(CNN)This was far more than a routine legislative flub. It is a warning to congressional Republicans and the Trump White House.
The embarrassing collapse of the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act makes clear the limits of the GOP’s unwise, unworkable insistence on shutting Democrats out of lawmaking. The refusal to move any piece of legislation forward without Democratic votes will bedevil Ryan and Trump as they attempt to rewrite the tax codes, immigration laws and the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar budget.
For decades, success in Congress depended on an alliance between Republicans and conservative, so-called Blue Dog Democrats. The result was a string of centrist deals that marginalized ultra-liberal and super conservative members and allowed legislation to move forward.
That system broke down in the 1990s. Election after election, conservative Democrats got wiped out in the South, while liberal Republicans were rendered extinct in New England and other Northeastern districts.
But having more conservatives in the GOP conference doesn’t always help the party get things done. By making every vote a matter of securing a near-unanimous Republican majority — and by shunning any possibility of working with conservative Democrats on select issues — Ryan, like his predecessor, John Boehner, has placed himself in thrall to the most hard-line conservatives in his conference, the so-called Freedom Caucus.
The parliamentary math is brutally simple. Ryan’s self-imposed requirement to pass legislation by relying exclusively on Republicans means that any group of 23 or more GOP members can hamstring the speaker by denying him a majority — or threatening to do so, an effective power play in its own right.
And that is precisely what the Freedom Caucus, a loose collection of 30 to 40 ultra-conservatives, has chosen to do. Prominent members of the caucus defected from the Ryan bill, with one, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, calling
the Ryan bill “the largest welfare program ever proposed” by Republicans and calling for Congress to simply eliminate Obamacare with no replacement.
“It’s not a repeal. It’s a marketing ploy,” he said of the Ryan bill.
While Brooks and other hard-liners were threatening to jump ship unless Obamacare was eliminated, powerful moderate Republicans like Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chair of the Appropriations Committee, wanted to keep some protections in for the most vulnerable of his constituents.
“Unfortunately, the legislation before the House today is currently unacceptable as it would place significant new costs and barriers to care on my constituents in New Jersey,” Frelinghuysen said shortly before the vote, explaining why he could not support it.
Trump and Ryan say they have no plans to revive health care reform anytime soon. But as they move on to other topics, they should remember the health care debacle — and the folly of putting their agenda at the mercy of extremists.
Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/24/opinions/gop-health-care-bill-louis/index.html