The recent defeat of the American Healthcare Act is an interesting event for discussion on the public policy it was attempting to change. The reasons for its failure are more complex than its shortcomings in popularity or vetting, though those are entertaining discussions as well.
What is blocking progress for the Republican-controlled power structure in Washington right now is the presence and uncompromising approach of the Freedom Caucus. These 40 members of the U.S. House of Representatives represent the remnants of the tea party. This group helped retake the House majority for the GOP in 2010, and after that same year’s Census and redistricting, have helped lock in that control for three consecutive elections.
Republican politicos celebrated the power it brought. But as former Speaker of the House John Boehner can attest, the group has come with pitfalls. Leading that list is the group members’ unwillingness to allow their party to lead. Their unreasonable presence in recent weeks is the primary reason the GOP might not be able to deliver on its top campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.
The Freedom Caucus blocked the legislation once already. And there’s no political reason for the group to back down. Why?
Because its members’ district maps have been drawn so safely, a Democratic candidate can’t beat them, and a new Republican candidate can’t “out conservative” them.
In effect, this group is a third party. It is unlikely to grow but very difficult to remove. While many Republicans don’t believe in President Trump’s legitimate claim to a conservative ideology, it is their most conservative elected officials in D.C. who are blocking the party’s agenda.
The point of no return turned out to be the primary defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, in June 2014. At the time, Cantor was the House majority leader. Also at the time, House Republicans were preparing to pass their own immigration-reform package. Cantor was beaten by now-Freedom Caucus member David Brat in a campaign that attacked Cantor for his pro-amnesty stance. This defeat killed immigration reform, and it has not been heard from since.
It also led Boehner to realize his majority was too conditioned on an unreasonable sect of the party and ultimately resulted in his resignation.
New House Speaker Paul Ryan and the new president do not appear to have any greater ability to corral this unwavering bunch. The electorate is in many ways paralyzed by the GOP-drawn map.
So, it appears that, while it was convenient for the president to blame Democratic House members for the downfall of the AHCA, bipartisanship in the House might ultimately be the one way to get things done for the foreseeable future.
Trump’s famous book, “The Art of the Deal,” was published in 1987, long before America’s current hand was dealt. Our nation’s recent battle over health care policy could be a fascinating addendum to it.
If I were writing it for him, I might focus on how to pick my partners better. That process starts by choosing those who truly want what’s best for our nation, followed by those with the will to accomplish that goal. That group is not exclusive to either party and any real deal-maker should be able to see that.
What we saw in the AHCA debacle was a misdeal. The only way through it is to shuffle the cards and re-deal. But this time, deal only to real players.•
Leppert is a public and governmental affairs consultant in Indianapolis. He writes at Contrariana.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.