Eager for a signature legislative win, congressional Republicans appear primed to move tax reform to the front burner and health care to the back burner.
"We haven't given up on changing the American health-care system ... We haven't given up on that," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week. "Where we go from here is tax reform."
McConnell's remark came in the wake of failure by the Senate in September to pass an Obamacare repeal bill fashioned by Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana - the second failed attempt to pass repeal legislation in the Senate since July. No vote was held on the bill after several Republican senators said they were opposed.
We support discussion of tax reform, but we don't wish to see health care forgotten, either, because we believe flaws in the Affordable Care Act (lack of consumer choices for insurance, skyrocketing premiums, and increasing deductibles, for example) must be addressed. As we have said before, giving up, doing nothing and waiting for a calamitous train wreck doesn't strike us as a strategy that serves the nation's greater good.
However, it's time for a new congressional strategy on health care: Working together. We aren't unhappy Graham-Cassidy didn't pass because we believe Congress can and should do better.
Democrats and Republicans share blame for today's health care mess because to this point they haven't cooperated on reform. Thus, they share responsibility for fixing the system. The issue begs for leadership and bipartisanship. At the risk of accusations we are oversimplifying something complex, we again ask: What's wrong with a plan for the long term of keeping what works and what Americans like about the ACA and changing what doesn't work and what Americans don't like?
We agree with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who voted against a Republican Obamacare repeal bill in July and said he opposed the Graham-Cassidy bill last month.
“I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” McCain said in a statement on Sept. 22.
By reaching across the aisle, members of Congress can pass health care legislation that will stand the test of time. By working alone, as both sides have done since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Obama in 2010, members merely perpetuate a contentious struggle, leaving Americans caught in the middle.
“We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009,’’ McCain said in his statement. “If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do.’’
From within both political parties, those elected to represent our interests in Washington should seek ways to bridge the divide on the issue of health care reform and embrace a shared commitment to improvement.