Image courtesy to author.
Carnegie Mellon University

Commentary: A midnight healthcare voting drama, a hope for bipartisanship

In a dramatic midnight session on July 27, Republicans’ hope for passing a “skinny repeal” that would undo a few of Obamacare’s regulations without a replacement collapsed when the ailing Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) as well as Democrats in voting “no” on the bill.

It left Republicans deeply disappointed in their lack of major legislative victories despite their controlling both Congress and the White House, and Democrats relieved that Obamacare was safe for now, that millions of Americans wouldn’t be kicked off insurance for the time being.

And in a time when many lament that our country has become too partisan– including McCain in a speech a few days earlier, returning in the midst of a brain cancer diagnosis– this vote provides a rare glimmer of hope of bipartisanship.

In campaigning, promising to reach out across the aisle on important legislation generally gets a candidate fewer fundraiser dollars and votes than promising to vote the party line. The differences between some senators on policy often seem irreconcilable; the bases they must cater to a little too extreme in their demands.

But the midnight healthcare “vote-a-rama” and the subsequent collapse of the bill shows a more heartening side of human character: that there are people who are not blinded by ideology and the egos that come along with it, who are able to put the well-being of the country they were elected to serve over the narrow, selfish need of a legislative win for their own party.

People will always differ on the best solutions on many social issues, signalling the importance of having constructive debates that will achieve solutions based on compromise that can then be improved over time.

Congress was not elected so that the party in power can shut out the other party to pass a partisan agenda, only to have roles reversed after one or two election cycles. Congress was elected so that lawmakers of all backgrounds from all different parts of the country can come together to represent the interests of Americans and find compromises across the aisle that benefit everyone, that provide services and protections citizens and states are unable to provide on their own.

The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, because it is difficult if not impossible for a body of legislators– no matter how experienced– to get a major legislative bill on something as complex as healthcare perfect the first time. Despite no Republicans voting “yes” on the bill when it was passed in 2010, Democrats reached out to Republicans when the bill was being drafted and incorporated many of their suggestions.

Yet, when it was the Republicans’ turn to be the majority party, they worked on the bills seemingly without any Democratic involvement, and often in secrecy as to the contents until close to the voting time. McCain, Murkowski and Collins understood that just because the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect and is a bill they personally voted against, it doesn’t mean they should vote yes on the replacement their party comes up with if the replacement isn’t beneficial at all. They were moderates who understood that their party was trying to pass a bill that could take away health insurance for millions, and they had the courage not often seen these days to stand up and vote for what they believed was right.

One of the lessons of the voting drama was that no party, Democrat or Republican, can pass perfect legislation on its own. No legislation is usually universally accepted, but this is even less so when one party controls the entire legislation and excludes the views of the other party from it. It is only through the free flow of ideas and debates between legislators on both sides that legislation can improve and become more widely accepted.

The other lesson is that our country is called the United States of America for a reason. The reason is that our nation is made up of people so diverse in their background and in thought, yet we still aspire to be able to come together as a country and make it better for all. In an administration marked by chaos, half-truths and partisanship getting seemingly worse by the day, the trio who stood up to their own party despite coercion from party leadership and even threats from the executive branch made Washington a little less divided, a little more true to its original ideals.

And that’s why, despite everything that has happened in the last six months, there can be hope. Hope that there will be those in both parties willing to reach out across the aisle. Hope that there will be those who strive to do the right thing despite intense pressure to do the wrong thing, or to look the other way. Hope that despite the mistrust and self-centeredness that drives much of politics and the sometimes-nasty competition for power within the government, there can be moments when light overpowers darkness.