Otto von Bismarck famously said, “Politics is the art of the possible.” This is a reality that President Trump and the GOP congressional leadership understand. Sadly, a small clique of rigid ideologues constituting about 10 percent of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is clearly ignorant of this fact. These people call themselves the “Freedom Caucus.” Yet, by refusing to support the American Health Care Act (AHCA) last week, they preserved one of the most outrageous assaults on individual liberty ever signed into law. They have virtually guaranteed that Obamacare will never be repealed. Now they own it.
Some commentators have attempted to blame the AHCA debacle on the failure of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the Republican leadership to live up to longstanding campaign promises. In a column bearing the hyperbolic title, “GOP cave on Obamacare repeal is the biggest broken promise in political history,” Philip Klein takes this position. Klein belongs to an unofficial group of conservative-leaning journalists that the immortal Jean Kirkpatrick might well have labeled the “blame Republicans first crowd.” These commentators habitually ignore inconvenient political facts and produce absurd assertions such as the following:
What’s so utterly disgraceful, is not just that Republicans failed so miserably, but that they barely tried.… Here’s the bottom line: Republicans didn’t want to repeal Obamacare that badly. Obamacare was a useful tool for them. For years, they could use it to score short-term messaging victories.… At no point were they willing to do the hard work of hashing out their intraparty policy differences and developing a coherent health agenda or of challenging the central liberal case for universal coverage.
This kind of counterfactual nonsense is what many career journalists — regardless of their original ideological leanings — begin to write once they have been absorbed into the Beltway collective. The reality is that GOP leaders, particularly Paul Ryan and Tom Price, have long since outlined a coherent health agenda. And the claim that Ryan and Price barely tried to sell AHCA to House Republicans simply has no basis in reality. Both Ryan and Price worked like dogs to get this deal done. In fact, they successfully worked with the White House to bring Mark Walker and the other skeptics on the Republican Study Committee around.
They failed in the case of the Freedom Caucus, primarily because Mark Meadows and his accomplices wouldn’t take “yes” for an answer. Meadows first claimed that his primary objection to AHCA was its refundable tax credits, which he characterized as “a new entitlement program.” However, when the leadership showed signs that they might be willing to compromise on this issue, he suddenly decided that the bill also had to contain a provision eliminating Obamacare’s essential health benefits mandate (EHB). Meadows knew perfectly well that such a provision was almost certainly going to run afoul of Senate reconciliation rules.
In other words, Meadows and most other members of the Freedom Caucus simply weren’t dealing in good faith. They insisted on “full repeal,” which they knew would never pass either house of Congress. President Trump has not been reticent about pointing this out. Yesterday morning, he took the Freedom Caucus to task thus: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club for Growth and Heritage, has saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!” When asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos about the gleeful Democratic response to his handiwork, Rep. Meadows made the following preposterous claim:
Well, I mean, if they’re applauding, they shouldn’t, because I can tell you that conversations over the last 48 hours are really about how we come together in the Republican conference and try to get this over the finish line… we are in the negotiation process.
Meadows is evidently delusional. With whom is he negotiating? It obviously isn’t President Trump or Speaker Ryan. Meanwhile, even as he tries to evade responsibility for his actions, even some members of the Freedom Caucus itself are distancing themselves from the group and the role it played in scuttling AHCA. CNN reports, “Rep. Ted Poe announced Sunday he has resigned from the conservative House Freedom Caucus over its opposition to the Republican health care plan.” Poe is from Texas, where the voters won’t be anxious to re-elect anyone who helped save Obamacare. He issued the following statement announcing his resignation:
In order to deliver on the conservative agenda we have promised the American people for eight years, we must come together to find solutions to move this country forward. Saying no is easy, leading is hard, but that is what we were elected to do. Leaving this caucus will allow me to be a more effective member of Congress and advocate for the people of Texas. It is time to lead.
Rep. Poe can see what Meadows has apparently missed. It probably isn’t a smart move to incur the wrath of your party’s leadership, including the president of the United States, while inspiring unabated glee among the opposition party. The Democrats know Obamacare is a disaster, no matter how much they lie about it, and they have been dying to be rid of that rotting albatross. Rep. Mark Meadows and his accomplices have helped them to hang it around the GOP’s neck. But the entire Republican Party isn’t to blame here. It’s just a few posturing members of a rump caucus, and it is they who now own Obamacare — lock, stock, and barrel.