To get anything done, it’s all about the votes

When I served on the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen, my mantra was “It’s all about four votes.” With seven members, you had to have four votes to pass any item. It didn’t matter how great your idea was. Without four votes, it was a failure.

Hence, the need to compromise. I ended up voting for policies that were not what I wanted or advocated for, but it was the best we could get to pass.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things that you should vote against (and I did), but certainly not everything. Compromise is a fundamental precept of politics, and if you don’t understand that, you are a fool.

We saw the fools at work recently. The attempted repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act has utterly flopped! This is yet another failure from our representatives in Washington and casts some significant doubts on the direction our country is headed.

First, despite the initial elation about a potential “New Day in DC,” it turns out to be politics as usual. The Democrats refused to play with the Republicans. The Republicans can’t play together with themselves.

Their “Freedom Caucus” continues to undermine any reasonable approach, and that group can’t even stay together. As Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) resigned from the caucus, he made a very rational statement. “In order to deliver on the conservative agenda we have promised the American people for eight years, we must come together to find solutions to move this country forward. … Saying ‘no’ is easy, leading is hard, but that is what we were elected to do.”

Unless a significant number of other elected officials, on both sides of the aisle, get that point, we are looking at yet more gridlock and incompetence out of Washington.

In all of this folderol in our nation’s capital, no one seems interested in actually “governing” America. The people who suffer for their arrogance are “we” the American people.

The Democrats are willing to sacrifice the productive members of society in order to give yet more of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money away. The Republicans now appear to have moved on from health care reform.

President Trump recently said, “The best thing we can do, politically speaking, is let Obamacare explode.” Once again, our elected officials put politics ahead of the interests of the people.

Sadly, the ACA does need to be fixed. I have personally seen an astronomical rise in health insurance pricing. In one of my companies, we had to switch to a “compliant” plan once the “grandfather” period was over. As a result, the premiums increased significantly (some more than doubling) while the coverage got worse and the out-of-pocket costs skyrocketed.

Even for individual plans, the results have been devastating. In another case in which I give a stipend to the employees, government-subsidized plans also jumped. For one employee, the policy increased by over $600 per month. There is nothing “affordable” about Obamacare for anyone who works and pays for their health care coverage.

Perhaps more critical is what this early, catastrophic failure means for the Trump presidency. As bad as the outcome of the current process is, it forebodes even worse for the future.

Trump has billed himself as the ultimate negotiator, yet he failed to understand the nature of “making a deal” within the confines of our political system. In a real estate deal, both parties have something to gain from a successful result. In such cases, a hard-nosed approach can sometimes force the other party to play ball if they want the benefit.

However, in politics you have to play the average. Congress has 435 members. It takes a minimum of 218 votes to move ahead. There are 193 Democrats. They would vote “no” on ACA repeal and replace from the outset. You can’t threaten them. It is not clear you can even move them with “pork” for their constituency. Realistically, they are out of play.

Because of some vacancies, that leaves 237 Republicans to work with. If you get even 20 defectors, you are sunk. It is clear that the concessions needed to garner the rightwing Freedom Caucus were unacceptable to some moderates. The minimum tolerable position of one is unacceptable to the other. On such contentious issues, there may never be a meaningful compromise that will work. Trump didn’t understand, and Ryan couldn’t deliver.

So what is next? If you thought health care reform was hard, wait ’til you see tax reform. In fact, the tax issue is not one item, it is many: personal income tax, corporate tax, border tax, death tax …

The list is almost endless.

The coalitions for each will vary. If you lump them in together, nothing will muster sufficient votes to get a bill through Congress. Furthermore, if the president does not learn from the health care debacle, there is no chance of any meaningful action. He must figure out when he has gotten all he can get then cut the deal, not on his terms, but on terms that will get sufficient votes to pass.

Perhaps the approach should be to start with some piece of legislation that can get strong bipartisan support. For example, there is fairly widespread backing for increased infrastructure spending (everyone loves to spend taxpayer money). It is part of the Trump agenda and might begin to build consensus for meaningfully moving our country forward.

Such an approach, that reaches out to find common ground, is essential. Initially, I really believed that Trump was masterful in setting up his negotiating positions. I thought he would move the needle (some). However, given Trump’s latest tweets, blasting everyone else (but accepting no personal responsibility), I am not sanguine that our current commander-in-chief actually “gets it.”

Political leadership now means “authority without responsibility.” That is a dangerous combination.

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