Freedom Caucus saved Paul Ryan's job: GOP has promises to keep
© Getty

Far too often, campaign rhetoric does not match legislation. For seven years, we heard long-winded speeches from the floor of the House and Senate against ObamaCare and repeated promises to repeal the 2010 law. That’s what conservatives expect. While the American Health Care Act has some very good reforms, including the expansion of health savings accounts (HSAs) and the modernization of Medicaid, it falls short of Republicans’ frequent pledges to repeal ObamaCare.

In 1994, Republicans won control of Congress on promises to reduce the size and scope of Congress. These promises were even documented in the “Contract with America,” which, among other things, pledged to eliminate a swath of government programs. Republicans also promised to pass legislation that would “cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third” to decrease spending.


Within a couple years after Republicans won Congress, in March 1997, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) backed a bill that would have increased funding to committees by 14 percent, undermining this particular promise of the Contract with America. A group of 11 fiscal conservatives in the lower chamber — including then-Reps. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnJohn McCain was a taxpayer hero The White House can — and should — bypass Congress to kill Obama-era spending Trump cannot be 'King of Debt' when it comes to government MORE (R-Okla.), Steve Largent (R-Okla.), and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) — voted against the rule for the bill, complicating leadership’s efforts to pass it.


Stephen Slivinski, in his book Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, explained what happened in the aftermath of the vote, when Speaker Gingrich held a sudden conference meeting in which he tried to embarrass the “Gang of Eleven,” as they were known.

Largent, an NFL legend, didn’t blink. “The Speaker tonight talked about the 11 of us letting the team down. The more significant question and the question that never gets asked in Washington, D.C., is whose teams are we on?” he said. “When I was elected to represent the first district of Oklahoma, I wasn’t elected to represent just the Republican or Democratic teams, but what I thought what in the best interests of the taxpayers back home.”

By the end of the meeting, the Gang of Eleven had clearly won the stand off with Speaker Gingrich. His speakership, it’s worth noting, ended nearly two years later.

Hoping to recapture the momentum of the 1994 Republican Revolution, House Republicans in 2010 rolled out the “Pledge to America,” which included generally vague language about several policy proposals. Still, among them was ObamaCare.

“We offer a plan to repeal and replace the government takeover of healthcare with common sense solutions focused on lowering costs and protecting American jobs. We will enact real medical liability reform; allow Americans to purchase health coverage across state lines;

empower small businesses with greater purchasing power; and create new incentives to save for future health needs,” the document read. “We will protect the doctor-patient relationship, and ensure that those with pre-existing conditions gain access to the coverage they need.”

One can say it was the climate at the time, which included deep dissatisfaction of ObamaCare, but voters responded and gave Republicans control of the House, in a 64-seat shellacking of President Obama and Democrats. Republicans have consistent won elections based on their promises to repeal ObamaCare, and conservatives expect nothing less.

Today’s climate in Washington may be different. After all, Republicans endured eight years of President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMcCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination Presidential approval: It's the economy; except when it's not Time for sunshine on Trump-Russia investigation MORE, two of those under complete Republican control of Congress. Most, one suspects, were surprised by the result of the president election and are now ready for big legislative victories.

Unfortunately, Speaker Ryan and House Republican leadership appear to view the Freedom Caucus as enemies, not allies, in the fight to move a pro-growth agenda through Congress. Rather than work with them, leadership is trying to bypass the Freedom Caucus by catering to liberal Republicans.

The complaints from Speaker Ryan, House Republican leadership, and rank-and-file members is that the Freedom Caucus aren’t team players. This is utterly absurd. It was Speaker Ryan who refused to make significant changes to the American Health Care Act to get the Freedom Caucus on board. Moreover, just as many members of the liberal Republican Tuesday Group refused to support the bill.

In recent days, the Freedom Caucus, who wants to get to “yes” on the American Health Care Act, and the Tuesday Group have been meeting to find a workable solution to get enough votes to pass the bill. The Tuesday Group is, however, no longer willing to negotiate. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told reporters Thursday, “Next time one of those calls come in (from the Freedom Caucus), hang up.”

“The Tuesday Group will never meet with the Freedom Caucus. With a capital N-E-V-E-R,” he added during the same tirade. Collins is the same guy who took a page from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) playbook and said, “In my district, right now there's a lot of misunderstanding as to what it is we're doing (on healthcare),” Collins told MSNBC before the bill was pulled from the floor. “And once we get it done, and then we can have the chance to really explain it.”

With a 17 percent approval rating for the American Health Care Act, statements from members like Rep. Collins, and a bill presented through a terrible process in which conservatives members were essentially told to “take it or leave it,” the Freedom Caucus did the Republican Party a favor.

Blind partisans who are merely playing on “team Republican” may not see that, but the data actually back it up, according to WPA Research.

“(D)ata from three WPA national predictive models on 1) Speaker Ryan’s AHCA, 2) Obamacare, and 3) a plan to fully repeal ObamaCare and replace it with market-based solutions show that the Freedom Caucus members were, in fact, doing the will of their constituents in helping defeat the AHCA,” Chris Wilson, director research at WPA Research, explained.

“Moreover, the data show overwhelming support for full repeal and replace and suggest that the House Freedom Caucus did the Senate, and Republicans’ hopes of expanding their Senate majority, a great service in stopping the bill before it made it across the Capitol.”

The problem with the initial failure to pass the American Health Care Act wasn’t that the Freedom Caucus stood in the way. It was that the bill failed to keep Republicans’ fundamental promise to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Speaker Ryan offered a watered down version of ObamaCare, and he actually expected conservatives to get on board. Governing doesn’t work that way, and the conservative movement won’t accept anything less than the fulfillment of nearly a decade’s worth of promises.

If anything, Speaker Ryan should be thanking the Freedom Caucus. Otherwise, his next title may very well have been “minority leader.”

Adam Brandon is the president of FreedomWorks.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.