Before We Vilify John McCain

On Friday morning, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) cast the decisive vote and rejected the Health Care Freedom Act, colloquially known as the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act. Sen. McCain’s vote, along with two other Republican senators, left the final tally at 51 nays and 49 yeas, dealing a devastating blow to Republican efforts to repeal ObamaCare.

Conservatives like myself are understandably furious at our elected officials’ seeming inability to make good on their campaign promises. We are ideally situated to reap the gains of nearly a decade of tireless campaigning -- knocking on doors, making thousands of phone calls, and dragging our friends to the polls on election day -- all ensure true conservatives represented us in Washington. 

We did our part.

But let’s face it: the “skinny repeal” was bad law. It reflected a stunning lack of substance, and was intentionally designed to patronize conservative constituents without easing any of ObamaCare’s burdens.

In sum, the bill had two main provisions: a permanent repeal of the individual mandate, and a temporary suspension of the employer mandate and medical device tax. Otherwise, the law made no other substantive changes, leaving intact 411 of ObamaCare’s 419 sections

Most destructively, the law left in place ObamaCare’s tremendously onerous demands of health insurance companies. This, as the American Medical Association explained, would have created a toxic concoction: insurance companies would be forced to cover a wide array of costly conditions, but without revenue from the individual mandate, they would be unable to recoup their losses through federal subsidies (at least without the taxpayers incurring a ghastly expansion in the federal deficit). The American people -- mostly the middle class -- would pay astronomical monthly premiums to make up the difference.

In that light, Sen. McCain’s vote was of sound political judgment. Opportunities for meaningful healthcare reform do not arise often. For example, seventeen years separated Hillary Clinton’s 1993 attempt to overhaul American healthcare and the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. I hate to imagine the grisly electoral consequences for Republicans if they were forced to defend across a seventeen-year span “skinny repeal’s” legacy of higher premiums for inferior care.

Make no mistake: for ObamaCare, the chickens will come home to roost. Even absent interference from the White House, ObamaCare will become what nearly every Democratically-conceived federal entitlement program (notably Social Security and Medicare) has become: an enfeebled government parasite hurtling toward insolvency. Insurers will continue dropping out of the market, healthcare choices will continue to vanish, wait times will continue to increase, and quality of care will continue to decline.

Sure -- millions will be “insured,” but their insurance policies will be about as valuable as the paper on which they are printed. No amount of accounting gimmickry from the Congressional Budget Office -- whose ObamaCare projections have been significantly wrong on virtually every material provision of the law -- or misleading comparisons to Scandinavian “miracles” will change this (predictably, Europe is currently struggling to sustain its public healthcare model, and is considering both rationing and privatizing healthcare access).

Some Democrats will likely sneer at this GOP fumble, but those having any moral compass will not. Indeed, the Democrats’ swindle has paid off; healthcare is now affixed in the body politic psyche as a “human right.” But the Democrats’ modus operandi of using the people’s money to buy power (relying, of course, on the “stupidity of the American voter” to cinch the deal) has put Americans in a perilous position. The exhilarating high of “free healthcare” may bode well for short-term political gain, but the unavoidable rules of economics will one day come to collect, and by that time, Democrats will have moved on to their next scam. The American people, sadly, will be left yet again to foot the bill for another one of the Democratic Party’s “historic” ideas.

As a Republican and a conservative, I refuse to play the Democrats’ crooked game of deception. I believe conservatives are called to a higher standard of statesmanship than that which has been exhibited by the Democratic Party throughout the ObamaCare debacle. Our standard should reject political trickery in favor of deliberation and prudence. The “skinny repeal” reflected neither.

As Sen. McCain remarked after his vote, Republicans must “send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of [the] nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.”

Thomas Wheatley is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia. A regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “All Opinions Are Local” blog, he holds a law degree from the Antonin Scalia Law School and was a 2016 Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute. Email him at tnwheatley@gmail.comand follow him on Twitter @TNWheatley.