Justin Amash

Freedom Caucus Republicans Criticize the Obamacare Revamp They Voted for

Justin Amash, Mark Sanford, and a half-dozen others describe AHCA as a "marginal" win that will hopefully be improved in the Senate.


Justin Amash, Walter Jones, and Mark Sanford, at a Young Americans for Liberty conference. ||| Gage Skidmore
Gage Skidmore

So how did the libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) end up justifying his controversial vote for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which, as noted (and sniffily disregarded) by The Week's Damon Linker, has been roundly slammed by libertarians? By writing, as he always does, a Facebook post (duly characterized by the Washington Post's Amber Phillips as "tortured"). The cheery opening sentence: "This is not the bill we promised the American people."

Amash then goes on to explain his thought process more fully:

When deciding whether to support a bill, I ask myself whether the bill improves upon existing law, not whether I would advocate for the policy or program if I were starting with a blank slate. In other words, the proper analysis is not whether it makes the law good but rather whether it makes the law better. In this case, I felt comfortable advancing the bill to the Senate as a marginal improvement to the ACA.

Read the whole thing for more in that vein. But for the purposes of this post I'm actually more interested in Amash's smack-talk. Because one of the more striking things about this historic 217-213 vote is how many of its all-Republican supporters have been willing to acknowledge that it really ain't all that. First up, more Amash:

The AHCA repeals fewer than 10 percent of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act. It is an amendment to the ACA that deliberately maintains Obamacare's framework. […]

Many have questioned the process that led up to the vote on May 4. I have publicly expressed my disgust with it. The House again operated in top-down fashion rather than as a deliberative body that respects the diversity of its membership. […]

[T]he ACA will continue to drive up the cost of health insurance—while bolstering the largest insurance companies—and the modifications contained in the AHCA cannot save it. Many of the AHCA's provisions are poorly conceived or improperly implemented. At best, it will make Obamacare less bad.

Below, some other Trumpcare critiques from yes-voting members of the House Freedom Caucus. As with Amash, click on the links for the whole context, which invariably includes more positive sentiments.

* Steve Pearce (New Mexico): "It still has deep flaws – you could find a dozen reasons to vote against it."

* Rod Blum (Iowa): "I have always said the process was bad….It was rushed. There should have been hearings."

* Mark Sanford (South Carolina):

[U]ltimately the vote came down to one simple question: do we kill the bill and stop the debate from advancing to the Senate — or not?

In its original form back in March, my vote was indeed to kill the bill. It was rushed and not ready. With the three amendments that came after my and others' efforts to shut down the bill, it's my belief that it was at least worth letting the Senate debate it. […]

In short, this week's vote means simply that you and I will be talking about this issue for months to come, and I earnestly look forward to those conversations and the learning that will come with them.

* Trent Franks (Arizona):

The congressman said the bill "fell far short of what I wanted" but saw it as a necessary evil of sorts.

"I just came to the conclusion that, given the circumstances that we're in, that it would hurt us far worse not to see it pass than it will to pass it[.]"

* Jim Jordan (Ohio): "This is the best bill we can get out of the House…But frankly, we should be clear this is not repeal of ObamaCare. If it was repeal, you wouldn't need the option for a waiver option for states to seek. So, we have to be clear with the voters about that, and continue to work on it."

* Scott Perry (Pennsylvania): "While it's important to recognize the American Health Care Act does not repeal the Affordable Care Act in full, it is a first step, albeit an imperfect one."

* Evan Jenkins (West Virginia): "This was a tough call….Is it a perfect solution? No….It goes to the Senate. Work will continue. Doing nothing wasn't an option."

There are, to be sure, more upbeat reactions from other Freedom Caucus members.

My strong hunch, now more than ever, is that the Freedom Caucus largely wilted in the glare of attention from President Donald Trump—which was at first very negative (especially toward intellectual ringleader/rebel Amash), and then bluff-callingly positive, in a YOU-write-the-damn-bill kinda way. As Caucus Chair Mark Meadows recently and tellingly said, "When you get a phone call from the president and that's followed up by a phone call from the president, followed up by a phone call from the vice president — it needs to get done." (And as Libertarian Party National Chair Nicholas Sarwark snarked, "Passage of the AHCA is an example of the broken Washington culture that says, 'We have to do something. This is something. We have to do this.'")

There were three basic assumptions required for Freedom Caucusites to get to "yes": 1) It will make the health care system incrementally better (Peter Suderman disagrees, FWIW). 2) Seven years of political grandstanding to the contrary, there is no hope of Congress actually replacing Obamacare. (As Amash put it, "it is increasingly clear that a bill to repeal Obamacare will not come to the floor in this Congress or in the foreseeable future.") Furthermore, 3) getting Freedom Caucus fingerprints on the thing is the only bulwark preventing whatever comes next from lurching significantly to the left.

On that last point in particular, the Freedom Caucus can certainly crow that its leader, Mark Meadows, has become the House's point man in AHCA discussions with the Senate. Better that than some squish from the Tuesday Group, members plausibly argue. What's more, they may have stumbled on a new blueprint for big legislative heaves in the Trump era: Go to the Freedom Caucus first.

But in that victory lies the seeds of defeat. If all it takes for a group of notorious "hardliners" to abandon many of their long-held principles is a little carrot-stick action from a president famous for his negotiating acumen, they may have effectively handed Trump a get-out-of-obstruction-free card. In the process they risk not just alienating their own hardcore base of fiscal and constitutional conservatives, but corroding the philosophical glue that has until now held a small unit together and allowed it punch far above its collective weight.

If the AHCA somehow manages to survive through Senate deliberations and the resulting negotiating process with the House, you may see many of the people quoted above voting against the very deal they made possible. Would the electorate then let them off the hook? Would members stay the course even if theirs was the swing vote and President Trump got super mean on Twitter? And could the Freedom Caucus survive in the face of such tumult? These are just a few of the questions.

NEXT: The AHCA Waivers Could Bring the Toxic Politics of Health Care to Every State Capitol

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  1. If only there were some process by which representatives could change the content of laws brought before the House.

    1. There is. You twist the arms of the Freedom Caucus till about 25-30 of them decide to roll over. The moderates can then be bludgeoned into voting the way you want. A sweetener here or there, and the “well, it is not perfect but…”

  2. Even if the bill is a marginal improvement over the existing law, the problem, in this case, is that we won’t be able to get a better fix for a long time. People will wipe their hands and go “health care is fixed.”

  3. So how did the libertarian Rep. Justin Amash

    STOP. He is a Republican. There are no libertarians in Congress, even as some assholes try to play one on TV.

    1. Do you even case, bro? You used Big R “Republican” and little l “libertarian”. You are comparing apples and oranges.

      There are no Libertarians in Congress. There may well be “libertarians”, since it’s just an adjective and pretty much means whatever anybody wants it to mean. It’s not a trademark.

  4. Being a “small unit” in a democratic body means sometomes going with crap if you are ever going to get anything you want done.

    1. Being a “small unit” in a democratic body means sometomes going with crap if you are ever going to get anything you want done getting stomped on forever and ever, amen.

    2. ”A Small Unit In a Democratic Body” is the subtitle to Fists’s upcoming memoir, Finishing Last While Being First.

  5. Not only am I scared, I am also confused.

  6. The definition of insanity used to be “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”; I propose that for the legislature, it becomes “doing anything that actually accomplishes a stated result”.
    Nothing anywhere near that bill looks at all like “repeal and replace”.

    1. Well, really that’s just Einstein’s definition if we’re being honest. Which is probably good enough for most of us.

  7. “Many have questioned the process that led up to the vote on May 4. I have publicly expressed my disgust with it. The House again operated in top-down fashion rather than as a deliberative body that respects the diversity of its membership.”

    But you still voted for the bill, Justin. You can be Donald Trump’s bitch, or you can have principles. But you can’t do both.

  8. I don’t understand something.

    Yes the Freedom Caucus (and fellow travelers) denounced the process. And they didn’t like the final result: COMPARED TO WHAT THEY WANTED.

    It was a 217 to 213 vote. If it was ANYTHING remotely what we (anyone with a libertarian leaning) it wouldn’t have passed.

    Amash et al are all saying the bill sucks, but is better than nothing (which is certainly a debatable position). But how does this indicate they compromised their principles?

    Blame the fucking “moderate” Republicans.

    1. It is worthwhile to have the person calling them on it. They can say that it was a necessary evil, but it is worthwhile to have journalists calling them on their inconsistencies.

      1. The Freedom Caucus is stuck in an awkward position. They do not have anywhere near the votes to win the day on the type of bill they would want. They had enough votes to scuttle this bill, but as a practical matter doing that is voting for keeping the ACA intact for the forseeable future.

        1. It’s easy to be ideologically pure when you have no actual power and your decisions carry no consequence for anyone, ‘to be sure’.

        2. In their (the “Freedom Caucus”) defense, they can rest assured the US Senate will significantly alter the bill and they’ll get an opportunity to revisit their vote. Thus, sending “something” over to the other legislative body, on the outside chance they’ll improve upon it, isn’t too bad a plan. I know! I’m being too easy on them.

          Amash is now trying to repair his reputation by calling for a witch hunt — er, I mean a Special Prosecutor — into the Russia thing. It’s all kind of pathetic, isn’t it?

  9. Hard to disagree with Welch. Or with Amash. Or with Sanford.

    Politics sucks.

  10. As a supporter of Medicare-For-All, I will be going through a lot of Orville Reddenbacher this summer!

  11. Amash decided that the AHCA was not the hill to die on. It was clear that Republicans as a whole completely supported the main elements of Obamacare. It was predicted that the Senate would kill the AHCA anyway and there was nothing to gain by opposing it now. Somehow, I don’t see McConnell being able to forge a decent bill from the pile of steaming manure that he was sent.

    How could the Freedom Caucus hope to explain why the AHCA was such a pile of garbage when Ryan allows no debate. The press certainly wasn’t helping. They carried the Democrats water by constantly repeating “24 million people will lose healthcare” and never once allowing the obvious counter that if Obamacare remained, the entire system would collapse.

    A really courageous politician would have replied that he hoped that only 24 million people would lose coverage because Obamacare would result in complete collapse of the market stranding far more people. I had hoped that Amash would do this, but no.

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