Legislation – It’s Back for Better or Worse

This is how’s it’s done folks – legislation is actually happening. It’s been so long since we’ve seen Congress work, no one; including the media, the talking heads, the guy in the street, even many congressmen and women, really know what to think or how to act.

But there are no shortages of opinions on either; whether you listen to President Trump, Speaker Ryan, Mitch McConnell, congressional Republicans, Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Shumer and the united opposing Democratic party, or the fan-the-flames media, you will hear vastly different versions of the current track and ultimate fate of the American Health Care Act. It’s actually quite refreshing that it’s working the way the founding fathers envisioned.

We haven’t seen actual, business-as-usual legislation in broad daylight in this country in more than a decade. The last major Congressional process, which put us in this current mess, was done quickly, secretly, and without significant committee process in the wee hours of the night before Christmas. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid rammed it home saying “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”

What a remarkable contrast with today’s process, led by the Republican majority. Whether you disagree or agree with the tenor or direction of the bill, it’s hard to argue that the open legislative process is not superior to the secretive and unilateral one that delivered the Affordable Care Act.

The legislative styles of Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump could not be further apart. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning titled The Republicans Relearn Politics , Kimberly Strassel points out that “President Obama disdained Congress and didn’t want to legislate. He waited to see if he liked what his Democratic underlings brought him. Today veterans of the legislative process are professing admiration for the way Mr. Trump is handling this deal.”

“On the one hand, the president has made clear that the Ryan bill must be the vehicle for repeal and replace, and that the consequences of failure would be severe. His rally planned for Monday in Kentucky [aimed at curbing pressure from his most vocal Republican critic Rand Paul] is designed to demonstrate the pressure he can exert on Republican holdouts.”

Mr. Ryan and other congressional leaders have been quite vocal in their praise of Mr. Trump’s behind-the-scenes involvement in the legislation, as well as his avoiding public comment and ‘tweets’ on the bill’s specifics.

Strassel points out that Speaker Ryan has avoided his predecessor’s mistakes too. “During the Obama years, Speaker John Boehner struggled to control his conference and the legislative process.” Remember, Mr. Ryan was pressed into service as Speaker by House Republicans because they viewed him as the only one capable of bringing the ideologically-diverse caucus together to effectively legislate. He now eagerly applauds the help of the President in his cause.

Strassel continues, “Mr. Ryan is negotiating, but he’s also relentlessly driving the bill through the chamber. By Thursday, it had cleared three committees, with only three GOP defections. Next up is the Rules Committee, and then it comes to the floor. Mr. Ryan is banking on these deadlines to drive Republicans to make their final deals and then get behind the bill.”

Unfortunately, but understandably, Democrats are not currently participating in the the process, at least constructively. The day after the Affordable Care Act was passed in March of 2010, Republicans introduced legislation to repeal it, and they have been politicking against it ever since. But it is predicted by some legislative watchers that more than a few Dems (especially those in close re-election races) could come onboard as amendments are tacked on, such as drug cost containment, cross-state-line competition, and inevitable Medicaid expansion. The issue of Medicaid expansion is the inevitable, politically irreversible result of entitlement created by Obamacare.

There are two distinct issues – one is the entitlement or ‘right’ to health care. While healthcare is not a right in the sense of freedom of religion or speech, our country has moved toward it becoming a part of the social fabric for some time and the Dems made it a fact in 2010 with the ACA. So on the one side we have an entitlement for those who cannot afford healthcare.

On the other side we have the free market, the private insurance industry. Forcing insurers to insure people with existing health conditions without offsets from the premiums of healthy people does not work economically. Obamacare is proof that the two systems do not easily co-exist. The problem for Republicans is finding a compromise or dual system.

Conservative Republicans currently seem convinced (at least publically) in their belief that they can reverse the damage done to the free market insurance system by Obamacare, but an entitlement once in place, is near politically impossible to reverse. Whether they can add enough pro-market incentives to the bill to offset the ideological difficulties of conservative members to offset the enevitable entitlements, remains to be seen.

But all of these issues are what our legislative process is supposed to embrace culminating in the art of compromise between ideologically opposed positions – right? I as a single American, am pleased that our Congress, or at least half of it for now, is once again doing what the American people sent its members to Washington to do – LEGISLATE.

While it’s a good thing that the legislative process is back, it is certainly no pleasure to watch, regardless of your political stripe. Civility in spirited discourse is being smothered by a ratings-driven media that promotes verbal bloodsport instead. Praise to our House and Senate members of both parties if they can continue to navigate through this incredible ‘fog of the controversy.’

Republicans face a collapsing healthcare system not of their choosing. In a mere seven years a new entitlement has become part of American life and politics. The significant challenges of fixing it spring less from its complexity and more from the fundamental ideological issues in which it is entangled. It is perhaps not an understatement to say that the Republican party has not led such a challenging a piece of socially impactful legislation since the Emancipation Proclamation Act of 1863. Whether Republicans like it or not, this is the issue that will define the party for generations to come. Success or failure will have a generational impact.