As you no doubt know, today most of the Republicans in the House voted for a bill that would end the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a version that is neither affordable nor provides care. Amidst the sea of fist-bumping from the Beltway frat boys who celebrated a bill that would cost thousands of lives a year Montana’s congressional delegation and aspirants to that position had an opportunity to demonstrate their values and leadership. While House candidate Rob Quist passed the test and bosom bodies Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte failed, Senator Tester shined as the kind of pragmatic, principled leader who will fight for the best health care possible for Montanans.
Rob Quist came out strong against the vote, announcing that he would not support a bill that amounts to little more than a transfer of wealth from the elderly, sick, and poor to the wealthy:
This DC health care bill gives a massive tax cut to millionaires while jacking up premiums for Montanans. I would stand with you & VOTE NO.
— Rob Quist (@RobQuistforMT) May 4, 2017
His opponent in the House race, Greg Gianforte, predictably refused to give a real answer, telling the Montana press that he didn’t know how he would have voted on the bill. Hiding behind a spokesman, he offered nothing different from the talking points he’s been running on since the beginning of the campaign:
In a statement from a spokesman, Republican Greg Gianforte, a Bozeman tech entrepreneur, said he wanted more information before he would say if he supported the bill. “Greg needs to know all the facts because it’s important to know exactly what’s in the bill before he votes on it,” spokesman Shane Scanlon said.
Perhaps someone should advise Mr. Gianforte that one of the important jobs of being a member of Congress is voting on challenging bills and being able to explain why he supports them or does not. Given that the ACA has been the most important and contentious issue facing Congress for years, surely someone running for Congress should have the courage to take a stand on the issue. Given this campaign of obfuscation and evasion, though, it’s hardly surprising that Mr. Gianforte is hiding behind feigned ignorance.
In that, he’s following in the wobbly footsteps of his former protégé, Senator Steve Daines, who, despite being an active Senator, also was unwilling to express a position on his vote:
Daines released an audio statement saying, “It’s time now for the U.S. Senate to take action and make health care affordable for all Montanans,” though he did not clarify how he would vote. The Senate will likely not take up the bill until June, when it will be heavily debated and possibly amended.
Given that Daines and Gianforte are too terrified of commoners to attend public events, it’s hardly surprising that both are dissembling when it comes to ACA repeal. Even though the bill will take coverage from 70,000 Montanans, punish those with pre-existing conditions, slash women’s health care, and even reduce funding for students with disabilities, both would vote for it. Enthusiastically.
Their craven refusal to even honestly share their position with Montana voters shows just how badly misaligned their agenda is with real Montanans.
That refusal to speak is even more shameful when juxtaposed with how Senator Tester responded to the vote today. Instead of waffling, he came out strongly against the vote, noting that it was even more punitive than the bill Republicans failed to pass a few weeks ago. Noting that the House Republicans passed the bill without even getting its budget impact, Tester rejected the idea that he—or the Senate would vote for it.
Even more significantly, Senator Tester acted like someone who wants to protect health care for Montanans, not score political points. In an interview on Fox News, he said that he was willing to work with Republican Senators to craft a better bill, one that improves flaws in the ACA. As The Hill reports:
Tester, who is up for reelection in 2018 in a state won by President Trump, said that he doesn’t think lawmakers did enough to try to fix the Affordable Care Act since it was passed in 2010.
“There were plenty of mistakes made with the [Affordable Care Act], there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “Quite frankly, we didn’t make the modifications over the last six, seven years, for obvious reasons, to make that bill better.”
While I understand and agree with the defense of the ACA in the past few months, we’ve all known for years what Senator Tester has been saying, that the law had flaws and Congress has failed to do its job to fix them. The law gave too much to insurers and too little to consumers. It needs reform.
There is certainly a need in the Democratic Party for the Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanders, who offered scorched-earth denunciations of the House bill today. We need to stake out our priorities and hold the Republicans accountable for their cruel indifference when the lives and health of millions are at stake. But we also need voices like Senator Tester, who will make the effort, difficult though it may be, to reach across the aisle to moderate Republicans who know that ACA repeal is politically toxic to craft a reform of the law.
When the other side has all the weapons and controls the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, it might be politically savvy to entrench and refuse to budge, hoping that the consequences of ACA repeal will lead to electoral gains for Democrats, but I’d rather be represented by a Senator who is willing to consider compromise, willing to negotiate, and willing to take some political arrows from his own side for the sake of his constituents, whose health depends on convincing Congress that they cannot strip away health care from 70,000 people.
I’m not worried that Senator Tester will ever vote to undermine the critical protections the ACA provides, from protection for pre-existing conditions to elder care. Tester will never vote for a bill like the one House Republicans passed today.
Senator Tester, though, has the courage to tell his constituents the truth and tell his colleagues, in an era when being obstructionist and ideologically dogmatic is easier than doing the work of governing, that he will work with those who will work with him. Couldn’t Washington use a little more pragmatism and a whole hell of a lot less obstructionism?
And Senator Tester continues to provide that kind of leadership, something we’ll never see from Mr. Gianforte or Mr. Daines.