The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has voted to repeal Obamacare, more officially known as the Affordable Care Act or by the acronym “ACA,” over 50 times since its passage. Two separate Republican presidential nominees – Mitt Romney and Donald Trump – and countless potential Representatives and Senators campaigned, and in many cases won, on promises that they would repeal the bill. And yet despite Republican control of both houses of Congress and the Executive branch, repealing the ACA seems increasingly unlikely.
Twice now the Senate has made formal attempts at repeal. The first came this summer, the now-infamous “skinny repeal.” The second is the so-called Graham-Cassidy bill, named for its authors, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and his Louisiana counterpart Bill Cassidy. Neither bill truly represents the full repeal of Obamacare that Republicans have long sought (the skinny repeal didn’t touch many of the ACA’s taxes and subsidies, and both allowed children to stay on their parents’ plans until they turned 26), but many on the right saw each as first steps towards a full repeal.
The main villain of both these failures for many Obamacare opponents is John McCain, senator from Arizona and former Republican presidential nominee. After voting on a motion to proceed with the skinny repeal, McCain voted ‘no’ on the repeal itself. And despite the fact that the most recent bill was put forward by McCain’s close friend Lindsey Graham, McCain once again refused to support repeal. In both instances, McCain had the same reasoning: process.
As finding the 60 votes typically required for passage would have been impossible, Republicans have instead used reconciliation, a complicated process that allows them to pass a bill with just 50 votes without having to worry about breaking a filibuster. 50 votes, of course, means a tie that can be broken by Mike Pence, who as Vice President can get a chance to use the rarely-invoked power of the office to break ties in the Senate.
But the legislative chicanery does not stop there.
The skinny repeal was drafted in secret, and it was only voted on in the wee hours of the morning by Senators who did not know what was in it. Committee hearings, normally a necessity, have been done away with. Reports by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which estimate the financial impact of potential bills and thus provide the public with vital information about them, have been either done away with entirely or flat-out ignored.
These actions hid the actual contents of the bill from the public, preventing them from forming an opinion. Beyond that, the normal legislative process allows for experts and other senators to provide feedback on a bill and make it better. These departures from the normal process precluded any such improvements, leading to a worse bill.
John McCain is almost the only Republican concerned by these irregularities. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, the other two GOP no votes in the Senate, have also expressed their disagreement with the manner that their colleagues have gone about passing a repeal, but their most strident criticisms are substantive in nature. McCain by all accounts seems willing to support a normal repeal of Obamacare.
Still, that is quite simply not enough for many on the right. And those feelings of anger at McCain are to some degree understandable. Many Republicans – including John McCain – campaigned on a promise to repeal Obamacare, and voters are right to be mad that the politicians for whom they voted have not delivered on that promise.
However, to make McCain the villain of the GOP’s failures is tantamount to forgetting what it means to be a conservative. Conservatives fight to conserve institutions and their power, as they know that it is much harder to build things than to tear them down. Stable legislative institutions are vital to the strength and success of this nation, allowing for the passage of new laws only after careful consideration. Obamacare ought to be repealed, but it ought to be done so through the normal process. The Senate was meant to be a deliberative body in which the minority party has the power to influence bills. Republican actions threaten that purpose. Norms only exist because of action; if Republicans continue at this rate, the Senate will continue its slide from an institution that produces good legislation through careful debate to a purely partisan, barely functioning one.
Thus, conservatives ought to applaud John McCain for remembering what conservatism is all about.
Seeking to enact preferred policies by any means necessary is destructive; there was a time when those who called themselves conservatives understood. But as recent events have made abundantly clear, that sort of conservative is in desperately short supply. Thus, conservatives ought to applaud John McCain for remembering what conservatism is all about, and for refusing to depart from his principles despite being under.
Max Handler ‘18 studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.