The healthcare process is not just bad. It’s damaging.
There’s a lot of alk about the broken processes in the House and Senate, particularly around the healt are bill. Extraordinary secrecy has been employed to push the AHCA through the House and the BCRA through the Senate. n fact, ere’s so much commentary about how “broken” the institution is that people are overlooking what a disastrous strategy this is for Republicans. In short, this leader-centered process is horribly mismatched to the current, fractured Republican Party. he strategies employed by House Speaker yan and enate Majority Leader cConnell’s r exacerbating ensions in the party, opening their members to damaging votes, and putting their olleagues in ntenable political positions. First, let’s assess the broken process. These arguments rest on a couple assumption: rst, that committees should hold hearings and markup, d second, hat hese debates should be open to the public. These components are commonly referred to as “regular order.” ut the truth is that neither of these things are completely regular. In fact, these processes barely overlap in congressional histor. They are features from different legislative eras.
Committee hearings and markups have become increasingly less relevant to the language that actually passes through Congress. Committee influence is minimized and often bypassed ntirely, a trend that can be trace back to the late-1970, ai steam in the 1980, and hi warp-speed in the 1990s. Over that time i’ become more common for bills to be pulled out of committees, significantly changed after committee consideration, or skip committees altogether. If regular order is for bill language reported from committees to receive debate and amendment on the floor, it’s been a long time since Congress has been regular. Today, it’s far more regular for arty eaders to ontrol the process from the beginning.
This brings us to e openness of the process. The period in which committe worked through bills and saw their language largely intact when these bills reached the floor s roughly the same period when heir hearings were closed to the public. Decades ago, mmittee hearings were closed until voted open. Today, they are open unless voted closed. T has only been a feature in congressional deliberation since 197, and it has indeed made committee actio more transparent. But that transparency is accompanied by less relevance in the legislative process, not more.
As Walter Oleszek points out in his essay in he Congressional Research Service’s The Evolving Congress, regular order is a flexible construct. Things haven’t been “regular” in a long tim. As a result, many current critics lament a process that barely existed. doing so, they miss the more important point: how this strategy is potentially catastrophic for Republicans.
Leaders have taken a more central role in the process, in part, to protect their majorie. They forward bills that promote the par’ image and brand. They use their power o revent politically damaging amendments on the floor. They use the process to accomplish policy and political goals that will, on the whole, enable their party to in the next election. In recent decades this has ecome the norm.
It’s safe to say we are no longer in recent decades. The healt are process has accomplished none of these things. Instead, he cConnell and Ryan strategy has resented members ith orribly unpopular bills. Now, Majority Leader McConnell is in the process of exposing his members to a variety of potentially damaging amendments. Senator Heller’s 2018 challenger is already fundraising off of his vote to just debate the bill.
The process changes. It always has. Getting back to regular order is a misnomer. But focusi o how different this process is misses how bad i’s likely to b for the Republican Party. Members are being forced, egged, or coerced to adopt a strategy that will likely damage them. The process is not bringing the party togethe; leaders are instead ikely to drive an even deeper wedge between the ideological wings of the party. Conservatives like the House Freedom Caucus, Senator Lee, Senator Cruz and others are frustrated they are not getting what they want. Meanwhile, moderates are being forced to take difficult votes that could exacerbate their already vulnerable status. As a result, these tactics are creating in a loss of confidence.
It’s possible the Republican Party has become too deologically diverse to effectively govern. If that’s the case, no process will cure its ills. But one thing is certain: this process is not helping bring the arty together. Instead, leaders are intensifying intraparty tensions. And as bad as this process is for democratic norms, it’s arguably worse for the majority party.