Winning is Easy, Governing is Harder

As our nation’s leaders return to work after celebrating our independence, GOP Senators have some big decisions before them.  And while most Republicans, Democrats, and fed up Americans I talk to aren’t optimistic about the ability of our leaders to tackle our biggest problems, U.S. Senators of both parties have an opportunity to begin earning our trust again. They have the choice to begin solving problems in a way that will appease both sides of the aisle, but most importantly will benefit the Americans who are in desperate need of these solutions most.

In order to rebuild this trust, they will have to choose a path many of them have forgotten. They will have to forego the fear-mongering that helps them fundraise, discard the political posturing that makes them and their political bases feel good, and begin the hard work of governing.

A word on that word, “governing.” It’s popular in political circles to proclaim that we must “get government working again” or that “we have to truly govern.” Yet, more often than not, these are euphemisms for passing legislation or holding press conferences just to keep up the appearance that members of Congress are actually doing something worthwhile in Washington. Democrats and Republicans alike have made demands to their political enemies to “stop obstructing and govern” as a substitute for actually negotiating. Leaders have used these phrases to cast their opponents as obstructionists of bad legislation instead of addressing the very legitimate concerns. The American people are oblivious to all of this nonsense, too busy putting food on the table, taking their family and friends to doctor’s appointments, and still trying to make their kid’s little league game.

The hard work of governing is something else altogether – working to achieve a bipartisan consensus, some true incremental reform that makes life easier for the single mom with an insanely high health insurance deductible and the family working 3.5 jobs just to pay the bills and have one vacation a year.

This brings me to the congressional battle over health care reform.

I won’t be wading into the weeds of health care reform specifics here, although Yuval Levin has an excellent breakdown of the latest proposal. Instead, it’s important to note the political process surrounding the health care debate and how our toxic political climate can be improved along the way.

A big reason ObamaCare doesn’t work is because it never had bipartisan support. Obama and his allies had enough Democratic votes to pass the ACA and thus it became the law of the land – glaring flaws and all.  Some Americans blame President Obama for that. Others blame the GOP. Pointing fingers at each other does very little for the mom whose young son was just diagnosed with cancer. Bipartisan support isn’t just empty sentimentality.  It’s a necessary check against the temptation for parties in power to pass landmark legislation without taking into account the diverse interests of Americans who might not be in their base.

As Peggy Noonan pointed out in her column last weekend, FDR and LBJ realized they needed Republican votes to pass Social Security and Medicare. It’s time for President Trump, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell to realize it would be a dire decision to repeat the mistakes of President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid.  Ramming through another piece-meal reform bill without any support from Democrats just to say they did something only perpetuates our political and policy problems.

Sen. James Lankford spoke to this need to look across the aisle and realize our shared goals in his editorial in The Atlantic earlier this week, “We all want people in the safety net to have good health care, we all want to eliminate fraud and waste, we all want to bring down health-care costs—we just differ on how to get there. This nation is not made up of monsters who hate; it is made up of people who care, but disagree.”

Now is the time to get this right. After celebrating the Fourth of July, after remembering the revolution, that is the time to remember our first President’s wise warning against the dangers of partisanship. President Washington knew that if leaders viewed themselves as partisans before patriots, then the best interests of the people would be forgotten in the name of power.  He understood that the temptation would be too great to judge one’s success by how often you defeat the other side instead of how often you improve people’s lives and promote human flourishing.

Senator Ben Sasse has a proposed health reform plan on the table that is in line with his broader goal of returning trust and legitimacy to the U.S. Senate.  He says that Congress should repeal ObamaCare as much as it can through reconciliation, but leave it in place for one year.  The Senate should then immediately cancel its August recess, and schedule health care reform hearings 18 hours a day, 6 days a week. Make them public. Make them intense. Show the American people the options. And let the Senate find a health care reform solution that can get 60 or more votes.

This isn’t the most popular idea, but it’s the only one on the table that would actually fulfill the promise to fully repeal ObamaCare. It would then create a high-pressure deadline for the Senate to work on true health care reform. Those used to mailing in stale talking points would have to roll up their sleeves and work with people they disagree with. There would be something in this for everyone.

Both sides could force the other to finally answer for their ideas and proposals to the American people. Democrats would have to answer to the middle class family who believed “if you like your plan, you can keep you plan” and “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” And Republicans would have to reckon with their repeal and replace proposal that gives half of its tax cuts to the wealthiest 1%.  We could see how reasonable conservatives could work with reasonable progressives, cobble together enough votes from moderates, and begin to put together true health care reform with broad consensus. And if Democrats from Trump-won states refuse to play ball, the GOP still has reconciliation a year from now.

Everyone that waxes on about their easy solutions would have to openly debate them against other proposals. This would be humbling for them all, something good for their souls and rewarding to the American people.

And the American people can see with certainty that the men and women we vote to send to our nation’s capital are spending more time debating ideas than they are dining with insurance industry lobbyists.

If our health care system that so intimately touches every American life has any hope for improvement, this is what must happen. It’s too big a part of our economy and it’s too vital to our lives.

It’s time for Senators to remember they’re people before they’re power brokers, and they’re patriots before they’re partisans.



A Time for Choosing, A Time for Freedom

Over the next several days, we’ll gather with family and friends at baseball games, swimming pools, parades, and cookouts. As we take a break to watch fireworks, it all serves as a much needed break from our toxic national discourse and political climate defined by name calling, cheap talking points, and posturing void of problem solving.

As we take this celebratory pause and reflect on our nation’s founding, may we shrug off the boring cardboard caricatures we have constructed of our founders and be reminded of the profound humanity and complexity of our nation’s history.

We have choices before us on these steamy, sunny, summer days in 2017 that can be informed by the choices our Founders faced in the summer of 1776.

We tend to forget that Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Alexander Hamilton and the rest were as impassioned as they were imperfect. Throughout our history some have glorified the founders as gods while others condemn them as monsters. Still others forget their relevance to us altogether.

But the choices they made centuries ago not only laid the framework and ideological battles we live in and participate in today, but also provide lessons for how to tackle the very real choices we face as a divided nation today.

It’s easy for us to forget the complex nature of the men who signed this document that forever altered our world and conception of human liberty and freedom. They didn’t agree on much. In fact, the early years of our republic were defined by bitter rivalries – some which infamously proved fatal. But united by the concept of human freedom, our founders sought to conceive a structure of government that ensures all people could seek out human flourishing in the ways their consciences dictated.

Many of the men who signed the Declaration did so believing they were signing their death warrant. As we eat hot dogs and watch fireworks, we can fall into the trap of assuming America was always going to win the Revolutionary War. But at the time, they were declaring war against the most powerful military in the world. By all accounts, they should have lost.

Nevertheless they decided it was worth risking their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defend something that important – the God-given freedom to govern our own destiny.

These earliest American patriots united together to fight to the death for the right to disagree with one another about the most important parts of life.

They debated viciously over the enslavement of millions of fellow human beings made in God’s image, arguing over the nature of God, heaven, hell, and human nature in the process. They debated the structure of government, what individual rights should be protected, how much power should be given to each level of government. Virtually every aspect of government and American life was up for debate.

Yet, they did not declare independence and fight for freedom because they agreed on everything. They risked their lives and fought, because they didn’t.

They actively chose to work together, as fellow countrymen and patriots, for the cause of freedom.

Hanging in my sons’ nursery is one of my favorite Ronald Reagan quotes –

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.

It serves as a reminder to me that the ideas and philosophy that created our nation are different from the rest of the world and civilizations throughout human history. We are not a nation because of our shared race, ethnicity, or history. We are a nation because of a shared idea – enshrined by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 – all men and women are created equal and have the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But President Reagan’s words also serve as a reminder of what our Founders had to do so many centuries ago and how we must continue to fight for the cause of freedom in our nation today. Freedom is not guaranteed to always exist in perpetuity in America. It is something that must be chosen daily by our citizenry. Just as the Founders faced unique choices in their time that passed freedom on to future generations, we face analogous choices today.

We must choose between furthering partisan tribalism in which we demonize and seek to destroy those who disagree with us or seeking a shared patriotic vision of vibrant yet respectful disagreement. We are learning how toxic our society becomes when we assume the worst versions of our opponents’ arguments and overlook our shared values and common interests.

We must choose between treating citizens as pawns for pundits and political talking points or recognizing and protecting the dignity of every human life. We can view the vulnerable mother facing an unplanned pregnancy as a political commodity or two human beings in need of protection and care. We can demonize a particular community or group or we can grapple with the humanity of men like Philando Castille, unjustly shot in cold blood, and his girlfriend and her four-year old daughter who witnessed this American tragedy.

We must choose between fighting to merely shut down and shut up our ideological opponents or fighting for our opponents to have the freedom to express their ideas in the public square. It’s a choice between echo chambers where we insulate ourselves from the “other” or a marketplace of ideas where we engage one another with passionate persuasion and respect.

We must choose between lobbing attacks against each other on social media, thinking national political debates can solve all of our problems, or serving and loving our neighbor no matter how different we are or how much we disagree.

We must choose between perpetuating divisiveness amongst our fellow citizens or choosing to sow seeds of understanding and compromise.

The choices before us today have great consequences. But our nation and those patriots who have come before us have risked much more than we’re being asked to risk today.

We must unite as we’ve done before, even against impossible odds and bloodshed. As President Lincoln put it, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Let’s get to work.