The failure of House Republican leadership to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a bill that was to set in motion the repeal of Obamacare, revealed a lot of the things that are still wrong in Washington, D.C. That is, even though many expect President Donald Trump to change Washington and “drain the swamp,” that evolution will be slow.
For starters, the usual process of powerbrokers crafting legislation behind the scenes, likely with the influence of lobbyists on K Street, is still a problem. The traditional means of doing things in committee with witness testimonies and amendments just does not happen with major legislation anymore. It is all done away from the spotlight.
There are a number of examples to back this up: the 2008 TARP bailout, the 2009 stimulus, the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the last several government funding bills. They were all significant pieces of legislation, passed by Congress, but done in a rush of urgency without spotlight.
This time, even with a GOP-led Congress and a Republican in the White House, it was not any different — despite Trump’s “drain the swamp” pledge.
It also showed Trump’s use of Twitter and his other strong-arm tactics through the media and by his senior staffers are not really going to get things done. While that might have been effective rounding up votes in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it does not seem to sway stubborn members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
So as far as last week’s failure goes, it was a lesson for a lot of people.
Closer to home, this failed process also revealed Alabama’s congressional delegation is not united.
Obviously, Rep. Terri Sewell, our state’s lone Democrat, was opposed to this bill, as all Democrats indicated they were. But the Republican members of Alabama’s delegation were mixed.
Rep. Robert Aderholt, Martha Roby, Mike Rogers and Bradley Byrne all publicly voiced their support for the effort. And after House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill from the floor on Friday, they all expressed disappointment.
That frustration may either be due to their loyalties to House GOP leadership, or it could be because it was a policy Trump ran on and remains a promise unfulfilled.
The two who indicated they would be “no” votes were Reps. Gary Palmer and Mo Brooks. Those two members fell in line with the House Freedom Caucus, the right flank of the Republican majority in Congress.
Yes, as conservative as Alabama may seem, only two of the seven fall in line with the hard ideological right wing of the Republican Party in Congress.
None of this should be surprising. We have always kind of known there were members of the Alabama delegation who are very loyal to Speaker Ryan and his predecessor, John Boehner. Roby, Aderholt and Rogers are the type of House members that go along with what leadership wants because, in the end, that loyalty will give them an edge in getting benefits for their congressional districts and re-election campaigns.
It also should not be surprising Brooks — given his career in Madison County and state politics — and Palmer — the former head of a state policy think tank — would both align themselves with the House Freedom Caucus, a body that prioritizes ideology over going along to get along.
As for Byrne, southwest Alabama’s member of Congress, it has been an evolution for him and his tack on President Trump.
Last summer, when the media released the “Access Hollywood” tapes — revealing Trump once made some inappropriate comments about his interactions with women — Byrne immediately condemned him and even called on Trump to cede the nomination to his running mate, Mike Pence.
However, once Trump was elected president, Byrne seemed to come around. He even appeared at his post-election “Thank You Tour” stop in Mobile.
Byrne’s loyalty to the House leadership earned him a spot on the House Rules Committee, one of the more powerful committees, often seen as an arm of the House leadership.
Signs of this loyalty were also on display last week when he was one of the most vocal champions of the AHCA and was solidly behind Speaker Ryan.
It remains to be seen if Byrne’s loyalty to Ryan will pay off for Alabama’s first congressional district and/or Byrne’s political future.
Byrne’s leanings seem to validate the results of prior Republican primaries. Twice GOP voters chose Byrne over Orange Beach businessman Dean Young, who ran on being a straight-up ideologue.
It is probably safe to say if Young had beat Byrne, he would have objected to the AHCA, and probably a lot of other House Republicans have done under the leadership of this speaker.
Going forward, there will be other inter-party skirmishes as Congress is set to take up border security and tax reform. The health care fight can be a bellwether in determining where each member lines up on those issues — the compromise Ryan-Trump position, a strict ideological one or an obstructionist position.