This is what happens when rhetoric meets reality. When campaign promises are confronted with real life consequences. We have now seen the limits of contrarian leadership. When you need 218 votes to repeal a law that you have voted to repeal more than 60 times over the past 7 years. When you have 237 members of your party controlling the legislative body and the same 7 years time to prepare and agree on replacement legislation. When you have all of this but cannot even muster enough votes to repeal and replace, you have a drought of ideas and a dearth of leadership on your hands.
Make no mistake, I am ecstatic that the Republican House was forced to pull their own bill rather than face the even greater embarrassment of losing the vote despite their numbers supposedly guaranteeing their victory. Let’s not be naive either, this congress is still poised to do irreparable harm to our environment, inflict economic stress on the lower and middle class and roll back decades of progress on civil rights.
For the moment we can revel in the nearly comical way that the Trump and Ryan health care agenda fell apart. There were the representatives who had been elected with Tea Party backing having to face the constituents who elected them and collectively realize that their hated ACA had actually benefited many of them. There was Ryan and the CBO report showing that while they could indeed save upward of $330 billion from the deficit they would do so at the expense of 24 million Americans health, the majority of whom had supported this President and Congress. Finally, in the face of all the backlash to the initial proposal, there was the spectacle of the “Freedom” Caucus circumventing Ryan and his pet project to run to the White House and secure even more conservative additions to the repeal and replace. Additions that would increase the number of uninsured but impact the deficit significantly less and make the bill dead on arrival in the Senate.
It was at that moment where real leadership from the Republican party could have prevailed. If someone other than Paul Ryan had been running the show we may have seen the rare and nearly extinct Washington D.C. compromise come out of hibernation. Consider the alternate reality where a Republican leadership, facing a public unhappy with the current ACA but even more enraged by the consequences of repeal and encountering a revolt from their far right fringe, reaches across the aisle to the Democrats. The ACA is instead amended and strengthened to cover more and keep costs down. The exchange is strengthened and maybe the mandate disappears due to a program made strong enough to entice enrollment on its own. Such a move would also have put illogical and uncompromising members of congress on notice that the American people and the U.S. Government will no longer be held hostage by their ridiculous and unattainable campaign promises. Hopefully their own constituents would see the impotency of the so called Freedom Caucus and replace them with individuals who will consider both the needs of their own district with the needs and indeed the realities that exist in the rest of America.
We dodged a bullet this week but we also missed an opportunity.