Health Care Battle Reveals A Republican Party Divided Against Itself
Article has been updated to reflect the latest opposition to the BCRA — July 17
In the wake of the Congressional health care crisis, actions by Republican leaders have been magnified, scrutinized and publicized for voting to uproot President Obama’s Affordable Care Act with their newly introduced American Health Care Act in March.
The new Republican-led health care legislation looks to repeal the majority of Obamacare. President Donald Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan (WI-01) and other House Republicans aimed to gradually cut spending on programs like Medicaid where states would be incentivized to cap expansion. In turn, the Republicans argued, budgetary spending would decrease in tandem with the repeal of the tax penalty from the Obamacare individual mandate.
Given the turn over of power in the White House from a Democrat to a newly-elected Republican, paired with the Republican-controlled Congress, the pressure is on for the Republicans to pass legislation that will benefit the American people. President Trump appears to be a polarizing figure in American politics, which in turn, has created a divide among not only the two parties but the Republican Party itself.
The Delayed Health Care Vote
Moderate Republicans seem to be put in a major dilemma: party vs. constituents. The passage of the AHCA on May 4, 2017, with a very tight win of 217–213 in the House of Representatives, shows that the bill was certainly divisive. 20 House Republicans voted no on the passage of H.R. 1628, which seemed to be a bold statement from the party-led bill. Although these 20 votes did not deter the legislation from passing the House, the mere idea that moderate Republicans like Representatives Mike Coffman (CO-06), Patrick Meehan (PA-07) and Barbara Comstock (VA-10), voted no, signifies a potential fracture of ideology in the Republican Party.
Before the CBO score of the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) health care bill surfaced, Senator Dean Heller (NV) was the first Republican to defect, stating:
“This bill would mean a loss of coverage for millions of Americans and many Nevadans. I’m telling you right now, I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans.”
Heller’s vocal resistance echoed the sentiments of moderate Republicans like Susan Collins (ME), who announced her opposition after the CBO score was released on June 26th.
CBO says 22 million people lose insurance; Medicaid cuts hurt most vulnerable Americans; access to healthcare in rural areas threatened. 2/3
I want to work w/ my GOP & Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in ACA. CBO analysis shows Senate bill won't do it. I will vote no on mtp. 1/3
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) also announced his opposition immediately after the CBO score was released. These no’s were followed by GOP Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Senator Mike Lee of Utah. The no’s just kept coming and forced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) delay the vote. This domino effect is representative of the current Republican divide.
Senate Republicans like Senators Rob Portman (OH), Jerry Moran (KS) and Shelley Moore Capito (WV) came out as opposed to the bill after the vote was delayed. Their concerns were over funding for the opioid epidemic that was minimized in the new health care bill, caused them to speak out against their party’s own legislation.
“I came to Washington to make the lives of West Virginians better. Throughout this debate, I have said that I will only support a bill that provides access to affordable health care coverage for West Virginians, including those on Medicaid and those struggling with drug addiction. As drafted, the Senate health care bill is not the right fix for West Virginia, and I cannot support it. My concerns will need to be addressed going forward.” –Senator Capito, Joint Press Release, June 27, 2017
By looking to the health care vote delay in the Senate, many different conclusions can be determined: senators want to make the legislation stronger with more time, not enough Republicans were on board to pass with a majority or Republicans cannot agree with each other. Based on Congress’ actions over the last month, a combination of all three scenarios seems to be the root of the issues when it comes to passing legislation.
What will happen in their next phase of the repeal and replace effort is yet to be determined. But so far, the Cruz Amendment didn’t seem to appease moderate or very conservative Republicans’ concerns. GOP Senators Lee and Moran joined Collins and Paul in their opposition to the latest iteration of the BCRA — dooming this version of the bill.
The Republican Divide
With a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, a majority in the Supreme Court and with a Republican president, this health care crisis represents the idea that partisan politics is entering an unprecedented era of disagreement and gridlock. Republicans showed they cannot agree with each other, which slowed down the passage of a major piece of legislation that has been long-overdue — and promised.
Much like the Whigs of the 1800s where political party leaders capitalized on the idea of slavery, current GOP has become geographically and socially divided. Ultimately, the Northern Whigs accepted the idea of freedom and the Southern Whigs supported slavery. A splinter in the party occurred, a civil war broke out and the Republican Party was born. Is the U.S. at that point again?
After seven years of trying to combat Obamacare, the Republicans have come up short. Uncertainty over leadership and efficiency has caused a lot of uproar among the party itself, which has put moderate Republicans in a precarious position meaning that the Republicans will have to go back to square one to even think about repealing and replacing the ACA.
Conservatives and liberals alike are proving to be the lynchpin for the rare breed of Republicans. ‘Conservative’ is not conservative enough and ‘liberal’ is not sufficient enough either — there seems to be no in between for Americans right now. New strategies for passing major legislation will need to be utilized then, in order to work within and across the aisle. Such a fracture is ultimately making it strangely difficult to agree and pass legislation for the majority party, especially for Moderates who have been put in the spotlight and are trying to find common ground.
In addition, some Republican leaders are having trouble getting on board with President Trump’s agenda, which is causing problems for party unity. Since the 2018 midterm elections are right around the corner, the Republicans have an uphill battle not only with Democrats but among themselves. The actions they take now and into the near future will impact who gets re-elected as well as trying to hold on to the majorities in both houses — especially in the Senate where the majority is razor-thin.
Failing to implement health care reform was strike one in the eyes of a lot of people in regards to the 115th Congress furthering the progress of this country. Moderate voters can swing either way, so appeasing the bulk of them for moderate Republicans is going to be crucial for incumbents to get re-elected. Republicans in extremely middle-of-the-road districts with strong groups of both Democrats and Republicans have been forced to vote against party lines. The health care vote is a prime example.
As of 2017, the in-fighting among the moderate and more-conservative Republicans is more evident than ever. Disagreement and divide have ultimately deterred the progress of legislation and has further polarized Republican agendas. A re-focus might be needed in order to fulfill their promises to work with not only each other but across the aisle.
In order to maintain a majority in U.S. politics through 2018, the Republicans will desperately need to heal the fractures among themselves first and foremost, before proceeding with ambitious legislation like health care, tax reform, and defense budgetary spending bills. Otherwise, moderate congressional seats will be in jeopardy come the midterm election season and the chance to hold power will wane.
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