December 12, 2017

Do It The Stephenville Way

Dr. Malcolm Cross

It’s difficult to say what’s worse about the Republican failure to pass its health insurance bill—the dishonesty of the main argument against it or the incompetence with which the Republicans tried, and failed, to rebut the argument.  Perhaps had the Republicans tried to consider the bill the way the Stephenville city council usually considers legislation, there would have been a more honest debate and with a better chance for the bill’s ultimate passage.

One of the best features of our city council is its committee system.  When a bill or issue comes before the council, it is normally referred to the relevant committee for a hearing.  At the committee hearing, every council member, as well as all interested members of the public attending the hearing, may debate the issue, although only committee members can vote on a recommendation to send to the entire council, which then holds another debate (with participating members of the public) and holds a final vote, with all members of the council participating, on what to do about the issue.  At least that’s how things were done while I was on the council.

Some members of the council sometimes expressed a desire to abolish the committee system in order to streamline council proceedings by eliminating the committee step in our local legislative process.  But most council members, myself included, supported the retention of the committee system since it provided for more careful debate and analysis of important issues.

A major reason for the defeat of last week’s Republican effort to “repeal and replace” Obamacare was the failure to follow the process of referring the issue to the appropriate congressional committees and subcommittees for extended and careful public hearings, debate and analysis.  Instead, the Republican Senate leaders had the bill drafted in secret and sprung on the Senate just hours before a scheduled vote, leaving little time for honest or intelligent discussion. 

Instead, the way-too-brief debate was dominated by hysterical claims that passage of the bill would take away health care from roughly 16 million currently covered Americans, thereby producing more uninsured and higher premiums for those still covered in Obamacare.  This charge, the rationale used by moderate Republicans and all Democrats to reject the bill, is at least partially false.

In fact, the bill’s purpose was not to take away anyone’s health care, but to abolish the “individual mandate,” the Obamacare requirement that people either purchase insurance or pay a penalty for doing so.  The individual mandate was actually developed by a conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, in the 1990s as an alternative to a single-payer system, and was the basis for the reforms Mitt Romney helped implement in Massachusetts when he was governor.  But most Republicans have balked at it, saying nobody should be forced to buy something he doesn’t want to, and the purpose of the bill was therefore to restore the freedom to buy, or not buy, health insurance, to the individual taxpayer.  The Congressional Budget Office estimated that most of the 16 million projected to disappear from the rolls of the insured would be those who voluntarily decided against buying health insurance, since they would no longer be fined or otherwise punished for failing to do so.

Where the moderates and liberals did have a point is that with more and more healthy people abandoning health insurance, the premiums for those who chose to remain insured would undoubtedly rise, but they failed to consider, or willfully ignored, the provisions in the bill by which many of those unable to afford insurance would still get tax credits, which the bill left untouched.  Unfortunately for the bill’s supporters, the Republican leadership left them with too little time to defend either the proposed abolition of the individual mandate or the features which would have helped millions more stay on the rolls of the insured, albeit with subsidies.

John McCain, yesterday’s hero to the GOP, is now the Democrats’ hero and the Republicans villain for voting against the Republican measure.  Yet of all those involved on either side of the repeal and replace debate, he has offered the most lucid and rational approach to what the Senate and House Republicans should do next.  He has said:

“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of [the] nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people. We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”

McCain’s proposal, if followed, will afford supporters of reform the greatest opportunity to make and explain their case to their opponents and the American people, and thereby guarantee the greatest chance of success in producing a satisfactory alternative to Obamacare.  And if nobody in Congress knows how to proceed, perhaps the minutes of Stephenville’s city council and its committees may be helpful.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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