Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post argues that Sen. Tom Cotton is “walking a tightrope” when it comes to Obamacare. Sullivan says that Cotton finds himself in this precarious position because he campaigned against Obamacare but Arkansas is “filled with constituents who have benefited from Obamacare.” Sullivan adds that Cotton and other Republicans in his position must also worry about President Trump’s “willingness to lash out at unruly GOP lawmakers.”
Sullivan’s article is flawed in important respects. First, he makes too much of Sen. Cotton’s town hall meeting, during which the Senator came under intense criticism from angry participants. There is little reason to think that participants in that event provide an ideologically representative picture of Cotton’s constituency.
Second, Sullivan draws odd inferences about Cotton’s motives. For example, he writes:
Cotton urged caution in the pace at which [the House bill] was proceeding, but he did not advocate restraint in shredding some directives in the ACA. In effect, it was a simultaneous nod to conservatives on policy and centrists on timing.
Sullivan wants to make it appear that Cotton is trying to stay on the good side of conservatives and moderates. Hence, the “tightrope” analogy.
But concern over the fact that the House was moving too quickly should not be construed as nod to centrists or an attempt to have things both ways. Knowing how important the issue is and aware that Republicans will be held responsible for its resolution, Cotton simply wants to take the time needed to get Obamacare replacement legislation right. There’s nothing non-conservative about that.
Sullivan also overlooks the fact that House conservatives, and most conservatives in general, did not like the bill that was pending before the House when Cotton called for taking the time to get things right. Thus, there was no tension between Cotton’s conservatism and his opposition to rushing to pass that bill.
Third, and this may not be Sullivan’s fault, the headline of his story is off-key. Cotton served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows what real cross fire is. The dispute over Obamacare replacement legislation ain’t it.
To be sure, the question of how best to replace Obamacare is a vexing issue for House and Senate Republicans. It makes many in both chambers uncomfortable, and Tom Cotton may well among them.
But Cotton is not the poster-child for conflicted Republicans. Sullivan presents no evidence that the Senator is seriously conflicted at all over Obamacare. The fact that Cotton wants to proceed deliberately isn’t evidence of internal conflict over fundamental questions. It just shows he wants to take the time needed to get the specifics right.
Finally, Cotton would be near the bottom of a list of Republican Senators whose reelection prospects might be jeopardized due to the Obamacare replacement controversy, however it turns out. A boisterous town hall meeting shouldn’t obscure that reality.
Sullivan strongly implies that Tom’s ambition goes beyond the Senate. If so, that’s all the more incentive to get Obamacare replacement right. But getting it right doesn’t mean walking a tightrope between centrists and conservatives. Sullivan is wrong to suggest that this is what Tom is doing.
Sullivan’s reports contains one piece of good news. Tom Cotton is a member of a health-care working group of Senate Republicans that’s trying to figure out how to proceed now that the House has passed its “replacement” legislation.
I expect he will be a voice of conservatism and a voice of reason. The two are not incompatible, whatever folks at the Washington Post may think.