One of the truisms of democracy is that process matters. A bad process can make the best idea a partisan mess when it’s actually turned into legislation, while a good process can allow an ill-conceived concept to float through Congress. Unfortunately, the majority party tends to forget this truism and do whatever they have to do to get something passed – even if they had, in the past, been critical of the same process when in the minority.
This has been no more evident at the national level in recent years than with health care legislation.
During the initial debate over the Affordable Care Act, Republicans frequently criticized the rushed, insular, partisan nature of the process – and they were right. Democrats, clinging to a 60-vote majority, wanted to pass sweeping legislation on a partisan basis, and that was wrong. Sen. Olympia Snowe, along with other members of both parties, worked on a bipartisan bill that unfortunately went nowhere; she was then blocked out of the legislative process by Democrats.
Instead, Democrats worked within their own party to get the bill passed. They satisfied the concerns of their own moderates to get to the magic number, entirely bypassing Republicans. That resulted in a flawed, partisan bill that today is often criticized by Democrats as well as the Republican Party – from the left, right and center.
Unfortunately, instead of trying to work together to fix the problems with Obamacare, Republicans remain fixated on repealing it. Or, to be more accurate, they’re fixated on passing any sort of health-care bill that they can call “repeal and replace,” just so they can say they kept their campaign promise. The latest version of that, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., just went down to a flaming defeat thanks to opposition from a bizarre coalition of Sens. Susan Collins, Rand Paul and John McCain.
This time, the administration and Republican leadership at least attempted to sway Collins: She received calls from President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, while Graham and Cassidy introduced an amendment that would have (temporarily and supposedly) increased Medicaid funding for Maine. In the end, none of that was enough, as Collins proved not to be susceptible to backdoor bribes or political pressure.
Ironically – and hypocritically – Republicans used an even more rushed, secretive process to develop their repeal and replace bills than Democrats used to pass Obamacare in the first place. These bills have bypassed the committee process, only barely been scored by the Congressional Budget Office and have been dumped on the floor by leadership at the last minute. That’s not how good legislation gets made – regardless of whether it’s Democrats or Republicans supporting the bill.
McCain and Collins are right to be infuriated about the process; indeed, more of their colleagues should be along with them. If Republicans in Congress aren’t going to pass a real repeal of Obamacare, then any health care legislation they propose ought to go through the normal legislative process.
That means that it will go through extensive public hearings, committee votes – and that it will probably need 60 votes to pass.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that.
If Republicans can’t get to the 60-vote threshold, they don’t deserve to get anything done on health care. These rules and processes have been set in place for a reason, and it’s not to hinder legislating – it’s to improve it by forcing cooperation. This is something that the minority party is always better at recognizing than the majority, but it would be nice if someone in Republican leadership remembered their complaints about Obamacare when it was being passed.
If Republicans really want to get something done on health care, they won’t keep bringing forth these poorly thought out, last-minute proposals. They’ll go back to the drawing board and come up with a reasonable proposal to make productive fixes to our healthcare system. That’s not the end of the world, and in this case, leadership should embrace the opportunity to hit the reset button.
Flawed, secretive, rushed Republican legislation is no better than flawed, secretive, rushed Democratic legislation. Perhaps, if Republicans used a better process to work on the issue, they might come up with a better result – one that has a chance of passing. In the meantime, Mainers can rest assured knowing that they have a U.S. senator in Collins who works hard on their behalf instead of kowtowing to lobbyists or party leadership.
Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: