Members of the House Freedom Caucus have shown they want the moon, or nothing, when considering reform of health-care policy. They aren’t going to get the moon, so what they should do is nothing. If they won’t vote “yes,” they also should not vote “no” and not vote “present” either. Just put out a press release making all their usual assertions that everybody else is a weak-kneed coward unwilling to stand on principle, and then, in a great show of moral purity, walk out of the House chamber in protest just as the vote is being called.
That way, they will be able to signal their disgust without actually killing the only extant vehicle to replace Obamacare with something that tremendously improves Medicaid, expands health-savings accounts, re-introduces market forces into the system, repeals numerous taxes, and reduces the federal debt (compared to current law) bytens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.
For the bill to pass the House at this stage, it does not need a majority of all elected House members; it needs a majority of those present and voting. So for every two congressmen who walk out in protest, the number of votes needed for passage drops by one.
A walk-out thus would signal that they strongly disapprove of the bill as currently constituted and that they will oppose it when it comes back from the Senate unless it has been substantially improved. But it wouldn’t undermine their leadership and a new administration of their own party, poke a finger in the eye of fellow conservative Republicans trying sincerely to navigate difficult legislative terrain, or relegate 320 million Americans to a continuation of an unimproved Obamacare system that is a job-killing, choice-destroying, premium-hiking nightmare.
What the Freedom Caucus must understand is that this vote today essentially amounts to a procedural ballot. It merely provides a blueprint from which the Senate can work. The Senate will probably take several months, if the bill is sent its way, to re-mold it and fix any flaws while the Freedom Caucus weighs in from across the Capitol, knowing that its block of votes eventually will be crucial. When the Senate has done its work, the bill will go back to the House — and then, not before, will come the vote on final passage at which time the Freedom Caucus can decide once and for all if the new legislation well serves the American public.
Of course most of the Freedom Caucus believes the Senate will make the bill worse rather than better. But what’s the harm in finding out? Whom does it hurt? To repeat: This vote scheduled for today is not a vote to send a bill to the Oval Office for the president’s signature. This is merely a vote to keep the process going. If the Freedom Caucus doesn’t want to signal assent, fine — but there is no reason it should deny the ability of the vast super-majority of their Republican colleagues to try to uphold their own pledges to replace Obamacare with something better.
There are times to stand firm — and other times to cooperate for the good of the order while at least showing respect for the efforts of usually allied colleagues, even if cooperation just means temporarily getting out of the way.