Regardless of how one feels about the Affordable Care Act, it is difficult to justify or defend Thursday’s action by the House of Representatives.
Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — colloquially known as Obamacare — and replace it with a revised version of the American Health Care Act. In passing the bill by a 217-213 vote, Republicans in the House abandoned any claim they might have had to being the party of thoughtful, deliberate, and responsible governance.
The legislation was brought to a vote and passed despite not being vetted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Lawmakers approved sweeping changes to the health care industry — which accounts for one-sixth of the U.S. economy — without knowing the answers to some basic questions: How many people will be left without insurance in the coming years? Will the bill increase the national debt or reduce it? How much will it cost taxpayers?
This obfuscation on the part of Republican leaders was well-calculated. An earlier version of the American Health Care Act would have, according to the Congressional Budget Office, resulted in 24 million Americans losing their health insurance over the next decade while reducing the deficit by $337 billion over the same span. The revelation about lost insurance had played a key role in the demise of the bill, so it is understandable that House leaders simply moved forward this time before they could be told the bad news. Well, it is understandable if their goal was simply to have something they could consider a victory rather than something that benefits the American people.
Remember how then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was excoriated in 2010 for saying of Obamacare, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy”? Thursday’s vote was a cynical twist on the Affordable Care Act writ large. Obamacare went through more than six months of adjustments based upon input from insurance representatives, care providers, and the public before being passed. The American Health Care Act went from concept to passage in the House in a matter of weeks, with several Republican legislators admitting they had not read the legislation.
Through this, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, stood as a voice of reason. After being one of 20 Republicans to vote against the bill, she said, “I still didn’t feel that the American Health Care Act does enough to make health care affordable and accessible for all. . . . The difficulties this bill would create for millions of children still need to be addressed.” Herrera Beutler added that she remains determined to repeal Obamacare.
To be sure, the American Health Care Act still has a long way to go. It now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to face an uphill fight and likely will undergo vast changes. But the bill will forever be tainted by the stench of irresponsibility demonstrated by Republicans in the House. Representatives apparently were so determined to hand President Trump a legislative victory and so determined to scuttle anything that could be tied to the Obama administration that they eschewed all common sense and thoughtful deliberation.
In so doing, they succeeded in fulfilling one of the primary campaign promises that landed them in office. But along the way they demonstrated more concern for rhetoric and ideology than responsible governance — and the American people are poorer for it.