What a difference a bill makes.
Despite a nasty primary season, the Republicans’ drumming of the Democrats in November seemed to somewhat reunify the party. The honeymoon was short-lived, however, as that unity crumbled like coffee cake when Republicans were forced to withdraw their first attempt at an Obamacare replacement.
The American Health Care Act, as they so creatively labeled it, proved unpopular across the political spectrum. And while the outrage from the left was predictable, the pushback from Ryan’s conservative colleagues was greater than expected, with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky going so far as to refer to the AHCA as “Obamacare Lite.”
But now, as Trump nears the end of his first 100 days, there are reports that the White House is gearing up to give replacement another go.
The infighting that haunted the AHCA has significantly damaged Republicans’ credibility on the healthcare front, however—early polling shows just 24 percent of the public in favor of a Republican Obamacare replacement. Perhaps even more damning, just 37 percent of Republicans express support for a bill that was supposed to demonstrate Republican superiority on wonkish matters such as health care policy.
Of course, Ryan and his conservative colleagues don’t necessarily need public support to pass the legislation; they may well have sufficient political capital, and a trick or two up their sleeves, to ram it through regardless. But 2018 will come quick, and Republicans would be wise to at least attempt to salvage the bill’s reputation among voters.
Fortunately for them, there is an easy way to do just that: ensure that the bill, when it becomes law, applies to members of Congress.
For too long, the public has viewed Congress as a protected class, often rightfully so. Republicans now have an opportunity to restore humility to the legislative branch and prove to voters they have the nation’s best interests at heart, as opposed to their own. Ensuring they too are subject to the very law they wish to thrust upon the populace is a great way to get the ball rolling, particularly if they wish to remain in power.
Remember, if you will, the debates preceding Obamacare, when Republican Senator Chuck Grassley wisely proposed an idea precisely like the one I am espousing: that members of Congress should have the same healthcare as the citizens they represent. They pledged to do so, but were then granted what amounted to an exemption via the President and the Office of Personnel Management.
The result was a furor that not only made congressional integrity on healthcare a more difficult pill to swallow, but also tainted Obamacare, an already polarized piece of legislation. The Democrats paid dearly for many reasons, but their little exemption stunt certainly didn’t help.
Ryan and his fellow Republicans now have a chance to avoid the very pitfalls that claimed the Democrats, at least to some degree. The greatest threats to the Republican agenda are credibility and time, and by pledging to be subject to a replacement themselves, Republicans in Congress buy a little bit of both. Besides, it’s the morally right thing to do.
If Trump’s victory was anything, it was a rebuke to what many voters view as a cabal of high-on-the-hog establishment politicians. Congress currently faces a 28-67 percent approval deficit, and exempting themselves, yet again, from a wildly unpopular healthcare bill will do little to remedy their reputation. In fact, an online petition calling for an end to congressional health care subsidies is rapidly approaching a million signatures, demonstrating perfectly the lingering electoral effects of elitist governance.
Ryan’s Democratic predecessors under Obama set a pretty low ethical bar, and Republicans would be wise to learn from their mistakes. While they can choose to exempt themselves from their own replacement bill, they cannot exempt themselves from its ramifications in 2018. Granted, promising to make themselves subject to the same laws as their constituents won’t guarantee their victory next November, but it certainly won’t hurt.
Besides, if Paul Ryan truly believes that “the system is going to collapse” without the a Republican replacement, he and his Republican colleagues should practice what they preach and access their own healthcare via the law they drafted.
As Grassley told Politico last month:
Congress ought to be held to the same set of standards as everyone else. That’s especially true when laws remake a system and introduce expense and uncertainty, as we saw with Obamacare.
He was right to insist that his congressional colleagues be subject to Obamacare, and he’s right now.
A Republican healthcare bill has the potential to become a deadly infection in the upcoming mid-terms, and possibly in the next Presidential election. Ryan and his congressional colleagues should take their medicine and fulfill the promise they made to bring integrity back to Washington