Editorial April 2017
E D I T O R I A L
On health care vote, hiding in plain sight
Say what you will about John Faso, but at least we know where he stood.
As the House was nearing a vote last month on the most contentious issue so far in the new Congress – repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act – the freshman congressman from the Hudson Valley came out strongly in support of the Republican repeal-and-replace bill.
Faso even teamed up with a fellow upstate Republican, Rep. Chris Collins of Erie County, to convince House leaders to amend the bill in a way that would have affected only New York. Their amendment would have freed upstate counties from the 25 percent share of Medicaid costs they’ve traditionally paid -- though Democrats predicted this would lead to devastating funding cuts.
In an interview with the Times Union of Albany just days before the expected House vote, Faso talked up the parts of the health care bill that he liked, mentioned a few that he thought needed improvement, and said he’d vote to advance it.
There are no doubt many of Faso’s constituents who strongly disagreed with his stance. And when the congressman runs for re-election next year, he’ll win or lose depending on whether those who agreed or disagreed turn out more heavily at the polls. That’s called accountability.
There was likewise no doubt how the three Democrats in the region’s U.S. House delegation – Reps. Peter Welch of Vermont, Richard Neal of western Massachusetts and Paul Tonko of New York’s Capital District – would vote on the health care proposal. The repeal-and-replace measure, drafted without any Democratic input, would undo what their party sees as its greatest legislative achievement of recent times. They would vote no.
What remains a mystery, though, is how Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik would have voted. The congresswoman from New York’s northernmost district called repeatedly in the past for repealing and replacing “Obamacare.” But when her party put forth a proposal that might actually have become law, Stefanik waited to take a stand.And she kept waiting, day after day, right up until Republican leaders abruptly abandoned the bill.
In our hyper-partisan era, it is of course good to have an elected representative take time to listen to the views of constituents before staking out a position on a divisive issue. But there is a point at which careful deliberation gives way to cowardice. We expect our elected officials to sort through the issues and, at least eventually, show their hand.
In Stefanik’s case, the failure to ever get to yes or no on repealing the Affordable Care Act unfortunately fits with a pattern of the congresswoman ducking or obfuscating on controversial issues – especially when her party’s and her constituents’ views might be at odds.
Most recently, Stefanik wouldn’t say whether she supports President Trump’s executive order undoing plans to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants. Stefanik, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, also wouldn’t say whether she thinks committee Chairman Devin Nunes needs to recuse himself from the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Stefanik ignored calls throughout February and March to hold a town hall meeting on health care. Instead she met only with small groups of constituents in sessions from which the press was barred. Three days before the expected vote, she finally held an hourlong teleconference at which a tiny sampling of constituents got to speak.
On the most basic test of accountability, the voters deserve better. A simple yes or no would do.