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The Freedom Caucus Vindicates the American System

Since the ignominious failure [1] of the Obamacare repeal effort, President Trump has been lashing out [2] at the Republican House Freedom Caucus on Twitter. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” he tweeted [3] in a remarkable threat to members of his own party. President Trump’s frustration with legislative obstruction overlooks the fact that that obstruction is itself one of the greatest strengths of the American system of government.

The beauty of the American system is that it enables not only members of opposition or minority parties like today’s congressional Democrats, but also members of governing or majority parties, to curb executive power. What happened last month was an example of that phenomenon. Unlike the way things work in British-style parliamentary systems like that of my home country of Canada, with their fusion of the executive and legislative branches of government, Congress is elected separately from the president. Members of both chambers of Congress are accountable primarily to their constituents at the ballot box rather than to party leaders.

Republicans in the House were thus free to resist whatever pressure the Trump White House and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan exerted on them to vote for the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Contrary to the president’s incensed tweets, the AHCA went down to defeat not only thanks to the House Freedom Caucus, but also thanks to the so-called “Coverage Caucus” [4] of more cautious Republicans who balked at the prospect of depriving millions of their constituents of health insurance. Freedom Caucus members and their allies refused to support the bill because it was not enough of a departure from the Affordable Care Act for them; “Coverage Caucus” Republicans opposed it because, in effect, it was too much of a departure from Obamacare.

Concessions to either of those two factions tended to alienate members of the other one. For example, the AHCA’s final draft would have eliminated [5] Obamacare’s mandate that all insurance policies offered in the individual market cover 10 “essential health benefits.” Yet some previously undecided House Republicans, such as Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), ultimately came out against [6] the bill for that very reason, since it “would place significant new costs and barriers to care on my constituents in New Jersey.”

If President Trump had the kind of power that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wields, he would have been able to do something virtually unthinkable in American politics: to punish recalcitrant Republicans from both the Freedom and Coverage Caucuses alike by simply expelling them from the Republican Party altogether.

In the first place, Trump would have been a member of Congress himself; in British parliamentary governments, the prime minister and cabinet ministers start out as and remain elected members of parliament (hence the aforementioned executive-legislative fusion). Secondly, if the federal government were reconstituted along Canadian lines in particular, President Trump would have been the official leader of the Republican Party at the federal level, with GOP candidates required to secure his approval [7] in order to be nominated by the party to run for their seats. As for the U.S. Senate—where the AHCA was especially unpopular [8]—it would have been a totally unelected [9] body, appointed directly by the president as head of state, with no legislative check on that power whatsoever.

Thus, if President Trump had Prime Minister Trudeau’s power, he could have ejected disobedient congressional Republicans from the GOP, forcing them to sit as independents and denying them party funding for their reelection campaigns—a frequent [10] enough practice [11] in Canadian politics. With this kind of power, President Trump could have more effectively intimidated Republican congressmen into voting for the AHCA and any other legislation he was determined to get passed.

Staunch Trump supporters who feel tempted to condone such a practice should think twice, for the same reason why their liberal counterparts should do so: two parties can play the same game. Advocates of greater centralization of power within Washington should ask themselves whether the benefits that would accrue to their own pet political causes from such reform would be worth the cost of the greater power that the opposing party would wield when it is in the majority.

Over the past seven years, for example, opponents of Obamacare have made much of the fact that the Affordable Care Act was passed without any Republican support. Yet imagine how much more intrusive, expensive, and burdensome Obamacare might have been if President Obama had been able to punish certain congressional Democrats for their reluctance to endorse a more ambitious form of health-care reform, perhaps something closer to a single-payer system. At a minimum, the ACA might have included a government-run health-insurance program for which the country’s whole population would have been eligible—the so-called “public option” that was removed from the bill after former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman threatened to filibuster it [12].

One of the American system’s strengths is that, in a country that is more ideologically diverse and fractious than its counterparts in the rest of the free world, it prevents any one political faction from riding roughshod over the others too easily. President Trump and other Republicans frustrated at the Freedom Caucus’s obstruction should remember that their freedom to engage in that obstruction is a feature of the constitutional system from which both parties ultimately benefit.

Akil Alleyne is a Young Voices Advocate and legal writer based in Montreal.

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10 Comments To "The Freedom Caucus Vindicates the American System"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 3, 2017 @ 9:45 am

I don’t have much quibble with the name and who’s bill applies to what. And while the caucus in question did oppose the legislation with good reason, they weren’t the only Republicans to reject it. Whether it’s some kind of vindication is another matter.

We are still left with a mess of a system. But one according to this article is favored even by Republicans.

Hence the real winner here is not the system or a vindication of of it. The winner is the previous healthcare legislation. It is exists because it is not ingrained into the system, so emeshed that getting rid of it is near impossible.

But challenging the argument of the process being some manner of protectorate against unwanted legislation being rammed down the throats of the minority, is the manner in which the first healthcare legislation was managed despite a large minority.

Despite a vocal and entrenched minority slavery made its way into the US system. And effectively destroyed the fundamentals of the country’s funding and blighted democratic governance.

The Iraqi and Afghanistan invasions, Libya and Syrian interventions, and list of policies have move forward inspite of minority opposition, ramming down, numerous legislation down the throats of the country.

We are still choking on many of them. Including the ACA, AHCA or Obamacare as one chooses to call it.

#2 Comment By Rick On April 3, 2017 @ 11:51 am

Unfortunately the Constitution does little to quell prevailing ideologies such as neoliberalism, fanatical market capitalism and belief in the supremacy of oligarchy.

#3 Comment By Mark Thomason On April 3, 2017 @ 11:53 am

No, actually the American system did not anticipate factions like the Freedom Caucus, nor even formalized political parties. They did not then exist, not here, and not in Britain on which our politics was modeled.

What was anticipated was responsible representation by individuals of independent judgment and discretion. It anticipated the very opposite of the rigid bloc voting we’ve seen for decades.

#4 Comment By Know Thy Enemy, Donny Baby On April 3, 2017 @ 12:17 pm

Trump should have his sights set on Ryan, not the Freedom Caucus. Ryan tried to derail Trump during the primaries, during the general election, and with the Obamacare repeal debacle he did it again. Whereas if there was any truth whatsoever in Trump’s campaign speeches, the Freedom Caucus people are his natural allies.

#5 Comment By Dan On April 3, 2017 @ 1:27 pm

Another place the ‘original’ constitution differs from what we are accustomed today is how Senators were initially elected, by state legislators. My own state of Illinois was at the center of a bribery scam way back that helped push legislation for direct elections.

I say this because I think this, and other, articles often presume too much continuity between our current political system and the one bequeathed by the Founders; a lot has changed.

I am thankful the Freedom Caucus helped sink this bill. I was especially pleased how Meadows signaled to Trump that he works for his 750k constituents. Contrast that with Devin Nunes, who noted that while he works for his constituents, so does he work for Trump (striking for a party that fancies to adore the Constitution).

The Republican party is a mess, too large an umbrella and too narcissistic are its members that each one believes their current fortunes (controlling the entire government) is a mandate for their own individual desires.

In sum, nothing fancy or profound is going on. There’s just too many opinions, too much selfishness, and too many people residing within a an ill-defined political party. The situatation is unstable

#6 Comment By Stephen R Gould On April 3, 2017 @ 2:45 pm

Articles whose implicit assumptions and argument are “why the US is better than everyone else” are almost invariably infantile. This one is not an exception.

#7 Comment By Robert Levine On April 4, 2017 @ 12:23 am

The beauty of the American system is that it enables not only members of opposition or minority parties like today’s congressional Democrats, but also members of governing or majority parties, to curb executive power.

Yes, there are plenty of veto points in the American system. That becomes a problem when there’s a need to be filled by governmental action. It’s also a problem if one believes in holding politicians accountable, as everything bad becomes someone else’s fault.

#8 Comment By Jimbo On April 4, 2017 @ 10:08 pm

There are a lot of good points about the US Constitution, but it’s worth noting that nobody since its inception has copied the thing – the most modern forms of representative democracy are in India and Japan.

It remains a good but still rather flawed document as written – it was a compromise between the federalist and confederate forces surging at the time; and hasn’t been updated to account for the new realities of technical progress and levels of political and social unification undreamed of in the 18th century. An interesting experiment is to have people write their own idea of what an effective constitution would be, and see how much it diverges from the current document.

#9 Comment By peanut On April 5, 2017 @ 8:34 am

” Whereas if there was any truth whatsoever in Trump’s campaign speeches, the Freedom Caucus people are his natural allies.”

Um, no. Trump basic line on healthcare was “it’s going to be cheap, universal, and the government will pay for it.” This is anathema to the HFC.

One could also add that Trump’s general disposition is that it’s the government’s role to make sure everybody has a great job, etc- which is stands in stark opposition to everything the HFC believe in.

Trump is on the same page as (not all) HFC people on immigration, and they share the same enemies, but ideologically, he is much closer to the more moderate Republicans.

#10 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On April 5, 2017 @ 5:24 pm

There are a lot of good points about the US Constitution, but it’s worth noting that nobody since its inception has copied the thing – the most modern forms of representative democracy are in India and Japan.

India’s form of ‘representative democracy’ doesn’t work very well at all. In 1996, a majority of Indians said they thought the army could run the countries better than democratic politicians could, and that was before rabid religious ultraconservatives became the most powerful party. And if you talk to Indians you’ll frequently hear “China envy” comments to the effect that “liberal democracy is why we can’t have nice things like China does.”