On Friday morning, at 6:30 am, I was driving to Ace’s Diner in Belfast, NY for a weekly breakfast with women from my church and listening to Morning Edition on NPR (yes—despite my attempts to be more bipartisan I’m an unrepentant supporter of public radio). What I heard enraged me so much that I turned off the radio in frustration.
A political analyst (I tried to find the segment online but can’t locate it) was talking about how the Graham-Cassidy bill was likely to pass and how this would be a great “victory” for the Republican party. The interviewer asked him about the consequences if the bill did not go through and he said it would be a devastating political “loss.”
This is when I slammed my hand against radio knob. This disgusted me. Why? Because creating access to quality health care for as many people as possible should not be a matter of political victories or defeats. Passing a bill because there are enough votes to pass it (even though there’s not enough time to properly research its consequences, debate it, and get it scored by the Congressional Budget Office) is an example of our political system at its absolute worst.
You understand this. I saw your interview on MSNBC about the bill and you were plainly in a terrible spot. You have been promoting a bi-partisan approach to health care (which I whole-heartedly applaud!) yet your party came up with this strategy for a “political win.” You faced the dilemma of either going back on several months’ worth of talk about the need to work across the aisle or voting against your party while representing a district that’s very solidly Republican. I felt your pain in that interview.
So I felt a great sense of relief on Friday afternoon when I learned that Senator John McCain had declared his opposition to the bill. I felt particularly vindicated that McCain voiced the same opposition that I have. This is not a bill that moves us forward toward health-care solutions. It just swings the political pendulum the other way. If something like this passes, then the next time the Democrats are in power, they will swing it back in their direction. We wouldn’t be able to have any confidence that we know how our health-care system works. And that, I would imagine, is bad for the economy.
I’m grateful that we have a few courageous senators who are willing to take the political risk of being criticized by their party leaders and even insulted by our president. These senators (like Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, and Susan Collins) make it possible for house Republicans like you (with short terms of office and partisan bases) to even imagine bipartisan solutions.
I would like to think that you would be so courageous—that you would come out against your own party in a big, public way for a noble cause. I doubt you have the political capital right now to do it. But perhaps you might decide that the principle matters more than the politics.
I had dinner on Wednesday with Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina (he came to the college where I work to give a talk). He lost his house seat in a primary a few years back because he decided that truth was more important than politics. He knew that taking action to mitigate the damage of climate change was vitally important before his district was ready to hear that message. It’s not easy to be principled. It might cost you everything, politically.
I’m now a registered Republican (remember my Christmas gift to you?) who is ready to vote for you in next spring’s primary if you continue your courageous stance on bi-partisan health care solutions. I know it’s risky for you, but I’m urging you to stay strong.
We’ve started harvesting the apples from the trees in our backyard and are planning on making cider this week. The kids are in full swing with their school activities and I’m enjoying going to my middle child’s soccer games. I hope you’re getting back to the 23rd district often enough to enjoy the glorious fall colors. It may be my favorite time of year.
Your devoted constituent,