Forum

Bills should be passed for impact, not to fulfill promises

Credit: Paola Mathus/ Credit: Paola Mathus/
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It was less than two weeks ago when Senate Republicans announced another strategic push to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA): a promise that they had made to their voters back in 2010, when the ACA was first signed into law. “[The Graham-Cassidy Bill] would repeal the pillars of Obamacare and replace the failed law’s failed approach with a new one, allowing states and governors to actually implement better healthcare ideas by taking more decision-making power out of Washington,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), on the Senate floor.

Developed by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the "Graham-Cassidy Bill" was to essentially apportion some federal funding allocated under the ACA to states in the form of federal block grants, giving states more flexibility and discretion to use healthcare funds. Two main problems threatened the success of the bill, however: the Sept. 30 deadline and the need for at least 50 votes from the chamber.

Last Tuesday, Sept. 26, less than 24 hours after Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) declared her opposition, the Graham-Cassidy Bill was announced dead, not even putting the legislation up for a vote on the floor. “We’re coming back to this after taxes,” said Graham. “I believe this is the most important thing I can ever do for the country — working with my colleagues — is not to just repeal Obamacare but to replace it with a system closer to where you live, controlled by people you can vote for.”

In addition to Collins, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) were responsible for the Republican leadership’s final decision to scrap the bill — with three Republicans opposing the proposal, the leadership had no confidence to put the bill up for a vote. “I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal,” said McCain in a statement on Sept. 22. “I believe we can do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried.”

McCain has referenced to something very important here: bipartisanship. While it has been a common phenomenon to vote along party lines when it comes to issues like healthcare, McCain — who now seems to be playing the role of the moderate, pragmatic conservative — has shown us that he cares more about the content and impact of the legislation than the passage of the bill itself.

Regardless, President Donald Trump expressed his discontent for these Senators. “We were very disappointed by a couple of Senators, Republican Senators I must say,” he said. “At some point there will be a repeal and replace, but we will see whether that point will be now or shortly thereafter. But, we are disappointed at certain so-called Republicans.”

Democrats, on the other hand, celebrated. “From one end of America to the other, the Graham-Cassidy bill would have been a health-care disaster,” commented Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “Our colleagues had no choice in the face of opposition from one end of the land to the other.”

This, in fact, is far from the first effort by Republicans to repeal the ACA. From the American Health Care Act to the Better Health Care Reconciliation Act to the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act to the numerous proposals drafted by individual Senators, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly pursued a replacement for the ACA in the past few years. As a matter of fact, the ACA is, indeed, in need of serious reform. According to The New York Times, insurance premiums are set to rise in 2018 due to insurers “citing the Trump administration’s hostile policy messages as a substantial reason for higher prices.” So, the question is, why hasn’t Congress found a solution yet, seven years after the passage of the ACA?

“You know, I could have, maybe, give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,” stated Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in a phone call with reporters discussing the Graham-Cassidy proposal. “But… Republicans campaigned on this so often that we have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”

Frankly, Grassley — though heavily criticized for the above statement — said it all. In too many situations, especially when dealing with polarizing issues such as healthcare, the prevailing attitude of politicians — both left and right — is that they desperately need to get legislation passed regarding their campaign promises, regardless of the “substance of the bill.” Yes, it is important for representatives to keep their word and fulfill promises. However, shouldn’t we expect policymakers to be equally considerate of the quality and the impact that their bill will have on the American people?

Perhaps, this is the reason why Congress has yet to replace the ACA with a more sustainable solution. When it comes to decisive issues like healthcare, a rushed bill simply won’t do. As such, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has recently shed light on the lack of long-term thought put into many of the recent “replace and repeal” efforts, including the Graham-Cassidy proposal itself which was projected to leave millions more without comprehensive health insurance.

In this regard, we go back to what McCain mentioned: the most tenable and balanced solution requires bipartisan dialogue. This healthcare impasse is neither political sustainable nor economically viable. Voting across party lines and rushing bills through the Senate floor should no longer be condoned: we ought to expect higher standards of our representatives. Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, should stop treating policymaking as opportunities to add new items to their resume. In essence, Congress should never pass bills just because they were promised; Congress should pass bills because they can make a positive, lasting impact.