GOP Falls Into Purity Trap

Debra J. Saunders
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Posted: Jan 10, 2016 12:01 AM
GOP Falls Into Purity Trap

Republicans fulfilled a popular campaign pledge Wednesday when, by a 240-181 vote, the House passed a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood. The bill, already passed by the Senate, now goes to the desk of President Barack Obama, where it surely will be vetoed.

Just when, I have to ask, did my Grand Old Party's idea of victory become passing bills that won't become law? What's so glorious about fecklessness? The GOP House put an awful lot of work -- it has voted to repeal Obamacare 62 times -- into passing something that cannot become law while Obama is president and there are not enough Republicans to override a veto. Yet I see progress.

This was the first time the Senate passed a repeal bill -- thanks to a budget reconciliation rule that allows leadership to bypass cloture rules that require 60 votes. "Every single member of our conference campaigned on repeal of this disastrous law," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, told me. They all delivered.

Republicans did not deliver a bill with an alternative health care plan -- to the glee of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose office posted on a blog about the many times House Republicans have promised an alternative without wrapping the package. It seems there is not a lot of pressure for Republicans to support an alternative bill; the heavy pressure lines up behind gimmicks.

Or maybe that's changing. Last year, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, argued it was the "right thing" for the GOP Congress to risk shutting down the government by passing a spending bill that defunded Planned Parenthood. Cruz didn't care how that same tactic backfired in 2013 or that National Right to Life President Carol Tobias opposed his shutdown gambit. She told supporters that given how congressional rules work, the only way to defund Planned Parenthood is to elect a president who opposes abortion. For once, the lemming caucus didn't herd the whole GOP caucus toward the cliff.

Tobias told me the newly passed measure shows that the Senate can pass a bill to defund Planned Parenthood with a simple majority vote. That's a win. And: "There were a lot of conservatives and Republicans who didn't think Mitt Romney was good enough. So they didn't vote." Obama won re-election. Now "many of these same people are ... upset that Republicans in Congress aren't doing what they consider to be enough. I'm sorry; elections have consequences."

Here's what bugs me: The House Freedom Caucus withholds votes -- which sends House Speaker Paul Ryan into Pelosi's loving arms. Then the caucus complains that Ryan worked with Democrats. As the House passed the Obamacare repeal, caucus head Raul Labrador of Idaho announced that Ryan's honeymoon is over -- and Ryan "needs to start putting up real conservative reform" to show that he is different from former House Speaker John Boehner.

By the way, Pelosi's post also asserted that Ryan is "no different than John Boehner." Great minds...

Actually, Ryan and McConnell have done something that could not be accomplished without their majorities. With a bill on his desk, Obama will be forced to veto the measure -- and in so doing, he'll remind the public why the Affordable Care Act is so unpopular. But wait; there's more: They sent the Oval Office a spending bill, signed in December, that included a two-year hiatus on the Affordable Care Act's tax on "Cadillac" health plans and the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices. The impure GOP establishment actually passed measures that peeled back Obamacare.

Critics on the far right want to rub away the shine of accomplishment. Talk to Republican voters and many seem unaware of GOP victories. The think tank establishment and radio talk show hosts tell the base that the GOP leadership is good for nothing, when the eggheads are good for getting nothing done.

The notion that the GOP-led Congress doesn't do anything feeds Democrats' claims that this is a "do-nothing" Congress. To the contrary, under Republican control, the Senate passed the first multiyear highway bill since 2005. Obama signed it in December. Since 1997, Congress regularly has had to pass "doc fixes" to avert huge scheduled cuts in payments to physicians that would have chased physicians out of Medicare. This Congress repealed the formula that made those fixes necessary. In April, Obama signed the bill. In November, the president signed a defense bill that raised military pay and impedes his promise to close Guantanamo Bay.

Yes, to their discredit, Republicans didn't pay for these reforms. But these measures represent steps in the right direction. They are improvements. People elect candidates to Congress to improve the country, not fall on their swords.

As he was leaving the speakership, Boehner sagely advised: "Have the courage to do what you can do. It's easy to have the courage to do what you can't do."

I have my own saying: It's hard to dance with a knife in your back.