The Obamacare replacement plan offered by Republicans, called the American Health Care Act, has been met with a chilly reception amongst conservatives. Still, while some like Senator Rand Paul have tarred the bill as “Obamacare Lite,” there are others like Speaker Paul Ryan who believe that, “this is the closest we will ever get to Obamacare repeal.”
Tempted as I am to gravitate towards Rand’s blunt talk and concur with his fellow Senate conservative Mike Lee that this bill marks a, “step in the wrong direction,” I am mindful that the entire architecture of Obamacare was designed to make full repeal nearly impossible.
One of the things that made Chief Justice John Robert’s judicial activism in saving Obamacare so devastating according to most all conservative pundits at the time was that it marked the last chance to halt the inexorable hand of government from deeply entwining itself into the intricacies of the American healthcare system. Once that happened, once government evicted private enterprise in key areas and took its place, any attempt to undo it later would leave gaping wounds in the system that would be not just undesirable, but untenable.
That’s why the smartest way forward for conservatives may not be obstinate dismissal of the AHCA, but instead the measured and deliberate approach to improve it by of one of the Senate’s most consistent conservatives: Ted Cruz.
If there’s one man in Washington who can’t be accused of willingness to compromise conservatism on the healthcare issue, it’s Cruz. It was Cruz who led an 18-hour filibuster against Obamacare even when he was blasted by his own party leadership for doing so. It was Cruz who worked so tirelessly to defund the travesty that it forced a government shutdown much to the consternation of fellow, weaker Republicans. It was Cruz who recently squared off against socialized medicine proponent Bernie Sanders on his home turf of CNN, schooling the Vermont demagogue on the merits of free enterprise. And it is Cruz who has outlined in his own Politico piece the details of full repeal he desires.
Of anyone, Cruz has earned conservatives’ confidence and trust on the issue. So when he demurs from running down the newly-unveiled AHCA saying, “I’m not interested in labels, I’m interested in substance,” he deserves a hearing. That isn’t to say that the Texas Senator doesn’t have serious concerns about the content of the law as written. James Arkin reports at RealClearPolitics:
“Cruz hasn’t shied away from his concerns with the legislation. He takes issue with the structure of tax credits included to help people afford insurance, saying he doesn’t think “creating new entitlements is the right approach.” He said the Medicaid expansion should freeze enrollment immediately, not in 2020 as is currently written. And he advocated for a block grant approach to Medicaid, rather than the per capita allotment in the House legislation.”
But rather than fight those battles publicly, Cruz seems to be opting for a private, behind-closed-doors approach to improving the bill. In recent days he has met personally with party leaders in Congress, and with both Vice President Pence and President Trump, declaring each to be “very productive” conversations.
His efforts have surprised some in Washington who have long considered Cruz to be more of a showman than a legislative workhorse. But that characterization of Cruz always misunderstood the power dynamic in D.C. As Cruz explained it,
“Barack Obama did not care what Congress had to say and did not listen to us. The only way to combat Obama was in the public arena. With a Republican president and an administration that wants to solve this problem, there is a lot of room for us to work together productively.”
That could be the appeasing language of yet another compromising politician. Or it could be the pragmatic voice of a steely-eyed conservative who sees a real chance at victory in undoing the tragedy of Obamacare. For my money, Ted Cruz has earned the right to prove it’s the latter.