When children misbehave with toys, you take the toys away and put them in time out. After this week, health-care reform needs to be taken away from Republicans. Let them work through their sulking and door-kicking and calm down until they are capable of something like reflection. If we’re going to let them play again, let them be under closer supervision.
In the past few weeks Republicans made almost everything they said about Obamacare into a lie. They complained that Obamacare was passed with a party-line vote; they decided to pursue repeal the same way. They complained that Obamacare was an unpopular adjustment to the status quo; their own proposals were as popular as throat cancer.
Republicans made lots of hay about Obamacare’s legislative process, too. This week they were forced to burn all that hay and snort the ashes.
Way back when, Republicans made Nancy Pelosi famous for saying that Congress had to pass the bill so Americans could find out what’s in it. Tea Partiers came to Congress promising to “Read the Bill.” But over the past week, Republican senators argued themselves into passing a kind of placeholder bill that many of them claimed to hate so that they themselves could find out what’s in a final version. Ultimately, the great Republican repeal was introduced in the middle of the night for an immediate vote, without debate.
It’s not just shameful and hypocritical, which would be par for the course in most democratic governments. It’s plain embarrassing, too.
You can blame the White House if you like; Trump did none of the leaderly things presidents do on big-lift legislation: setting priorities, twisting arms, sweetening the deal. In fact, the constant sense of nuclear meltdown coming from Pennsylvania Avenue seemed to be adding to the sense of dysfunction on Capitol Hill.
But the fault really lies with Republicans whose “repeal and replace” slogan signified nothing of substance. When faced with the challenge of delivering on their longstanding campaign promise, they had a long list of ideas, only some of them related to health care. But they had no idea of how they fit together in a system of reform. Seven years to think about it, and nothing much to show.
So it’s time to move on. No passable version of health-care reform from this Congress is going to be popular. The GOP should move on to other legislative priorities. Maybe even — egads! — popular measures. Here are a few suggestions.
Trump may be a dysfunctional babysitter, but he’s the one this Congress deserves.
Tax reform. Serious tax-reform proposals have been floating around Congress for years. None is perfect, but several contain good starts. The aim should be to make family formation easier, to lift some of the burden off people who are just starting their working lives. Tilt the gains as much as possible toward the middle class. Lower corporate rates to be more competitive with Europe.
Infrastructure. Want to bring some men back out into the labor force? Hire them to build and repair roads, to expand important airports, and to improve major arteries of transportation. Currently the infrastructure plan is stalled, in part because no one on the Trump side can set priorities, and in part because the administration wants to do it on the cheap, aiming to get $1 trillion in infrastructure for just $200 billion in federal outlays.
Immigration. Fund an attrition-by-enforcement strategy at work sites and work on the problem of visa overstays. Curtail family chain migration by moving toward a merit-based system. This issue is roiling governments worldwide as the costs of emigrating from the developing world fall. It’s not just an opportunity to play catch-up, but an opportunity to get ahead.
Notice a commonality in all these suggestions? Trump ran on them as signature issues. The president may actually get involved and bring some executive leadership to the cause. He may be a dysfunctional babysitter, but he’s the one this Congress deserves.
— Michael Brendan Dougherty is a senior writer at National Review.