Sen. John McCain’s eloquent plea for Democrats and Republicans to learn to work together came before his vote against a pathetic Republican health care plan, and it may have surprised some of his GOP colleagues. But Republicans, and Democrats, would be wise to heed his words.
And now, with the failure of the Republican health care overhaul, which was a catastrophe on all counts – from its gaps that would have left millions of people without insurance to the clumsy support of a president in constant turmoil – Democrats and Republicans do have good reason and a good opportunity to work together.
Trump’s abysmal public approval ratings – somewhere around one-third of poll respondents support him – should free Republican leaders to move on legislative priorities on their own. The president has made himself irrelevant to legislative discussions because he seems so uninformed about the priorities of Congress, and because he’s waist-deep in tumult resulting from various investigations about his campaign and Russia and the chaos inside his White House.
And, in Washington, Republicans have always doubted whether Trump would support them in a time of crisis about their agenda on taxes and health care and foreign policy — or whether he would “toss them under the bus” if he perceived his own stature was at risk.
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So now there is a chance for Republicans to break free, to ignore the White House, and to – gasp – work with Democrats to reform a tax code in need of it, to actually move toward improving the basics of the Affordable Care Act and to get something done.
Democrats now are coming forward to work with Republicans on taxes, though their plan isn’t going to please many in the GOP, as it includes no huge cut in taxes for the rich and would forbid cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Democrats want to avoid an increase in the burden on the middle-class – something both parties talk about but Republicans seem to waffle on if such a promise puts their protect-the-rich priorities in jeopardy.
But Democrats also don’t want to add to the deficit, which in the past has been a shared principle.
Yes, there are gaps, and yes, many Republicans are tied to the idea of cutting taxes on the wealthy, though the logic that giving the rich more money will mean they’ll create more jobs is weakening in the eyes of the public.
Veteran lawmakers such as Charles Shumer, the Democratic Senate leader, and Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, have been around long enough to know that compromise isn’t easy, but both these leaders have engaged in compromise in the past, though they may not have liked it.
Absent Trump – and that’s the approach both parties should now take toward taxes and health care legislation – there’s a chance to follow McCain’s admonition about working together to get something done. Let’s have tweaking in the ACA to make it work better, something for which Republicans can take credit. Let’s have tax reform that eases the burden on the middle class, tightens the reins on the deficit and better manages entitlements – but with an absolute promise to preserve them.
It can be done and it has been done – Bill Clinton, hated for his political skills by Republicans, nevertheless managed to find compromise. And the public, that vast majority in the middle, values accomplishment over partisan triumph, something both sides know. Which is exactly what Sen. McCain was saying.