There is an interesting phenomenon that happens among red state Democrats in the Senate every six years. They suddenly start sounding conservative when their re-election bid approaches.
They talk more conservatively. They act more conservatively. They vote more conservatively, at least until they get re-elected and can go back to holding the Democratic Party line in the Senate.
The same phenomenon happens in the Republican Party. Only last year, the American people called their bluff, put them in power, and now expect them to do what they promised. Republicans are terrified at the prospect.
Politicians are quite good at making promises and coming up with excuses as to why those promises went unfulfilled. “We control only one-half of one-third of the government,” we heard in 2011 as an excuse for why the promise of Obamacare repeal was “impossible.”
In 2015, Republicans were given the Senate, therefore control of one branch of government. The refrain changed to, “No matter what we pass, the president will veto it, and we don’t have the votes to override that veto.”
OK, fine. That’s all true. But the problem was they didn’t even try. Congress has power as a co-equal branch of government, yet no effort was exerted toward the promise on which they campaigned.
So now voters have given a second branch of government to the Republicans, and what do we have?
House Republicans have introduced the “American Health Care Act,” the legislative equivalent of Hangover 2. Hangover 2 was a slightly different version of The Hangover, but aside from the setting, you wouldn’t know the difference.
The biggest problem with the AHCA is it leaves in place the concept that it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide health insurance for Americans who don’t have employer-provided coverage. Aside from changing tax law to allow people in the individual market to buy insurance with pre-tax dollars and allowing for the purchase of insurance across state lines, the federal government has no business in the health insurance game.
A true conservative plan would allow the states to become 50 petri dishes able to experiment with ways to make insurance affordable. Eventually best practices would win out and be adopted by others. But that wouldn’t empower the feds, so we’re talking about subsidies, tax credits and a federal regulatory scheme only slightly less arduous than what currently exists.
There’s plenty of blame for this to go around, but the lion’s share has to rest firmly with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. He got the opportunity he and his colleagues have been asking for, and he gave us a bill that is only slightly better than the system it seeks to replace. No one hires someone who says, “Make me captain of the Titanic and I’ll make sure it sinks 20 minutes later.” Yet that’s what the Republican plan does.
Seven years they had to come up with an idea, and we get a tweak. For seven years, we were told they knew the way, and we get this.
It’s not as though Republicans are burning up the rest of the agenda, they’ve done next to nothing since Jan. 20. After years of “hurry up,” all we’ve gotten is “wait.”
I get that Republicans are afraid of health policy. As a health policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation a decade ago, I briefed many of them on the issue and saw the terror in their eyes as they waited for just enough information to be able to answer basic questions on an issue they’ve ceded to Democrats for years. But for the last seven years, they’ve sworn they had the answers. So where are the answers? The AHCA is not it.
You don’t have to understand the complexities of health insurance markets and impact of regulations on them to understand the Constitution and the limits it places on the federal government. That shouldn’t be a bridge too far considering they swear an oath to it at the start of every term. One would hope they would’ve read it, if not understood it, before they pledged to defend it.
And you don’t have to be a legislative historian to recognize the idea Republicans have proposed of a “three-pronged approach” is insane when even they acknowledge the second “prong” is regulatory and easily could be reversed by a Democratic administration and the third will be blocked even more easily by a filibuster in the Senate. Republicans swear they need a trident to kill Obamacare when a spear would do. Like a Band-Aid – just rip it out of existence, Senate parliamentarian be damned.
Nearly every member of the Republican caucus campaigned on repealing Obamacare and told voters they were “constitutional conservatives.” Nothing they’ve done since would lead anyone to believe either claim was true.
If there’s positive about the process around the AHCA, it’s that so far it is moving slowly. Unlike Obamacare’s passage, Republicans have been transparent. Unfortunately what they’ve cooked up so far is transparently awful. It’s time to scrap the patch and unleash the free market.
Unless the AHCA is fundamentally transformed to the point states are free to experiment, the market is free to function, and individuals are free to make their own choices, everything we have been told will have been a lie, the whole thing should be scrapped and Obamacare allowed to collapse. Both parties will be blamed, and both parties will be to blame.
A golden opportunity in the cause of liberty will have been squandered because, after seven years of talk, Republicans could not do the one thing they told us they would; the reason they were in the position to disappoint us in the first place. It’s time to start over and do it right – if Speaker Ryan and the rest of Republican leadership actually have it in them to do what they’ve campaigned on.