By Robert Pittenger
Saying no is easy. Actual leadership, or governing, is much more difficult.
On Thursday, President Trump tweeted, “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”
There are many fine people in the Freedom Caucus. For several years, the Freedom Caucus was among the most vocal in saying “no” to Obamacare. But when they had the opportunity last week to take action as the governing party, some in the caucus reverted to their days in opposition and said “no” to a conservative plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Why? Members of the Freedom Caucus and others in the conservative movement correctly point out that the American Health Care Act was not perfect, nor did it accomplish 100 percent of our conservative objectives with healthcare. My hope is that reason and cooler heads will prevail from many of the Freedom Caucus Members to move forward with a positive replacement of Obamacare.
Let me be clear: I’ve been conservative since before it was cool, helping organize events for Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, Margaret Thatcher and Pat Robertson. Twice I was rated the most conservative member of the North Carolina Senate, and national media outlets regularly refer to me as a “Tea Party” or “Conservative Leader” on Capitol Hill.
However, as I’ve been conservative for so many years, I have the advantage of remembering first-hand the lessons of Ronald Reagan. Many of today’s conservative leaders forget he raised taxes 11 times while on his way to becoming our conservative icon. President Reagan sometimes accepted less-than-100 percent perfect outcomes because he understood how to govern, and the need to strategically build consensus to create consistent conservative victories. His policies initiated the greatest economic recovery in modern history.
In his own words:
“I’m not retreating an inch from where I was. But I also recognize this: There are some people who would have you so stand on principle that if you don’t get all that you’ve asked for from the legislature, why, you jump off the cliff with the flag flying. I have always figured that half a loaf is better than none, and I know that in the democratic process you’re not going to always get everything you want. So I think what they’ve misread, is times in which I have compromised . . . was better than going down fighting and not getting anything at all. And I’m just going to have to make people realize that, you know, I come back and I ask for more the next time around.” (President Reagan, Feb. 9, 1983).
As we move forward with health-care reform, tax reform and legislation to spur economic growth, we must remember that even within the House Republican Conference, we can’t realistically expect to get 100 percent of what we want in every battle.
Each member of Congress represents different districts, some with far different demographics, or more seniors, or more people in poverty, or urban needs, or rural needs.
Does this mean we abandon conservative principles? Absolutely not. Had the first step of health-care reform passed the U.S. House of Representatives, I would have continued fighting for additional reforms. In fact, I’ve already co-sponsored additional legislation to allow health insurance to be sold across state lines, and to repeal President Obama’s controversial Independent Payment Advisory Board for Medicare, which put Washington bureaucrats between you and your doctor. Unfortunately, if we never take the first step because it’s not absolutely perfect, we’ll never make progress.
To govern, House Republicans must be strategic, seizing every possible victory as one more step toward our objective, instead of expecting to accomplish every goal with one swift move. This strategy is why we now revere Ronald Reagan as one of the best presidents in American history. Are we ready to learn from his example?
Congressman Robert Pittenger is chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and vice chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance. He serves on the House Financial Services Committee, with a special focus on supporting small businesses, community banks, and credit unions.