Inside D.C.

If at first you don’t succeed…

The late, great Rep. Kika de la Garza, Texas Democrat and former chair of the House Agriculture Committee, was fond of reminding his committee members that “politics is the art of the possible.” His message was simple:  Compromise is the name of the game that gets a bill across the finish line.  And to paraphrase former Speaker of the House, Secretary of the Senate and Secretary of State Henry Clay, the so-called “great compromiser,” a good compromise is when both parties walk away dissatisfied.

So, layering this philosophy on the current House of Representatives, the recent Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal-and-replace dithering by leadership, the Freedom Caucus and the White House indicates a refresher course on the art of the compromise may be necessary.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI) and his lieutenants made the same procedural misjudgment as then Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV).  Then and now these lawmakers rushed the agenda and cut process corners, all to show the American voter they could deliver on a party cornerstone campaign promise.

Reid and Pelosi assumed incorrectly Republicans, by definition, oppose universal health care.  In fact, few lawmakers on either side of the aisle argue the concept, they disagree on the delivery system.   President Obama joined Pelosi and Reid in rushing to take credit for the “win.”  What they produced was a crappy piece of legislation, leading to overly complicated and in some cases, contradictory health care programs.

Hoping to show he controls his party and succumbing to that same rush to judgment, along with a self-imposed deadline, Ryan tried to force a legislative fait accompli.  He retreated to a back room, drafted a less-than-stellar repeal/replace universal health care bill, invited colleagues to read and comment and then by and large, ignored the comments.

The White House, with little understanding of either the domestic health care system or the congressional legislative process, believed it could by dint of President Trump’s personality and Twitter account convince Republicans to buy into the anything-is-better-than-Obamacare strategy. This is generally referred to as the “spaghetti approach” to crafting legislation, as in throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.

The Freedom Caucus is a gaggle of ultraconservative lawmakers which really should be its own political party.  Because neither Ryan or Trump courted them and their political desires, they reverted to their tiresome “our-way-or-the-highway” brand of politics, publicly trashing their own party, using the media to undermine Ryan and Trump, yet offering only that “we’ll-know-it-when-we-see-it” alternative to the Ryan package.

Ryan and the White House should return to the days of yesteryear when legislation the magnitude of health care reform wended its way through the formal legislative process, i.e., drafting, introduction, hearings, amendments, committee approval, floor debate, amendments and final product.  Throughout this process, everybody gets to play.  There’s a whole lot of informal hallway buttonholing, chamber lobbying and deal cutting.

Following process produces an end product that is ultimately what’s politically possible.  Ideas live or die on a lawmaker’s ability to convince his/her colleagues of the wisdom of the offered solution.  In this way, legislation evolves, and it’s hoped, improves.

The press and the pundits are wrong – again – when they imply or state flat out the process debacle that was Ryan’s decision to yank the health care package off the floor is the end of the GOP struggle to repeal and replace ACA.  The legislative process is anything but simple or attractive.  Ryan et al messed up on their initial run at repeal and replace.  They should chalk that experience up to rehearsal.  The outcome shouldn’t signal surrender, merely retreat and regroup.

I’m reminded of another old saying:  “If at first you don’t succeed, etc., etc., etc.”

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