Sometimes the best policy can be no policy at all. But too many Republicans believe that once an entitlement takes hold it is impossible to get rid of it. The people would punish the party that dared try to do so.
The Beltway Logic is wrong. Sometimes simply being opposed to a bad idea is more than enough.
But, the Captains of the Conventional Wisdom who command Conservatism, Inc. would press on and say, “we can’t just be the party of ‘no.’” So, they’d rather us be the party of “yes, but…” After all, it’s bad symbolism to simply be opposed to something. As George Carlin would say, let’s leave symbols to the symbol-minded. In all of this talk about replacing Obamacare and Free Markets, we miss the entire point: average folks in America are getting squeezed by the ACA. What’s more, the ACA is set to implode under its own weight very soon, meaning that many more Americans are likely to suffer as they are left without any kind of health insurance whatsoever. And, since the Trump Administration has indicated that healthcare reform is now dead, many more Americans will suffer when the ACA does finally collapse.
Medical caregivers are required to take the Hippocratic Oath which states, “First, Do No Harm.” Similarly, lawmakers should craft laws that do the least amount of harm to the American people as possible. A repeal and replace concept, while it made for fanciful sloganeering, was the worst possible way to go. If what Ben Franklin said about politics being the “art of the possible” is true, then repealing and replacing is simply impossible. It’s one or the other. Especially in today’s toxic partisan atmosphere.
Further, the American people want their healthcare costs to go down. The GOP has maintained that its aim was to lower healthcare costs on most Americans. Repealing the ACA, which caused health insurance premiums to skyrocket would have fulfilled the GOP’s goal nicely. It was also something a majority of Republicans could get behind. What’s more, had Congressional Republicans focused on removing interstate barriers to the health insurance trade, they would have drastically lowered healthcare costs for most Americans. By neither repealing Obamacare outright nor removing the barriers to interstate health insurance trade, the Republicans have betrayed their supporters.
Plus, the bill they were working on passing was shaping up to be one of the most complex, massive bills in history.
When I worked in Congress, we passed the “Read the Bills Act.” Put simply, this was a law that required Congressmen to actually be given a reasonable amount of time to read and understand the bills that Congress voted on (before those bills were enacted into law). Talk about a novel concept! This was in the aftermath of Nancy Pelosi’s mind-boggling statement that Congress had to pass the gargantuan Affordable Care Act “to know what was in it.” On top of failing to reduce healthcare costs, then, the Ryancare bill (Obamacare Lite, as many rightly described it as) defied the spirit of the Read the Bills Act. It was all around bad governance.
In crafting something so complex (and by demanding that Congress vote on it in such short order), Paul Ryan essentially did the very thing that earned such justly deserved opprobrium for Nancy Pelosi seven years prior. Ryancare was the result of Washingtonian “wisdom” getting the better of our elected leaders. It was also a case example of why the Trump Administration cannot rely on Congressional Republicans for much in terms of crafting legislation. Frankly, there are too many divisions among Congressional Republicans. The Ryancare bill was not what Mr. Trump had campaigned on. Next time, President Trump should remember that politics is the art of the possible and it is impossible to get Congress to pass a law as controversial and complex as the Ryancare proposal was.
So, next time, Mr. President: we’ll take the repeal of Obamacare, with a side of the Free Market—but hold the replacement.