On March 24, following the House Republican leadership’s decision to temporarily withdraw the “American Health Care Act” from floor consideration, House Freedom Caucus Chairman U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) released a statement:
“I promised the people of North Carolina’s 11th District that I would fight for a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a replacement with a market-driven approach that brings down costs and provides more choices for the American people. I remain wholeheartedly committed to following through on this promise. I know President Trump is committed to repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a system that works for American families, and I look forward to working with him to do just that.”
That was it. No declaration of victory. No finger pointing at the House Republican leadership for twisting Republican arms to support an historically unpopular bill. No complaints.
At the height of the newly gained notoriety that he seemed to disdain rather than enjoy, Meadows simply restated the promise he made to his constituents to repeal and replace Obamacare and quietly pledged to work with President Trump on fulfilling that promise.
Following the non-vote in the House, Meadows and his Freedom Caucus colleagues kept their heads down, their mouth shuts, and their doors open. Now, barely a month later, they have something to show for it.
Last week, the House Freedom Caucus had announced its support for an agreement between Meadows and moderate U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) that would address the biggest health care challenge facing America: the soaring cost of medical care. The MacArthur amendment would grant states the ability to repeal cost driving aspects of Obamacare left in place under the original AHCA. By allowing states to opt out of cost inflators, such as Essential Health Benefits and community rating rules, the MacArthur amendment vastly improves the AHCA from a common-sense, pro-federalism, “how much is health care going to cost me” perspective. Unlike the original AHCA, it gets to the heart of the matter: making health care more affordable and accessible.
As the Freedom Caucus itself concedes, the MacArthur amendment does not outright repeal Obamacare. Amidst seven years of promises and scores of hollow “repeal” votes to the contrary, the leadership of this Congress has made it very clear that Obamacare in some form is here to stay. The MacArthur amendment does give red state voters in places like Texas some power through their state officials to bring down health care costs. For voters in solidly blue states like California or Oregon, federalism offers the opportunity to vote with their feet.
The compromise was solidified with U.S. Rep. Fred Upton’s (R-Mich.) further amendment providing an additional $8 billion funding for those with preexisting conditions in states that opt out of the Obamacare regulations.
So, if Obamacare will not be repealed in its entirety, what was the significance of the Freedom Caucus “March Resistance?” First, it resulted in the best health care measure this House appears capable of producing, which is essential since the House-passed bill will almost certainly represent the high-water mark of this debate. Second, it taught the House leadership that conservatives are willing to compromise, so long as we’re not forced to compromise on our principles or our promises. Also, legislating should be done out in the open; the era of backroom shenanigans and stealth bills that can’t be read before the vote should be ended.
Finally, it restored — at least for a moment — the quaint notion that you can rise about politics if you stand on principle. As a Democrat, Harry S. Truman, once said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Or in the case of the resolute members of the House Freedom Caucus — the blame.
In a statement Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning praised the compromise in part, saying, “The health care replacement, while far from perfect, is substantially better than it would have been thanks to the hard work of the Freedom Caucus, the White House and House negotiators, achieving a result that respects the states through the state opt-out provision of Obamacare’s insurance regulations and ending the tyranny of the individual and employer mandates.”
But Manning added, although it was “a step in the right direction,” it could be further improved by the Senate by “defunding law and rules that prevent individuals from purchasing insurance across state lines, removing the continuing coverage penalty and eliminating the tax subsidies for insurance and federal subsidies for Medicaid expansion that make no sense once you have a national marketplace for insurance. Nobody will think they need subsidies if in a competitive marketplace insurance premiums are dropping.”
Obviously there is more that can be done, but it’s not often these days when principle wins out over partisanship or political self-interest. We should remember to recognize and savor those few fleeting moments — and the individuals who create them — before they pass us by.