Following the failure of the Senate's efforts to repeal Obamacare, columnist Jonathan Allen wrote that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., "did the right thing" by casting the deciding vote against a scaled-down version of an Obamacare repeal and replace bill that would have allowed the process to move forward. Said Allen: "Know this about McCain. There's nothing that drives him more than his sense of honor and he clearly concluded the more honorable thing was to vote against the highly unpopular repeal plan."
The honorable thing to do? Earlier in the week, McCain (ACU Lifetime Rating of 81 percent) was one of seven Republicans who joined 48 Democrats to vote against the same bill to repeal Obamacare that he voted for and the Senate passed in 2015, only to have it vetoed by then President Barack Obama. Six of those seven voted "yes" in 2015.
They are Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., Dean Heller, R-Nev., McCain, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaksa, and Rob Portman R-Ohio. Only Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has consistently voted against any attempt to repeal Obamacare, although she voted against passage of the program in 2010. If even two of those six had voted against repeal in 2015, the bill would have failed.
So let's take a look back at that vote taken only 20 months ago on December 3, 2015. At that time McCain was facing a Republican primary opponent standing in the way of his re-election in 2016. Far from casting his vote in silence, McCain issued a press statement after the vote saying that he was "proud to join my colleagues in Congress to continue the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare." And further: "The legislation we passed today would unburden Americans from the harmful effects of this failed law….any serious attempt to improve our health care system must begin with a full repeal and replacement of Obamacare…"
But safely re-elected, McCain voted against this same bill in 2017.
How about Portman (ACU 2016 Rating of 48 percent), who also faced re-election in 2016? Portman also released a statement following the vote saying that he was for "repealing this broken law and replacing it with something better," that he was "pleased that this legislation takes money saved from repealing Obamacare and puts it toward substance abuse programs and mental health treatment in states" and that the bill extended the Medicaid expansion for two years. (Yes, the 2015 bill did all that as well).
Safely re-elected, Portman voted against this same bill in 2017.
In 2015, Murkowski (yes, also up for re-election in 2016) took to the Senate floor to ridicule the name Obama gave his healthcare scheme: "For whom is this Affordable Care Act affordable? Certainly not average, hard-working Alaskans who are being forced to shell out thousands of dollars for their premiums each month…that is why I will support the bill that repeals the ACA and wipes out its harmful impacts."
Safely re-elected, Murkowski (ACU 2016 Rating of 54 percent) voted against this same bill in 2017.
Capito (ACU 2016 Rating of 62 percent) issued a news release that stated her position in no uncertain terms: "Americans deserve a health care system that works for them and Obamacare is not it. I have consistently voted to repeal and replace this disastrous health care law and I am glad that a repeal bill will finally reach the president's desk."
But 20 months later, Capito voted to prevent a repeal bill from reaching the president's desk.
Alexander (ACU 2016 Rating of 44 percent), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, proudly proclaims his opposition to Obamacare on his official Senate website where it states he has voted to repeal or defund Obamacare 23 times since it became law, and overall to oppose or repeal Obamacare or its provisions more than 90 times.
Unfortunately for those who wish for repeal, those 90 times did not include voting for the same repeal bill he voted for in 2015.
Then there is Heller (ACU 2016 Rating of 77 percent), by all accounts the most vulnerable Republican up for re-election in 2018. Heller supported Nevada's decision to expand Medicaid to able-bodied adults and yet voted for the 2015 bill which phased out Medicaid expansion after two years. When asked at the time if he was concerned about this provision he stated: "It's going to be vetoed." Of course, this time around, he would have been voting for a bill that would have been signed into law.When it mattered most and when a repeal bill could have been signed by a Republican president, these GOP sellouts chose to break their promise to voters and turn their backs on millions of people suffering under Obamacare.
A look at the American Conservative Union Foundation's conservative ratings for these senators shows a leftward trend the longer these members have served in Congress, with the exception of Susan Collins, who has consistently been rated as one of the least conservative Republicans (her latest is a 23 out of 100 for 2016, and McCain's numbers are simply erratic from year to year).
But if you are looking for answers for their vote-switching, it's not in their record, as there are many other senators with records better and worse from a conservative point of view that did not switch. It is, as Jonathan Allen alluded to, a question of honor, and these Senators failed -- failed to honor their commitment to their constituents and to Americans.
There is no honor in that, and their votes should be considered a stain on their record of service.
Larry Hart is the American Conservative Union Foundation Senior Fellow for Government Reform.
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