U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is followed by members of the media as he leaves after a meeting with Republican Study Committee, Oct. 20, 2015 at the Capitol in Washington, DC.
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Putting an end to the debate about the GOP as a ‘governing party’

All In with Chris Hayes, 3/9/17, 8:11 PM ET

GOP Rep.: We aren't rushing Trumpcare

Despite an unprecedented timeline to pass a health care overhaul, Rep. Leonard Lance says the GOP isn’t jamming a bill down your throat.
Despite an unprecedented timeline to pass a health care overhaul, Rep. Leonard Lance says the GOP isn’t jamming a bill down your throat.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes talked with Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) last night about the Republican health care plan, which Lance voted for in committee yesterday. Chris asked a simple question early on, which ordinarily wouldn’t even come up after a committee vote: “How many hearings – open hearings with witness testimony and the like – have you had on this bill?”

Lance dodged, saying Republicans had held hearings about their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, so Chris asked again, “In this Congress, though. How many hearings in this Congress on this bill?” Lance dodged again, referring to 2016 campaign rhetoric. Chris stuck with it, asking, “I get that, but there`s legislative language now. I’m just curious, how many hearings has your committee had on this bill?”

Lance dodged again, and Chris asked again. The two went back and forth multiple times, with the Republican congressman refusing to acknowledge that his committee hasn’t held any hearings on the American Health Care Act, which some have labeled “Trumpcare.” Lance eventually said he thinks maybe the Senate will hold some “discussion” about the legislation.

Let’s pause for a moment to note the purpose of a congressional hearing. Members of Congress, even those who’ve made up their minds, participate in legislative hearings to explore an issue in detail, hear from subject-matter experts, ask questions of authorities, dig into substantive nuances, and ideally use the information gleaned from the Q&A to shape legislative language.

This week, however, House Republicans took up legislation that will affect tens of millions of people, and have a direct impact on a fifth of the world’s largest economy, but instead of holding committee hearings, they held votes. They could’ve discussed policy implications with experts in the field; they could’ve waited for the Congressional Budget Office to tell them how much the bill will cost; they could’ve found out how many Americans will lose coverage if their plan is implemented; they could’ve talked to medical professionals, hospital administers, and governors.

But they skipped this step. House Republicans proceeded with self-imposed blinders, effectively legislating in the dark, for one painfully obvious reason: they don’t care about substantive policy details. (This unfolded around the time the White House press secretary said his party’s plan is superior to the Affordable Care Act because the former fits on fewer pieces of paper.)

I wish this were a case in which GOP lawmakers disagreed with stakeholders - doctors, nurses, hospitals, scorekeepers, et al – because Republicans believed the experts were wrong on the merits. That, at least, could be the basis for a credible debate. Instead, GOP members of Congress have declared that the merits simply don’t matter to them. They’re annoying trivialities that simply get in the way.

And therein lies the broader point: Republicans are offering striking evidence that they are a post-policy party. They’ve abandoned the pretense that substance guides their work in any meaningful way.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters this week, when asked about intra-party divisions, “I think what you’re seeing is: We’re going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party.”

If that’s true, these “growing pains” have proven to be debilitating, because real governing parties in modern global superpowers would never dream of legislating the way Ryan’s party is.

The New York Times’ Neil Irwin wrote a good piece a couple of weeks ago, before the new GOP health plan was unveiled, noting the challenges associated with the Republican Party’s “wonk gap.” Irwin explained, “Large portions of the Republican caucus embrace a kind of policy nihilism. They criticize any piece of legislation that doesn’t completely accomplish conservative goals, but don’t build coalitions to devise complex legislation themselves. The roster of congressional Republicans includes lots of passionate ideological voices. It is lighter on the kind of wonkish, compromise-oriented technocrats who move bills.”

He added that most GOP lawmakers often have an “aversion to doing the messy work of making policy…. If you make a career opposing even the basic work of making the government run, it’s hard to pivot to writing major legislation.”

The fact that Republicans policymaking muscles have atrophied may be understandable under the circumstances – GOP lawmakers working with a GOP administration haven’t tackled a major legislative initiative since George W. Bush’s first term – but what’s less understandable is how little they’re willing to even try now.

It’s not as if House Republicans held hearings to consider “Trumpcare” in depth, but then struggled to hold a constructive discussion. Rather, they just skipped it altogether, showing a complete indifference to what the legislation is and does.

GOP lawmakers have all but declared that they prefer to stick their heads in the sand, because it’s vastly easier than doing their homework and tackling real legislative challenges.

Republicans’ disinterest in serious governing is a national embarrassment, which may soon cost millions of families dearly if their careless and woefully inadequate health care bill somehow becomes law without so much as a hint of due diligence from legislators.