IMAGINE THE BIND Representative Chris Gibson (R-19th) finds himself as Congress grapples with big issues like Syria, feeding hungry Americans and making our healthcare more affordable. He’s been pegged by one Washington publication as the “most liberal Republican” at a time when leaders of his party in the House have embraced the demands of conservative activists aligned with the Tea Party. What’s a politician who dares utter the word “compromise” supposed to do?
Mr. Gibson was among the lawmakers who said they would not support authorizing a military strike on Syria, an issue that has divided Congress but not along party lines or ideology. The public didn’t have much use for a new war either, and his stance has support in this part of his district.
He clearly split with his GOP colleagues last week when he voted against a House bill doubling a proposed cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Food assistance has been part of the farm bill for decades, and earlier this year Mr. Gibson worked across the aisle to add provisions to the bill that would help farmers in this district while cutting $20 billion from food aid over the next decade. But he opposed the GOP leaders’ even more heartless, shortsighted bill that blames hunger in America on people–most of them children–who can’t afford to buy enough food. The new bill, which is going nowhere, would slash $40 billion from SNAP.
The latest topic is healthcare, and this time Mr. Gibson has joined the Republican majority in support of a politically fruitless effort to tie the release of funding for federal government operations to a plan to “defund” the federal Affordable Care Act, which everybody calls Obamacare. In a statement explaining his vote, Mr. Gibson says that he’s been consistent since retiring from the Army in his belief that the law cannot live up to the president’s goals of lowering costs and improving access to care. He also says that President Obama has acknowledged the law isn’t ready.
This is spin of the kind voters expect from all politicians. But spin has as much to do with what the listener hears as it does with what the speaker says. So consider this: As a member of the armed services for most of his adult life Rep. Gibson has always had comprehensive, government healthcare coverage. He was entitled to that coverage as soon as he volunteered for duty, which makes it all the more difficult to understand why he’s not willing to help fellow citizens share in the only national system now available that can provide everybody with some healthcare coverage, even if it’s not as good as what he enjoys.
Mr. Gibson, who says he has a better plan, doesn’t explain how his proposal would become law. Has the House GOP leadership embraced it? Does it have any reasonable chance of winning presidential approval?
Congress has adopted and the Supreme Court has let stand the Affordable Care Act. Contrary to what Mr. Gibson says in his statement, the president’s willingness to give small businesses more time to prepare for the new law is a sign that the legislation is flexible enough to adapt to public concerns.
It’s not an admission that the law needs to be delayed or scrapped. It’s a sign of strength.
There will be problems implementing the new law. That’s to be expected with any complex program. But when he says the law will never live up to its goals, that sounds like he’s conceded defeat on behalf of the nation before trying to make the law work. Does he really have so little faith in the abilities the people and our government?
Some in the national GOP have said that the real reason they want to strangle Obamacare is because Americans will never give up the benefits the new law will provide once they have them. What more cynical and patronizing view could they possibly take toward the people they have sworn to serve. It assumes that we voters cannot decide what services our government should provide and that only the people we elect are capable of knowing what’s best for us.
That arrogance turns our system of government on it head.
This is not the time for a hollow pretense of compromise. By endorsing this reckless effort to undo the Affordable Care Act Mr. Gibson has joined House leaders in trying to hold back history. That–and not Obamacare–is what cannot be done.