2017-05-18 / Opinion

I never promised you a rose garden

The White House Rose Garden enjoys a special place in American history. Its modern use as a convivial stage for White House events dates to the early 20th century. But in the time of George Washington, long before there was a Rose Garden, there were many different versions of the White House garden.

In Washington’s day, it was a botanical garden. It was followed by successions of new plantings, including groves of trees, ornamental shrubs, expansive flower beds, plots of herbs and vegetables, and even a Colonial garden display typical of that era.

It was the do-over of the Colonial garden during the Wilson administration that was the forerunner of the Rose Garden today. It is a permanent feature of the White House grounds, albeit frequently redesigned by succeeding generations of White House occupants.

Today, it can accommodate sizeable crowds and serves frequently as an outdoor venue to welcome dignitaries, stage high-profile events, host state dinners, make important announcements, hold national press conferences and conduct ceremonials that honor distinguished people.

Consistent with these traditions, President Trump avails himself of the Rose Garden, too, as a setting for his White House events. But he recently broke new ground when the Rose Garden served as his backdrop to celebrate with House Republicans the passing of the American Health Care Act. That’s because the approval of legislation by only one chamber of Congress doesn’t usually rise to the historical level of Rose Garden treatment by a sitting president.

The House bill passed by the Republican majority will surely look different when it emerges from the Senate, assuming it does emerge. It is apparent the AHCA is a long way from making it through that legislative process. Declaring victory over a half-baked deal in this circumstance is premature. Though the bill’s uncertain status gave no cause for constraint, the tumultuous aftermath of its passing should have.

Self-congratulation at this stage is purely bombastic, comparable to declaring your horse a winner in the Kentucky Derby when the field has only just passed the half-mile post. It’s a false finish, a poor bet and a compulsion beyond foolish.

If this is so, then you might ask: What the hell was the giddy crowd of not-your-daddy, Republican white men celebrating in the Rose Garden? if you followed the legislative chaos in the House prior to the bill’s passing and observed the garden celebration immediately following, it was a bizarre scene. Despite the happy huzzahs that Obamacare was dead, the post-mortem on how the deal was done and the assessment of the ACHA as the Republican bid to replace it are, in themselves, devastating.

First, there were the tactics to get the bill on the floor. They entirely shortchanged the integrity of the result with secrecy and pirating of the process. Due diligence was dead before the bugle Call to Post. False urgency abounded. “The sky is falling,” said the little orange hen. Legislative hysteria prevailed.

The AHCA was put to a vote absent an updated cost/benefit analysis by the congressional business office. There were no prior committee hearings on the substance of the legislation. Nor had the bill even been read by most of the lawmakers determined to pass it.

It was known the bill polled poorly among most Americans and faced the full-throated opposition of major constituent groups, including the AARP, the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association. There were also tens of millions of other good reasons to hesitate — the tens of millions of Americans who are destined to lose their health coverage if the AHCA were to become law.

Even so, 217 Republican House members voted for the bill. Twenty Republicans said nay, joined by 193 Democrats. It was a sad spectacle. The only good thing to come out of any of this chaos is that the country is now having the debate it should have had before the AHCA was passed in the House.

The after-party in the Rose Garden wasn’t about celebrating a fine piece of legislative craft providing Americans the finest health care in the industrial world. It was about the Republican-majority being brought to heel by the Freedom Caucus, the right-wing radicals who want to destroy Obamacare rather than fix its problems. What the sell-outs received in return for their affirmative vote was the illusion of party unity.

The diagnostics regarding the effects of AHCA are grim should it survive with its major features intact. It will allow insurers to charge sick people higher premiums, gut protections for those with pre-existing illnesses and exempt insurance companies from covering essential benefits included in Obamacare. Tens of millions of American will lose their coverage.

In this context, Trump’s jubilant celebration with Republicans in the Rose Gardens is a dystopian scene. Instead of a party picture, the mind instead sees a giddy group of unhinged lawmakers performing a macabre victory dance on the graves of those who will suffer and die if they get their wish. ¦

— Email Leslie Lilly at llilly@floridaweekly.com and read past blog posts on Tumblr at llilly15.Tumblr.com.

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