Why the Freedom Caucus’ Negotiations Are Not a Victory for the Right

To suggest that the Freedom Caucus’ endorsement of the Affordable Health Care Act, with the addition of the MacArthur Amendment, is a victory rather than a capitulation is ludicrous.

The move was a pivot away from principles, not just the hard-line right-wing ideology the caucus has been charged with advancing, but the basic principle of integrity.

The Freedom Caucus’ move is dishonest in two parts: it breaks the covenant they made with voters, to whom they promised to fight for full repeal, and rewrites the narrative of the right’s struggle against Obamacare by suggesting opposition has always been about the lowering of premiums.

The MacArthur Amendment, the work of Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), a member of the moderate Tuesday Group, supposedly represents a blow against Obamacare because it would allow state governors to seek a waiver from several of the bill’s mandates—including the mandatory essential health benefits all plans are required to have and the stipulation that insurers cannot charge more for those with pre-existing conditions. But there’s a catch—states must demonstrate that they will fund high-risk pools to ensure that the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions do not suffer economically.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) expressed the Freedom Caucus’ support for the bill on Morning Joe, saying “I’m convinced if states get this waiver premiums will come down for those families who happen to be in those states.”

And this is the line around which the right has rallied to sell this as a wholesale victory—freedom of choice through the states. But is this actually the case?

The operative word in Jordan’s statement is “if,” because it is not as if states who wish to opt out can simply do so without condition. States must prove to the federal government that they will comply with certain conditions—conditions the government has sole power to set. It is extremely dishonest, then, to paint this as a victory on the grounds that it moves towards freedom-of-choice through the states; the states are still subservient to the federal government.

Worse still, this is a victory so contingent on conditionalities—on the willingness for governors to rise above partisan politics at both the state and federal levels—that this is a largely meaningless “victory” for many voters, as Jordan himself admitted when he stated, the amendment is “at least going to get the option for some states to get this waiver to lower premiums.”

Even the Freedom Caucus leaders, then admit, if only implicitly, that this is not a substantive win, but a much more paltry victory. Having defaulted on their responsibility once, the Freedom Caucus repeats the sin by deferring the meat of full repeal to the Senate. As Jordan further explained, the House will “send [the bill] over to the Senate and some of our conservative colleagues over there will have more work to do to actually accomplish what the voters sent us here to do.”

This is an incredible statement, which reveals even the most conservative members of the House find it acceptable to contract out their legislative duty to another part of government. This is not the House recognizing that there is a collaborative process to legislating; it is an admission that the members are expecting another body to fight the battle they’ve apparently decided to cede.

One can’t help but ask, what happened to the fiery defiance of a month ago when members of the Freedom Caucus risked the wrath of a president notable for vowing the destruction of his political opponents? What take such a stand, couched in the evocative language of loyalty to voters at all costs, then abandon it, worse still, gloss over it ever occurring, a mere month later?

How quickly the hardened battle cry of the modern right turns into the pathetic whelp of, “This is the best we’re going to get.”

Are we really supposed to tout the painful eking out of such small-scale victories as the halcyon standard of Republican victory, especially when the GOP controls not only the presidency but both houses of Congress? What a sad commentary on the political ambitions of the modern era.

Besides, initial opposition to government was about more than financial cost; it was about the cost to freedom implicit in government seizure of the largest sector of the American economy. Obamacare was a change in the very fabric of American culture (for proof of this, one need only look at the remarkable genesis of the right’s position over the past eight years, from simple “repeal” to “repeal and replace” to “keep down premium rates). If this massive redefining of the relationship between individual and government, which gave the executive power to set the terms over what constitutes being a citizen of good standing, is not a bastion to be defended at all costs, then what issue rises to a level of such moral exigence that the right will fight to the last to preserve?

Also published on Medium.

All content protected by copyright. The Politics of Discretion, 2016.
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