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No, the House Freedom Caucus isn’t a bunch of purists

Rebutting a Dennis Prager column

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The conservative House Freedom Caucus opposed the proposed “American Health Care Act” —a.k.a. RINOcare — because it was a lousy bill. It was a lousy bill because Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has a political tin-ear. Unfortunately, some pundits are going for the easier explanation that RINOcare failed because the House Freedom Caucus is ideologically rigid.

Here is conservative radio show host and author Dennis Prager:

According to the New York Times, ten moderates, 15 conservatives, and eight other Republicans would have voted against the Republican repeal-and-replace Obamacare Bill. So, then, 15 or so conservatives made it impossible to pass the bill favored by nearly every other Republican and by President Donald Trump. If that is the case, what we have here is another conservative example of purism and principle damaging another major opportunity to do good.

Webster’s defines a purist as “a person who adheres strictly and often excessively to a tradition.” Substitute “ideology for “tradition” and you have the definition that Prager uses.

Yet if the members of the House Freedom Caucus were purists, why were they negotiating with Ryan and President Trump at the last minute? RINOcare still contained tax credits for the purchase of insurance at that point, a provision that many House Freedom Caucus members opposed. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), for example, disparaged tax credits as a “new entitlement.”

In the final negotiations, however, repealing Obamacare’s prohibition on insurers denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions is what members of the House Freedom Caucus wanted but could not get. Tax credits weren’t even an issue. That the House Freedom Caucus had conceded on such a large issue as tax credits strongly suggests that they are not purists.

The bulk of the blame lies with Ryan. If one needs more evidence that Ryan is not fit to be Speaker, look at how many votes short RINOcare was of passage. There are currently 237 Republican members of the House and 216 votes are needed to pass a bill. If 33 Republicans were opposed to the bill, then RINOcare was 12 votes short.

That may not seem like a lot, but for a bill that the House leadership intends to bring up for a vote, it is YUUUGE! Speakers don’t usually move to a floor vote unless they have a majority or are no more than three or four votes short. Ryan ended up with egg on his face because he never consulted with most of the GOP conference before releasing RINOcare.

Ryan has a history of doing this kind of thing.

As John Ellis notes at the American Thinker:

As the 2016 primary election season was about to begin, Ryan negotiated with the Obama administration an omnibus budget bill once more without bothering to find out what his party would and would not accept. And so he was surprised to find that his Republicans were more than disappointed: they were furious….

The same wonkish narrow vision and consequent political blindness was already apparent in 2012 when in the middle of an election season in which he was a Vice-Presidential candidate, again without first getting his colleagues on board, Ryan suddenly proposed a radical reform of Medicare. His colleagues immediately found themselves having to deal with the fallout (in mid-election) from Ryan’s politically hazardous proposal. It was one more demonstration of Ryan’s lack of political judgment: he had had what he thought was a good idea, and so floated it, without the slightest regard for the political context.

Prager may be correct in stating, “Passing even a tepid first bill to begin the process of dismantling the crushing burden of Obamacare would have been an important first step in weakening the Left.”

But given the way Ryan rolled out the bill, how could the members of the House Freedom Caucus trust that this was the beginning of a process?

And even if it was, how could they be sure that Ryan would consult with them and other members of the Republican conference for the remainder of the process?

Voting for the bill would have sent Ryan the message, “Hey, it’s okay to leave us out in the future, too.”