Twenty-two years ago, the “Contract with America” promised voters that, if elected to Congress, Republicans would advance legislation to shrink the size of government, balance the budget, and reform major entitlement programs.
Americans voiced decisive support for these conservative principles at the polls in the 1994 election—Republicans won control of the House and the Senate, and Republican governors held 31 states.
Congress was acutely aware of the people’s desire to return to a limited federal government, and sought to start by empowering the states. As reported in the New York Times, incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich astutely observed at the start of the 104th Session, “[t]he governors are prepared to say to us if we will radically decentralize, give them the job, they will do the job.”
Within one year, the Republican Congress delivered on its promise to reform the broken welfare system. As with all major legislation that has stood the test of time, welfare reform took shape on a bipartisan basis and the governors played a lead role in identifying the problems and constructing the solutions.
Unfortunately, the tactics employed by the Obama administration leading up to passage of the ACA stand in stark contrast to the reforms accomplished under the Contract with America.
From a position inside Congress, I had a front row seat as a brand new Democratic president and a Democratically-controlled Congress went about overhauling health care behind closed doors, along party lines, and without state input. Even as Republicans were completely shut out of the process I recall thinking, where are the governors? Why are state legislatures not involved in the discussion?
In the years that followed, our health care system has been plagued with problems. Patients have fewer choices and burdensome mandates, consumer costs continue to spike, and 30 million Americans remain uninsured. In 2016, House Speaker Paul Ryan convened Republican members to develop an alternative way to fix our broken health care system—A Better Way.
Just as they did in the 1994 election, Americans made their dissatisfaction with the status quo clear at the voting booth, and Republicans will control the White House, House, and Senate in 2017.
As the 115th Congress prepares to make good on its promise to deliver a Better Way to the American people, there is understandable anxiety driven by uncertainty—will the ACA be replaced? Will Medicaid be reformed? Will Medicare remain the same? These are all important questions, but I urge the American people to take heart.
I am confident that the new Congress will advance legislation through an open and inclusive process to empower states, patients, taxpayers, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and insurers to participate in discussions that so profoundly affect their lives.
Republicans are already taking steps to do just this. Over the past year, members of the Energy and Commerce Committee have been acquiring a deeper understanding of the challenges in the Medicaid program through the Medicaid Task Force.
On December 2, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and several Committee Chairmen sent a letter to state governors and insurance commissioners requesting ideas for how to reform our health care system for the benefit of the American people. On December 13, Senate Finance Committee Republicans sent a letter to governors seeking input on potential changes to health care, and announcing a roundtable on the Medicaid program in early January.
In many ways I see the new Congress as the rescue squad—the first responders for citizens damaged and endangered by the excesses of this experiment in nationalizing health care. But the good news is we don’t have to do it alone.
By taking a page out of former Speaker Gingrich’s playbook from over 20 years ago, we can leverage the power of the state and local governments, “those laboratories of democracy,” as a force multiplier and ally to correct the errors of the past eight years.
Dr. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.