House GOP Embraced Politically Suicidal Medicare Repeal Plan With Eyes Wide Open To Its Unpopularity

Glen Thrush and Jake Sherman have a very interesting Politico article noting that House Republicans weren’t confused about the unpopularity of the budget plan they voted for earlier this year. Pollsters told them that eliminating Medicare wouldn’t sit well with the voters:

No matter how favorably pollsters with the Tarrance Group or other firms spun the bill in their pitch — casting it as the only path to saving the beloved health entitlement for seniors — the Ryan budget’s approval rating barely budged above the high 30s or its disapproval below 50 percent, according to a Republican operative familiar with the presentation.

What’s more, not only did House Republicans know this, but many of them drew the conclusion that this meant they shouldn’t push Medicare repeal:

The outward unity projected by House Republicans masked weeks of fierce debate, even infighting, and doubt over a measure that stands virtually no chance of becoming law. In a series of heated closed-door exchanges, dissenters, led by Ryan’s main internal rival — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) — argued for a less radical, more bipartisan approach, GOP staffers say.


But amazingly, Camp (and others) agreed to go along with it even though a minority of Republicans plus all Democrats could have easily blocked Medicare repeal if they wanted to:

At a fundraiser shortly after the vote, a frustrated Camp groused, “We shouldn’t have done it” and that he was “overridden,” according to a person in attendance.

All put together, it’s a fascinating picture of the emergence of very strong party discipline of the sort that hasn’t traditionally existed in the United States and continues not to exist in the Democratic caucus. In lots of countries the way things work is that once a party caucus has decided on a position, all members vote for it even if in the intra-caucus dispute they didn’t want to adopt that position. But American parties don’t normally work this way. Camp, however, seems to be saying that the House GOP now does. Indeed, party decision-making is sufficiently centralized that discipline can be imposed even when the members are well-aware that the line people being made to toe is unpopular. One of the unfortunate things about the political media’s commitment to “balanced” coverage is that not only do reporters generally feel impelled to always act as if the two parties are normatively symmetrical there also seems to be a reluctance to explore the systematic asymmetries between the parties in an even merely descriptive sense. As a result, we know less about the differences in these disciplinary dynamics, their sources, and their implications than we really ought to.