After ObamaCare repeal failure, look to the center
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Don’t let the failure by the GOP to repeal the Affordable Care Act go by without a lesson.

Regrettably, the environment today in Congress today is one where partisans blame the other side for everything, instead of working together to achieve a goal for the greater good of the country.

It would be far better to argue over who got something accomplished than to fight over whose fault it is that nothing was done. 

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When we were in the Senate, as co-chairs of the Centrist Coalition consisting of nearly a third of the Senate, we were able to work across party lines to form coalitions that created bipartisan solutions to some of the most significant challenges of our time: Overhauling the U.S. tax code and adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, to name just two.

Sometimes we aggravated our party leaders, Sens. Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, but they understood what we were attempting to do and we kept them informed of our efforts.

In fact, at the beginning of 2001 we arranged for Daschle and Lott to meet with our group to preserve bipartisanship so legislation wouldn’t be derailed after the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore, which divided the country.

The Senate was evenly divided in a rare 50-50 split and almost a quarter of the Senate was present for that meeting.  

Senator John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE’s impassioned speech before casting a vote against gutting the Affordable Care Act called upon the Senate to rise to the occasion, by summoning the norms and traditions that allow it to fulfill its highest calling of governing through consensus.

As he implored, that requires a return to “regular order” in the Senate.   

It may sound trivial but it’s not: Regular order means that the relevant committees meet and hold public hearings, and allows both sides to present their positions as legislation is considered.

Committees are where bipartisan alliances formed, through the amendment process. 

It may seem technical, but amendments are indispensable bridge-builders, which ensure that when legislation is considered in the full Senate, enough individuals from both sides have a stake in the outcome.    

Why not try this “new” approach when it comes to addressing the big issues that continue to stand before the Congress, including tax reform, infrastructure, and, yes, healthcare?

The last overhaul of the U.S. tax code occurred more than 30 years ago, in 1986 — an election year, no less. That reform passed with a Republican president, a Democratic-led House, and a Republican-led Senate.  It did not happen with either party shutting out the other.

Only after the House Ways and Means Committee heard from 450 witnesses in public hearings and with the Senate Finance Committee having 33 days of hearings did Congress produce a bipartisan product. The bill was approved by the Senate Finance Committee by a unanimous vote of 20-0. Later, an incredible 97 out of 100 Senators approved this landmark tax legislation after three weeks of floor debate.

Achieving this astounding outcome, which seems almost unimaginable today, wasn’t easy; There were many shouting matches behind closed doors, immeasurable give-and-take, and a few threats before the product was enacted.  

Congress has followed a similar path on other significant legislation. Medicare Part D, the overwhelmingly successful prescription drug program, passed with bipartisan support in 2003.

Today, it remains a vigorously supported program for seniors and continues to cost less than projected.

Critical health insurance for America’s children, now known as the CHIP program, was reauthorized in 2015 with a vote in the House of 392-37 and in the Senate, 92-8.

Less than a year ago, the watershed 21st Century Cures Act garnered a vote of 392-26 in the House, and 94-5 in the Senate.   

What was the common denominator that was central to their success? They were all the result of regular order that made bipartisanship possible.               

There is no reason Congress cannot take a similar approach now to the problems that exist with the Affordable Care Act. Republicans and Democrats have collaborated in the recent past even on some matters relating to the ACA.    

It starts with a willingness to place the needs of the American people ahead of the interests of our political parties, and is enabled when Congress embraces a process that fosters bipartisanship and consensus-building. The formula is there; it has worked before and can work again.

It is not too late.  The good men and women in the Senate need to learn from this failure. There is a better way: work together and compromise.  Indeed, it is the only way.

John Breaux is a former Democratic Senator from Louisiana. Olympia Snowe is a former Republican Senator from Maine and senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Both served as co-chairs of the Senate Centrist Coalition.


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