People over Politics: the Solution to Healthcare Reform & Effective Gov’t

For years the Republican and Democratic parties have been extremely consistent in their solutions for successful healthcare reform.

The Democrats claim they are the party that cares most about providing healthcare to all Americans, and by default their plans and ideas create the only path toward effective healthcare reform.

Similarly the Republicans have been very direct in stating what they believe to be true; conservatives have the best solution for Americans who are facing rising premiums, substandard plans, and a lack of choice across the country.

And both parties constantly remind us that the opposing party is 100% wrong and their ideas will hurt Americans. In other words, most politicians in both parties are guilty of putting politics ahead of the American people.

How committed is each party to politics over people? How certain is one party that the other has healthcare reform completely wrong? Well, look no further than the individual mandate to purchase healthcare, which was initially proposed by the politically conservative Heritage Foundation in 1989 as an alternative to single-payer health care. However, following the adoption of an individual mandate as a central component of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2009, Republicans began to oppose such a mandate. In 2009, every Republican Senator (including Sen. Bob Bennett, who had co-written a 2007 bill featuring a mandate) described the mandate as “unconstitutional,” and later in 2011 Heritage changed its position, also calling the individual mandate unconstitutional. Why? The answer has to be that Republicans put politics ahead of people.

Ultimately, neither side was willing to compromise or work together for a comprehensive healthcare package and in 2009 with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, the Senate approved sweeping healthcare reform legislation by voting 60–39 split directly along partisan lines, with Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) absent. It was signed into law in March 2010. Democrats could have worked with Republicans for a bi-partisan bill but they didn’t. Instead they put politics ahead of people.

Seven years later the Republicans control the White House and Congress and on July 25, 2017 the Senate voted to begin debate on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. The vote was 51–50 along party lines, with only two exceptions; Sen. Susan Collin (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who voted with democrats against the measure. Despite many Democrats publicly admitting that the ACA was in need of major overhaul not one voted in favor of debating the issue and Vice President Pence cast the 51st vote to break the tie.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) addresses the Senate floor after key healthcare vote

Following the vote, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), recently returned to the Senate after brain surgery, gave a speech on the floor of the Senate challenging the politics over people approach both parties were taking in their effort to reform healthcare. After a humorous and humbling introduction he addressed the motion to debate healthcare reform directly:

I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue and amendments to be offered. I will not vote for the bill as it is today. It’s a shell of a bill right now. We all know that. I have changes urged by my state’s governor that will have to be included to earn my support for final passage of any bill. I know many of you will have to see the bill changed substantially for you to support it.

We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t.

Democrats applauded loudly. For those of us watching C-SPAN you could see each Senator on the left smiling and you could imagine what they were thinking; “the Maverick sure is giving it to his own party!”

McCain went on.

The Obama administration and congressional Democrats shouldn’t have forced through Congress without any opposition support a social and economic change as massive as Obamacare. And we shouldn’t do the same with ours.

Silence among the Democrats. No more smiles. No more cheers.

Senator McCain had a clear message. Stop putting politics ahead of people — do the right thing. A message not well received in Washington although most Americans tired of politics as usual were probably applauding throughout his remarks; I know I was.

Ultimately after the debate was complete the bill failed to receive enough votes for repeal and the ACA was left unchanged as the law of the land. Both sides engaged in politics over people and ultimately the American people lost.

While the healthcare debate was raging in Congress, there was broad bi-partisanship leadership no one was talking about in the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs. These rarely publicized committees would work overtime to pass legislation that would save lives, send surviving spouses back to school, and honor those who died for our country.

Among the bills passed this week:

Emergency Funding for VA Choice Program✔️
Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) Memorial ✔️
Forever GI Bill✔️
VA Appeals Reform✔️

Many dismiss these bi-partisanship achievements as insignificant outside the veteran community because they are bills focused solely on veterans’ issues. Others describe such successes as “easy to support” because of the American public support for our military, families and veterans.

The reality is that each of these bills have a long story and none were easily passed. In fact, many were left for dead months or years ago and all faced their own political challenges. As the Executive Director of a leading post 9/11 veterans organization I’ve seen first hand the challenges each bill has faced over the years and know how each was ultimately passed; by putting people, in this case veterans, ahead of politics.

Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) takes a selfie with vet groups supporting #ForeverGIBill

Was politics involved? Absolutely. The Forever GI Bill legislation died months ago after the pay-for was labelled a tax on veterans by some. It took a group of organizations, led by Student Veterans of America (SVA) who refused to give up and bring it back to life. These brave leaders worked tirelessly with hill staffers, members, and other veterans groups to improve educational benefits for wounded warriors, survivors and future service members. Ultimately, the most sweeping educational bill for veterans since 2008 was passed without adding to the deficit. How? Strong leaders put people ahead of politics.

On these important issues, key members of Congress clearly found common ground. The leadership of Veterans’ Committees; Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN) of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC), both veterans. Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT) of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) decided to work together, display some level of trust, and get things done.

Legislation addressing veterans’ issues doesn’t magically pass Congress without hard work, sacrifice, compromise, and leadership. These leaders along with committee staff and other key members of Congress have genuine and trusted relationships with one another, the VA Secretary Dr. Shulkin, and the veterans groups who represent millions of veterans across the country. These members are dedicated to doing the right thing by veterans and putting people ahead of politics.

All of Congress should follow their lead and consider the recent words of Sen. McCain:

“What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We’re not getting much done apart. I don’t think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work. There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences, but not letting them prevent agreements that don’t require abandonment of core principles, agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people.”

Let’s put people ahead of politics and get healthcare reform done while showing America and the world how effective government works.

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