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July 24, 2017

The Curtain Hasnít Fallen on the Congressional Circus

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

C-Span is like crack cocaine for a political junkie. Once you turn it on, even just the audio stream, morbid curiosity keeps you tuned to the unfolding train wreck. Add in the Trump Administration’s responses, and it’s truly one of the world’s most compelling forms of entertainment.


Sadly, it also happens to be American history’s least productive congressional term.


One school of thought is that an ineffective Congress is a blessing for the nation. A productive Congress that produces restrictive regulations, burdensome mandates and restrictions of the exercise of constitutional rights might be worse. But not by much.


President Donald Trump was swept into office by a tide of voter disgust, reflecting not just the frustration of conservative Republicans, but also large numbers of middle class Democrats. In fact, liberals are still trying to diagnose their unanticipated failures in precincts they thought were safe but flipped for Mr. Trump over Hillary Clinton.


Blame it on nonexistent Russian collusion if it makes you feel better.


The problem with a televised or audio stream is that the American people can actually see and/or hear their federal legislators in action, or lack thereof. It might be better if the work of the Congress was more like a roach-infested tenement basement. Shining a light on them makes them scurry for invisible nooks and crannies, and they might get more done if they were invisible. It seems to help the roaches, anyway.


The GOP majority in Congress now has something they haven’t had since the 2012 midterms. They now have a president who would be willing to entertain almost any bill they send him. He needs some policy wins as badly as they do.


He’s open to funding a wall on the southern U.S. border. It could be made of solar panels, wood, metal or even rice krispies. President Trump would accept any solution, just to get it done. He also wants some form of tax reform, even the kind that only helps the mega-wealthy. Which, of course, is the only kind the Democrats understand. They don’t accept that middle class Americans also benefit when taxes are cut.


The most recent crisis dealt with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Repealing and replacing Obamacare was an absolute building block of the Trump for President Campaign.


It was also a promise made by practically every single Republican member of Congress.


As major insurers were exiting the Obamacare marketplace, voters across America provided a sympathetic ear to then-candidate Trump.


During the entire term of former President Barack Obama, GOP members in the U.S. House and Senate spoke often of the need to repeal and then replace the law. They held press conferences and multiple votes on measures designed to end the failed policy, despite warning signs that those who received large subsidies under the law to buy a policy would fight any attempt to end their new handouts.


Roll the calendar forward to the week of July 17. Now a bill, passed along strict partisan lines in the House, was presented to the U.S. Senate for their consideration. In the Age of Trump, it appears that all conversations on policy will follow partisan lines, which was also basically true under the Obama Administration.


The new wrinkle is that even within the GOP, there are solid lines of division between conservatives and moderates that rival the Republic/Democrat split. Sen. Rand Paul (R., KY) and Sen. Mike Lee (R., UT) wouldn’t agree to a repeal/replace bill because they opposed any form of rate stabilization for insurers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., KY), allegedly a legislative mastermind, saw he would be short by at least one vote, and pulled the bill when Sen. John McCain (R., AZ) fell ill. Then, he offered a compromise that reflected just the repeal of the ACA, with a two-year timed phase out.


Almost the entire Senate GOP Caucus had supported a similar idea under the Obama Administration. That was then, this is now. Now, there’s a president in the White House who would actually sign that repeal bill into law. That means that once passed, this puppy would result in letters going out to people from their health insurer stating that premiums, now absent a government subsidy, would increase dramatically in two years.


Three moderate senators, Shelly Moore Capito (R., WV), Lisa Murkowski (R., AK) and Susan Collins (R., ME), instantly objected to the straight repeal, fearing a voter backlash once those insurance company letters went out. It’s important to repeat that when they knew that the sitting president (Obama) wouldn’t sign the bill, they felt empowered to support it. That's at least true of Ms. Murkowski and Ms. Capito, as Ms. Collins has opposed repeal all along. Of course, she's almost indistinguishable from the Democrats on policy.


This display of flip-floppery is almost stunning. In the old days, it would have happened outside the glare of public view. There’d be some back-slapping, some glad-handing, and none of us would be any the wiser.


Now, we can actually watch this nonsense unfold. We can hear them as they offer their tortured, confused logic as they try to fool all of the people all of the time.


The saddest thing is that they’ll actually get away with it – again.


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