Donald Trump and the Republicans did it. On May 4, the House of Representatives succeeded. With a narrow, party-line vote of 217-213, Republicans passed the repeal and reform of Obamacare. There was a celebration on the White House lawn.
The Republicans kept their seven-year promise – or so they say. In politics, things are not always as they seem to be on the surface.
Now the bill moves on to the Senate. Republican leaders there have already taken a different tact than did the House Republican leaders. They have announced plans to spend months on their health care version and are very deliberate in their thinking. Their version will be much, much different than the House bill and much more carefully thought through.
These different approaches clearly reflect the thinking of the Founders when they agreed to the Great Compromise in that hot summer in Philadelphia in 1787. It was agreed that Congress would be divided into two houses. In the lower house, the House of Representatives, representation was based upon the population of the states. The bigger the population, the more representatives bigger states had. The Senate was created to protect small state concerns, which has two senators per state, regardless of population.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms. Since representatives are most concerned with getting re-elected, they tend to be much closer to the moods and emotions of their constituents back home. Members of the Senate are elected for six-year terms. Because they have more time between elections, they are less concerned about constituent reactions.
The Founders were very much concerned with balance and fairness. They understood the need to weigh short-term concerns, which can be hastily addressed, with long-terms concerns, which must be thoroughly considered. Both approaches are important and both need to be considered for any potential law. The Senate tends to reflect state concerns over constituents – the opposite concern in the House.
Regarding House and Senate leadership, House Speaker Paul Ryan has embarrassed himself on a number of occasions. Just a few weeks ago, Ryan could not get enough votes from his conservative Freedom Caucus and he had to pull the vote. This was a major political setback for him and the president. It made them look incompetent and more concerned with looking good than doing a good job.
Saving face and making President Trump look like a winner in his first 100 days clearly overrode concerns about 24 million Americans being denied medical healthcare access. Speaker Ryan was not willing to wait to learn the expected effects from the Congressional Budget Office report. In the previous non-vote a few weeks earlier, CBO predictions had scuttled the first attempt at passage. Neither Ryan nor the president wanted to be embarrassed and beaten by facts again. Better to vote in ignorance, so a victory could be celebrated. Form took the place of substance in the vote.
This approach clearly reflects short-term thinking.
Now, the Senate has taken charge led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a more deliberate, effective and perhaps somewhat ruthless leader. He was able to get Neil Gorsuch appointed to the Supreme Court over the strong objections of Senate Democrats. He was also able to effectively avoid having hearings or a vote on the Obama nominee, Merrick Garland, for almost a year.
Agree with his decisions or not, McConnell knows how to get things done. He usually also doesn’t make promises he can’t keep. He is definitely a long-term thinker not so concerned with appearances. He fits the mold of the Founders for the Senate.
While a leader like McConnell is not easily loved, he is someone to be respected for his wielding of power. There are hopes his more thoughtful approach might bring in Democratic Senators to create a healthcare bill that is more bipartisan, protecting coverage for most of those 24 million who are threatened under the House bill.
We must wait and see if McConnell can continue his track record of successful legislation. He must also craft a bill that will mollify the House Freedom Caucus and at the same time calm the fears of moderate conservatives in both houses. That may be impossible, given the impulsiveness of both Ryan and Trump.
Only time will tell if McConnell’s long-term thinking will triumph. Let’s hope the results will benefit all Americans, not just the wealthy and powerful. The 2018 midterm elections are already hanging heavily like the Sword of Damocles over Congress.
If Republicans want to maintain control of Congress they’ll have to think long-term.