Blog No. 134. Repeal and Replace: R.I.P. (Hello, Rescue and Repair and Goodbye, Freedom Caucus)

It is clear that “Repeal and Replace,” the Republican mantra for several years, is dead. And while there were several who bear responsibility for its demise, none was more prominent than the Freedom Caucus. has never been an admirer of the Freedom Caucus and, indeed, our preferred term has been the Oozlum Caucus, named after the mythical bird that flies in ever-decreasing concentric circles until disappearing into its own fundament. And that was its flight path for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), as caucus members sought to extract ever larger and more mean-spirited concessions from the negotiating odd couple of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan. In so doing, the Oozlums remained relentlessly oblivious to the fact that Obamacare was enjoying increased public support and that the supposed replacement had become a devastating caricature of Republican policy—providing tax cuts to the wealthy while depriving the middle class and the poor of benefits.

Nevertheless, the Freedom Caucus did, for the first time in its history, perform a distinct public service. By putting a stake through the heart of the AHCA, it relieved the Republican Party of the need to defend a law that, had it been enacted, would have been a major liability for Republicans in the elections of 2018 and beyond. Obamacare, is to be sure, a flawed system with genuine and serious problems: insurers leaving the market while escalating premiums, and co-pays and deductibles render its “insurance” illusory for many. Nevertheless, the AHCA gave every promise of being even worse. There was, of course, the possibility that, if the bill had passed the House, it would have either died or been radically improved in the Senate. But that prospect was uncertain and the process would have been, at best, a divisive and time-consuming distraction from other important issues and priorities.

Some have seen the defeat of the AHCA as a sign that the Freedom Caucus is more powerful than ever. There are, however, reasons to hope and believe that just the opposite may be true. By rejecting the pleas of the President and the Speaker, members of the caucus demonstrated that their loyalty is neither to the party nor its leaders but to their own narrow ideology and that of their most fevered constituents. Under the circumstances, both the House leadership and the President should seek to marginalize the Freedom Caucus by treating its members with, in the apt phrase of a past Speaker, the “minimum high regard” they deserve.

Going forward, the death of Repeal and Replace should not be long mourned. From its outset that phrase served far more effectively as a campaign slogan than as a serious policy. “Repeal” was easy enough to understand but without “Replace” was never realistic and Republicans could never come to a consensus on what the replacement should consist of. At this point it would be tempting for Republicans to claim, as President Trump has already done, that Obamacare will “explode” and that the Democrats and their leaders, notably Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, will be responsible. But that would be a grave error. While it is an exaggeration to claim that Obamacare will explode, or is in a “death spiral,” the system does have serious problems that, if left unattended, will get worse. And the public has a right to expect that their President will attempt to do something about them. It is time tor Repeal and Replace to be succeeded by Rescue and Repair.

In this case, Rescue and Repair will mean looking for solutions with the participation of Democrats and “moderate” Republicans—the latter defined for this purpose as everyone one except the Freedom Caucus and its ideological bedfellows in the Senate. Put another way, what the situation calls for is a revival of Bill Clinton’s strategy of “triangulation” wherein he sought to work with and between the more moderate members of both parties in Congress. That strategy was not uniformly successful, but among other things, it produced welfare reform, the signal accomplishment of Clinton’s administration, and also secured his re-election. Adopting such a strategy might seem to be an about face for Trump (whose first instinct is always to blame others for his misfortunes) but then, consistency has never been a hobgoblin of the Trumpian mind, so perhaps it is possible.

7 thoughts on “Blog No. 134. Repeal and Replace: R.I.P. (Hello, Rescue and Repair and Goodbye, Freedom Caucus)

  • It is virtually impossible to believe that what should happen will happen. Of course, it is the nation’s interest to make modifications to Obamacare. But after years of diatribes against the Affordable Care Act — and far worse — how is this possible? Are we to pin our hopes on the fact that we have a president who is infinitely flexible but absolutely cannot be trusted? God help us all, Everyone.

  • Doug, until this recent debacle, I had been under the impression that Paul Ryan was a professional: sure of his facts, careful in his analysis, savvy in his political calculations. Now I tend to believe that maybe Krugman had Ryan’s number.
    Where are the adults?

  • This is great Doug. Except Trump will never be an effective leader. Imagine, the idiot blames Dems for not voting to repeal legislation they fought so hard to achiieve. As you say, the so-called “replacenent” was a thinly disguised scheme to deprive wirking and older Americans of health care and enrich the wealthy.

    It was encouraging to see grass roots people in both parties fight to keep government supported health care. Sure, the ACA work but as one woman activist’s sign read, “Mend It Don’t Bend It.”

    No one should expect any sensible leadership by Trump — a pathological liar and a crook. He will either resign or crawl into a rat hole, as more and more Americans come to detest him.

  • A really brilliant proposal, Doug. If followed, Trump would be doing something that would allow him to take credit for solving a major part of the nation’s health coverage problem, and help restore some of his sagging popularity. If he’s as smart as he claims he is, he’d do it, and just neglect to mention that a Clinton once used the creative strategy. He’d be letting democrats know he will be willing to work with them in some reasonable ways, and hard right Republicans know that he has options other than bowing to their will. That said, he’ll probably just continue floundering the same way he has begun his presidency, to many of our utter dismay.

  • “Rescue and Repair” is perfect! Phone it in to someone sensible like Charlie Dent or Joe Manchin.

  • I certainly agree, and hope you’re correct about the demise of the Freedom Caucus. Enjoyed the oozlum metaphor, just as I recently enjoyed seeing their name written as Freedumb Caucus.

    • Hi Susan. Yea, they aim to move the country forward by going backward. The “freedom” they espouse is more like anarchy — each msn for himself and the devil take the hindmost. Best -Roger

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