Poliquin breaks with Republicans on ACA vote



Freshman Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District poked his head above the Washington ramparts in defiance of Republican leadership last week. As the House of Representatives took its umpteenth vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Poliquin just said “no.”

It was not his love of President Obama’s health care plan that motivated him. No, he dislikes it every bit as much as his Republican colleagues do. The President’s plan, he said, “is hurting jobs, hurting our families, limiting choices.” However, he does not want to hang newly insured Mainers out to dry in order to serve political gatekeepers in Washington.

In a statement released, he said, “…more than 60,000 Mainers have invested their time and energy in choosing health care plans…. If Congress…repeals Obamacare, it must be fully prepared to replace it with a free-market alternative.”

With his vote, Mr. Poliquin forfeited the support of the Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC), which pronounced itself “stunned” by his move and voted to take away his birthday. No, but they did vote to rescind their endorsement of our representative, because we can’t have members of Congress thinking for themselves and voting on behalf of their constituents, right?

“For our organization it is a litmus test issue, and there is simply no excuse for a ‘No’ vote to repeal it,” said the national chairman of the RLC. Not thoughtfulness, not reason, not consideration for the plight of the uninsured. Nope. It’s the RLC’s way or the highway.

On its website, the Republican Liberty Caucus describes itself as “dedicated to working within the Republican Party to advance the principles of individual rights, limited government and free markets.” The group also urged its members to support “anyone other than Speaker John Boehner” for speaker of the House in the new Congress. They failed at that effort, but it puts Rep. Poliquin in good company in the Liberty Caucus doghouse.

Mr. Poliquin also brought down upon himself the wrath of the Campaign for Liberty, a group which cleverly calls itself C4L (Millennials! We’re talking to you!”), which issued a dire warning about how they will “be sure to let his constituents know how little he values his own word, much less the opinions of the voters who elected him.”

According to C4L, Mr. Poliquin “violated his pledge to Campaign for Liberty and his constituents by voting against HR 596, which would repeal Obamacare.” This is exactly the problem with candidates signing pledges. Pledges to not raise taxes, ever. To protect Social Security. To lower the national debt. To oppose abortion. To appoint conservative Supreme Court judges. To defund Planned Parenthood. To vote against the Affordable Care Act every time, no questions asked.

Governing by pledge is phoning it in. No thought is required by the elected representative. It signifies slavish devotion to the organization authoring the pledge and there is no room to stray, no matter how compelling the argument nor how circumstances may have changed since the pinky-swear took place.

There have been questions raised about whether signing on to these pledges during one’s candidacy is a violation of the congressional oath of office, in which members of Congress solemnly swear that they “take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation.” Does not a pre-session pledge signify a “mental reservation?”

The weight of these pledges, and the importance of obedience to party leadership, is quite evident in the coverage of the “defection” of Mr. Poliquin and two other representatives from the party line on the Affordable Care Act. An ocean of ink followed the daring move to vote their conscience.

All three cited the need to have an alternative health care coverage plan in place before repealing the existing plan. Republicans have worried from its inception that if “Obamacare” were allowed to be implemented, it would be so popular that repeal would be impossible. This is proving to be the case, but only three of the 247 Republican members of Congress had the courage to acknowledge that reality. Several years into its implementation, the Republicans have yet to put a plan on the table that could reasonably replace it.

Rep. Poliquin is now left, as it were, sitting in a chair with no back. It is great for the posture but terribly uncomfortable. He has a penchant for marching to his own drummer and so far does not appear flustered by the attention. It might be helpful in sanding off his conservative edges with an eye to future elections in the 2nd CD.

Freshmen congressmen are generally swallowed whole by the system. Mr. Poliquin has come out early in making his mark. Though this should not be taken for a sign that his ideology has changed, he has proven himself willing to make a stand when he cares to, stand up to his leadership when he has to, and make independent, reasoned decisions when he needs to. Not a bad start to his congressional career. His personal political calculus put more weight on his constituents than on the puppet makers in Washington, and that’s what we should hope for in a representative.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.