By Barry Rascovar
Washington’s embarrassing health care debacle should not come as a surprise. Two hundred thirty years ago, James Madison warned of just such an appalling spectacle in Federalist Paper No. 10. He pinpointed the cause, as did Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Arizona Sen. John McCain in the past week.
Madison wrote of the evils of “factions,” of narrow-minded party zealots more concerned with a political “win” than doing what’s best for people. He cautioned against leaders “ambitiously contending for preeminence and power” more disposed “to vex and oppress . . . than to co-operate.”
“A factious spirit has tainted our public administration.”
Madison wrote those words during a bitter fight to approve the Constitution in 1787. John McCain expressed identical sentiments in his dramatic truth-to-power health-care speech on the Senate floor last week.
Republican leaders and President Trump tried to pull a fast one on the GOP Senate majority: A series of recklessly ill-conceived health-care proposals written behind closed doors, not revealed till the last moment and creating a health-care disaster for over 30 million Americans.
The GOP came close to succeeding – until the chamber’s eternal maverick, the nation’s best exemplar of what it means to be a “profile in courage,” gave his colleagues a blunt and on-point lecture they badly needed.
Profile in courage
McCain complained that Senate deliberations had become “more partisan, more tribal than any time I remember.”
The results? Well, there haven’t been any, he said. “We’ve been spinning our wheels . . . because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.” And, he added, “We’re getting nothing done.”
Yes, America’s health-care system is a mess, McCain noted. It’s no secret it needs fixing.
But a bunch of hard-core Republicans tried to ram through an unworkable series of proposals, intentionally bypassing the democratic system of holding public hearings to get viewpoints from all sides, letting legislators of all stripes offer amendments and allowing time for lawmakers to parse and debate details of the bill.
What we witnessed was the worst of one-party rule, a society lurching toward autocracy – until a handful of Republicans had the gumption to do what was best for their constituents rather than what was best for their political party’s ambitions.
McCain told colleagues they should be realistic:
“Incremental progress, compromises each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at problems” may be “the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours.”
Sometimes, he said, “we must give a little to get a little,” and sometimes “our efforts manage just three yards and a cloud of dust, while critics on both sides denounce us for timidity, for our failure to ‘triumph.’ ”
But that’s part of the American system, he continued. Grinding the other political party into oblivion isn’t inspiring or worthwhile.
“There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences while not letting them stand in the way of agreements that don’t require either side to abandon their core principles; agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people.”
Hogan joins in
Even before McCain spoke these words, Maryland’s governor was joining other governors – Republicans and Democrats – to demand an end to the circus in Washington that threatened tens of millions of their states’ citizens.
Three times Republican Hogan has raised objections to the mad rush among GOP leaders in Congress and the White House to push through healthcare bills that would cripple the private insurance market and crush the hopes of many citizens for healthcare coverage.
When the GOP leadership’s unveiled its “repeal and replace” bill, Hogan’s office said congressional leaders should “go back to the drawing board” and produce a plain that didn’t take healthcare away from people.
Later, Hogan and 10 other governors condemned the GOP leadership’s healthcare plans that would have wreaked havoc in the states. Instead, the governors sensibly called for “both parties to come together and do what we can all agree on: Fix our unstable insurance markets.
Then before the Senate’s absurd “vote-a-rama” marathon last week, Hogan and eight other governors from both parties strongly opposed the “skinny repeal” plan that would have knocked the legs out from under Obamacare.
“Congress should be working to make health insurance more affordable while stabilizing the health insurance market,” the governors stated. What the GOP congressional leadership proposed, they said, would “accelerate health plans leaving the individual market, increase premiums and result in fewer Americans having access to coverage.”
Cooperative spirit of compromise
What’s needed, they repeated, is a cooperative spirit of compromise in which Republicans in Congress sit down with Democrats and the nation’s governors, figure out how to fix what’s broken in the healthcare system and agree on a solution.
Is anyone listening?
They were listening to James Madison in 1787 when he pleaded with his countrymen to avoid turning the country into a nation of “factions” that would destroy what had been dearly won.
Now we’ll find out if John McCain’s pleas and those of governors like Larry Hogan are heard and heeded by a deeply fractious, hyper-partisan Congress.
Much hangs in the balance.