The health care debacle began at the top with a president who said repeal of “disastrous” Obamacare would be simple and its replacement “beautiful.” Later he said it was complicated and called the House bill “mean.” Then he checked out. When senators arrived at the finish line, the president was more engaged in repealing and replacing his advisers.
As for Congress, the House wrote a bill in secret aimed at drawing votes from various Republican factions. No hearings were held. Consumers and stakeholders were ignored. Members took their first vote before receiving an objective assessment.
We figured the Senate would raise the bar. Instead, they embarked on an even stranger journey, but still couldn’t agree on an Affordable Care Act replacement. Some senators who voted yes on “skinny repeal” only did so on the assurance that it would never become law. Leading up to that fateful vote, most of the policy comments from Republicans centered on ripping Obamacare, not praising their plan. It was a clear sign they didn’t have the goods.
The fierce backlash against the three Republicans who did vote “no” tells Americans all they need to know about this extraordinarily cynical process. It was always heavily weighted toward repealing the ACA, with a replacement as an afterthought, even after having seven years to devise one.
Remarkably, the simple truth that health care coverage is vitally important to the American people never seemed to enter into the equation. It appeared as if the stakes were merely political. Check the box and move on.
Imagine the debate if a senator had, say, life-threatening cancer and faced being tossed into a high-risk pool with a flimsy life preserver if Congress got it wrong. Those “gotta-pass-something” plans would’ve never materialized. Instead of merely hunting for votes and working the refs, our leaders would’ve opened the process to thoughtful solutions.
So now what? The answer lies in the stirring speech delivered by Sen. John McCain last week upon his return from being diagnosed with brain cancer. He said, in part:
“Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires.”
He continued: “Let the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee under Chairman (Lamar) Alexander and Ranking Member (Patty) Murray hold hearings, try to report a bill out of committee with contributions from both sides. Then bring it to the floor for amendment and debate, and see if we can pass something that will be imperfect, full of compromises, and not very pleasing to implacable partisans on either side, but that might provide workable solutions to problems Americans are struggling with.”
In the meantime, Congress and the president should shore up the ACA marketplaces. Uncertainty has eroded the care millions of Americans rely upon.
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