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Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel doesn’t think the AHCA will pass through Congress and shares his ideas about how Obamacare could be improved, rather than repealed. He speaks with Susan Page, USA TODAY Washington bureau chief, on Capital Download.
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Republicans in Congress are learning a lesson political leaders seem to forget quite easily: When it comes to actually leading, playing politics for politics’ sake rarely works.

The differences between electoral politics and leading are vast and, in many cases, require a completely different set of skills. It’s easy to say what you are going to do, but it’s quite a different thing to actually do it.

Presidents often face this reality when transitioning from the campaign trail to the Oval Office. But this is not just a presidential problem, nor does it happen just to candidates who win and become officials. It is a problem of any leader — or group of leaders — who find themselves moving from the relatively easy job of orchestrating political theater to the incredibly difficult job of being in charge, such as a minority party who suddenly finds itself in the majority.

In short, politicking is one thing; leading is another.

Obamacare repeal: Are efforts obvious fixes or a disastrous mess?

Not just a D.C. thing

Plans to repeal and replace Obamacare have failed at just about every turn, despite pledges to do so having been the bedrock of Republican electioneering since the health care law was passed in 2010. With the GOP in control of Congress and the White House, one would think repealing and replacing the law would be simple. So, why has that not been the case?

  1. Republicans enjoy majorities in both chambers but not big enough majorities.
  2. Taking away a benefit is politically difficult.
  3. The leadership worked mostly in secret.

These same lessons have plagued Republican leaders in the Mississippi Legislature, particularly in efforts to rewrite public education funding laws. The idea that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program is broken, overly complicated and not sufficient for today’s budgeting realities has been a theme of Republican politics for more than a decade. But despite six legislative sessions under a Republican governor and Republican-led Legislature, MAEP remains unchanged.

The reasons are pretty simple:

  1. Republicans enjoy majorities in both chambers but not big enough majorities.
  2. Taking away a benefit is politically difficult.
  3. The leadership worked mostly in secret.

Not majority enough

In Congress, factions within the Republican Party have plagued the leadership’s ability to pass health care reform. Either a bill would not do enough for those on the far right of the party, or it would do too much for the moderates of the party.

In the Legislature, the issue has been twofold: a) there are Republican members who will not vote for drastic changes to MAEP, and b) Republicans did not have enough votes to pass bills requiring a three-fifths majority without Democratic support.

The latter is no longer an issue as Republicans enjoy a three-fifths majority in both chambers. The former is likely not an issue anymore either, though that has yet to be put to the test. For one, conservative groups successfully targeted a handful of Republican lawmakers who had voted with pro-public education groups in opposition to charter school laws and who were thought to oppose major MAEP restructuring efforts. Too, with a three-fifths majority, Republicans in the Legislature can afford to lose a few votes and still have the simple majority needed.

Taketh away

The reality of Obamacare repeal-and-replace efforts to date is that millions of Americans are going to lose health insurance. Many of those Americans live in congressional districts with Republican representatives and senators. Then there are the handful of GOP members from states that expanded Medicaid, which would be rolled back.

As easy as it is to say, “Obamacare is destroying health care in America, and, if elected, I’ll vote to repeal it,” it’s a lot harder to go home and face questions like, “Why did you vote to take away my health insurance?”

For several Republicans in the Legislature, changes to the MAEP formula are apt to mean less money for schools in their districts. When you get to politics that local, politicking and party take a back seat to friends and neighbors — and in some cases, family.

Secrecy, not familiarity

In politics, it’s secrecy that breeds contempt. Familiarity with what’s going on with a process would be a welcome change and likely earn more votes.

Congressional Republicans have hatched bills behind closed doors, rushed them out and then quickly learned the votes do not exist.

Legislative Republican leaders have taken secrecy to a whole new extreme. Members of their own party often complain about not knowing what is going on until it’s time to vote.

Of the major issues facing GOP leaders both in Congress and the Legislature, this is the one they actually have the power to change. Making the process more open, encouraging input from other lawmakers and involving the public in the overall discussion would not only remove much of the contempt but could go a long way toward finding additional votes or crafting better legislation that could pass.

Otherwise, we’re right back where we’ve been for far too long — one party politicking while the other party struggles to lead. And while this political theater plays out in Washington or Jackson, the rest of the country or the state keeps on trudging forward, often wondering why they even bother with their so-called elected “leaders.”

Contact Sam R. Hall at srhall@jackson.gannett.com or (601) 961-7163. Follow Sam on Twitter and Facebook.

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