With the failure of House GOP leadership to advance their preferred health care reform bill today, there will plenty of armchair quarterbacking this weekend. Indeed, its likely many inside the Beltway will tempt you into believing that the Congressional earmark ban that has been in place since 2010 is to blame. Don’t be fooled. While pork-barrel spending was instrumental in passing Obamacare, it is not the answer to good legislating that serves the best interest of all Americans.
Congressional commentators and journalists have noted that without the ability for House leadership to “cajole” rank-and-file members by rewarding or threatening to take away earmarks that direct money back to their districts, it is impossible for them to corral the votes necessary to pass the House. Contrast this to the earmark era when Obamacare passed that allowed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to hand out goodies to hesitant senators to gain their votes. Two of the most infamous earmarks provided the wining votes to get the bill across the finish line. The Louisiana Purchase that provided an extra $300 million to Louisiana to get former Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) vote and the $100 million Cornhusker Kickback that helped get former Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-NE).
Regardless of what one thinks about Obamacare or the GOP-replacement proposal, we should all be thankful that the fate of a bill that impacts one-sixth of the American economy and is so consequential to every American life is not determined by a bribe that benefits a small set of well-healed constituents and a K Street lobbyist.
As Speaker Ryan, President Trump and the American public are witnessing today, governing is much more difficult than campaigning. Throughout the process of trying to strike a balance of gaining the votes of conservatives without simultaneously losing the votes of moderates, Republicans across the ideological spectrum expressed legitimate reasons to support or oppose the American Health Care Act. We can all be thankful that the process was determined based on these members’ policy convictions rather than the corrupting influence of pork.