Health care failure is bipartisan

“Think of it as a starter house,” former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin said in 2010 of the newly minted (and already dented) Affordable Care Act.

His meaning, if it isn’t clear, was that the ACA, or Obamacare, never was intended to be stagnant. It was what the Democratic majority had the political will to pass, a product of compromise and, therefore, fell short of many party members’ aspirations.

Flip the partisan majority, fast forward to 2017, and the similarities are obvious. In the weeks ahead we’ll learn if Republicans have the political will to compromise.

Perhaps more important, if the goal is to stabilize health care, we’ll discover if Democrats can better stomach massive renovations or full demolition. And, yes, those are the remaining options.

Harkin’s starter home, too cheaply constructed, is buckling under years of neglect.

Republicans, back in 2009 and 2010, didn’t merely refuse to purchase the house. They objected to how it was built. The roof was being raised too quickly, they said, and only Democrats were making design decisions.

Healthcare activists are detained by Capitol Police after gathering to protest the Republican healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2017.
Healthcare activists are detained by Capitol Police after gathering to protest the Republican healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Both assertions were false. Republican amendments were considered and accepted during bill debate lasting the better part of a year. Contrasted with the House Republican’s health care bill earlier this year that was crafted behind closed doors, introduced and slated for a vote 18 dayslater, the 2009 Democratic House timeline of nearly six months seems excessive.

Harkin, who led the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, considered nearly 800 amendments with three-quarters coming from Republicans. Of those, 161 were wholly or partially adopted, most by unanimous consent.

In the Senate Finance Committee, where Sen. Chuck Grassley held leadership, nearly 600 amendments were filed, many of those by Republicans and several also accepted by unanimous consent.

Hours of open debate in those committees resulted in bills, which later were combined and passed into law. During the final vote, no Republicans supported the bill.

Instead of the Democrats’ dream home with public option counter tops, the party (and the nation) got the starter house with leaky private market faucets.

In the following midterm elections, Republicans were handed a majority and a set of house keys. The GOP-controlled House took 54 ACA-related votes during the next four years that primarily sought to wholly or partially dismantle the ACA. Only nine measures, some tucked within large budget packages, ultimately were signed into law.

Promises of wrecking balls followed by new construction were made, but haven’t yet come to pass.

So, here we all are, huddled in our dilapidated starter home, wondering where we’ll move next. The few that over indulged in the red or blue Kool-Aid eagerly await further decay, so long as its remembered correctly in November.

Are we more angry about the cheap construction or the ongoing abuse and neglect? Neither mends the damage.

Maybe, when our little starter has been reduced to rubble, necessity will be a call to action that both parties answer.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 22, 2017. Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters