I often wonder what happened to the Republican Party, whose banner I carried for many years, starting in the 1960s.
Republicans believed in responsible governmental policies, based on sound evidence. The U.S. Senate was characterized as the greatest deliberative body in the world. Hearings were held to give interested parties the opportunity to testify as to how legislation would affect them and to eliminate any potential problems in the bill before passage. From time to time there were party-line votes but for the most part senators of both parties worked across party lines.
Beginning in the 1990s, the U.S. House embraced party-line voting but the Senate retained its deliberative process. That, however, has changed in the last decade or so. Now, party-line voting is the order of the day, often without regard to the merits of the legislation under consideration. The Senate, like the House, now trots out complicated bills that have not had the benefit of hearings and calls them up for a party-line vote, even before senators have had a chance to read or digest them or learn from their constituents how they will be impacted.
The prime example of this irresponsible conduct is the succession of health care bills that the Senate has brought up for a vote this year without holding hearings or giving constituents a chance to read and comment upon the legislation. Each bill has been substantially different from the preceding one so constituents have been continually blind-sided. What we do know is that each bill eliminated health care coverage for large segments of the population and jeopardized those with pre-existing conditions. Based on apparently informed reports, the present bill would do the same.
It is highly irresponsible for the Republican leadership to essentially pull a bill out of its whatever, without having a single hearing, and immediately put it to a party-line vote, especially where it will affect the well-being of millions of people and one-sixth of the U.S. economy. The medical and insurance industries are largely opposed to the present bill because of the disruption and uncertainty it will bring to the marketplace. The Idaho Medical Association and Idaho Hospital Association have come out against the bill, as have many organizations representing people who stand to lose health coverage.
From what is known of the Republican bill, rural hospitals will be devastated, many children will be unable to get necessary care under the CHIP program, and insurance premiums for Idahoans and others will see substantial increases. Each of the 50 states will have two years to devise its own health care plan. We have already seen how well that has worked in Idaho with regard to only a part of the problem--trying to deal with the Medicaid gap.
This is no way to make important public policy. Legislation with such far-reaching effects should be thoroughly vetted. The public, including members of the Senate, should have a chance to learn what is in the legislation and the opportunity to be heard. The provisions of the bill should be supported by the evidence.
At minimum, the Congressional Budget Office should be given enough time to thoroughly review the bill and inform Senators as to how it will impact the public. Why keep the bill in hiding until it is sprung on the floor for a vote? If it has the merits its proponents claim, why not let everyone see for themselves? Taking action on a bill without understanding how it may affect the economy or impact people’s lives is something that responsible Republicans would never have done back when I grew up in the party.
And, it is not enough to say that the other party did it when it was in power. Even if that were the case, it does not excuse bad conduct. When a party is in power it is obligated under our constitutional scheme to act responsibly and in the public interest. Just because Johnny acted bady on the playground did not excuse misconduct on my part, according to Mrs. Molyneuex, my grade school teacher. When senators do not act responsibly or deliberatively, they should be retired by their constituents.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.