Making A Statement And Fulfilling A Promise

The House of Representatives, now under Republican control, has passed legislation to repeal the “health care reform” legislation passed by the last Congress.  Democrats in the Senate, who control that chamber, are saying that repeal legislation will never come to the floor for a vote — and, of course, President Obama would be expected to veto any repeal legislation that would happen to reach his desk.

So, was the House vote a waste of time?  I don’t think so.  By voting to repeal the “health care reform” legislation, the Republican majority was fulfilling a campaign promise.  We should applaud politicians who do so, not condemn them.  The general public would have a more favorable view of politicians generally if more politicians actually tried to keep their promises.  By acting so promptly, the Republicans are demonstrating that elections have consequences.  And, of course, you never know whether political pressure will build on the Senate to consider some form of repeal legislation.  If Democrats in the Senate consider the legislation to be such a great success, why should they duck a vote on its proposed repeal?

Now that the Republicans in the House have met one of their promises, they need to turn to working on the others.  If I had a vote, I would urge them to focus on deficit reduction and a careful analysis of potential federal spending cuts.

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Phony Figures

Today Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, released a report that concludes that up to half of all Americans below age 65 — 129 million in all — have some kind of “pre-existing condition” that might otherwise cause them to be denied health insurance coverage.  The report, which was released on the day the House of Representatives began debate on a bill to repeal the “health care reform” legislation, notes that under that legislation those individuals with “pre-existing conditions” cannot otherwise be denied coverage, or be charged significantly higher premiums.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

As is the case so often these days, this report seems to be motivated almost entirely by political concerns — in this case, trying to make a case for retaining the “health care reform” legislation.  Consider the study itself.  It concludes that “50 to 129 million (19 to 50 percent of) non-elderly Americans have some type of pre-existing health condition.”  Can’t we expect a bit more precision from our governmental studies than a margin for error of 79 million Americans?  No doubt the political manueverers at HHS realized that the news media would report the higher number — which is exactly what has happened.  The headline on the ABC News website report on the study, for example, is:  “Half of Americans Have Pre-Existing Health Conditions”.

And consider, too, the fact that the report itself notes that “as many as 82 million Americans with employer-based coverage have a pre-existing condition.”  In other words, those conditions — if they exist at all — have not stopped those 82 million Americans from getting and keeping insurance through their employers.  If the insurance companies were really as evil as Secretary Sebelius and the supporters of “health care reform” legislation argue, how could that have happened?  Why didn’t the greedy insurance companies immediately eliminate coverage for those 82 million Americans?  The fact that, according to the government, as many as 82 million Americans are maintaining health insurance notwithstanding their purported “pre-existing conditions” refutes one of the basic arguments for having “health care reform” legislation in the first place.

Finally, the report shows, I think, that our federal government really doesn’t have much respect for the common sense of Americans.  Does anyone honestly think that if half of all Americans under 65 really had pre-existing conditions that made it impossible for them to get private health insurance we would see the kind of vigorous opposition to the “health care reform” legislation that has continued, unabated, despite the best efforts of the news media and the federal government to quash it?

 

How Will History Judge?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now describing the current Congress as the “most productive Congress in the history of the country.” He numbers among its accomplishments the “stimulus” legislation, the “health care reform” legislation, repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, new financial regulations, and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

When you are in the moment, it is difficult to assess what the ultimate judgment of history will be.  I doubt that many Americans would put the current Congress up among the great Congresses of the past, however.  After all, voters just gave the boot to many of the Representatives and Senators who passed the legislation Reid touts, and Congress’ approval rating is a dismal 13 percent — its lowest level in decades.  And those people who are critical of Congress no doubt will point to the things that Congress didn’t do, like passing appropriations bills or making meaningful cuts to the federal budget.

History will make its judgment, as history always does.  In the meantime, there is something unseemly and profoundly unattractive about Senator Reid’s excessive pride.  His hubris exemplifies a significant problem with the current uninspiring crop of legislators:  they are oblivious to how they are being perceived outside the Beltway.

Exploring The Limits Of Constitutional Power

Today a federal district court judge in Virginia ruled that the “individual mandate” provision of the “health care reform” legislation — that is, that portion of the statute that would require people to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty — is unconstitutional.

Judge Henry Hudson concluded that the individual mandate “exceeds the constitutional boundaries of congressional power.”  He found that the commerce clause, which gives Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce, does not permit Congress to regulate a person’s decision not to purchase a product.  Although there are other court rulings that have upheld the “health care reform” legislation, Judge Hudson’s decision is significant because it reflects an interesting approach to skirting the broad powers afforded Congress through the commerce clause.  In effect, Judge Hudson is saying that if individuals choose not to purchase a good or service they are not engaged in commerce, and therefore they necessarily are beyond Congress’ regulatory power under the commerce clause.

Of course, this issue will be addressed by federal appellate courts and, ultimately, will be decided the Supreme Court.  Until then, it is an issue that Americans of all political stripes may well want to consider.  Supporters of the “health care reform” legislation want that law to be upheld — but do they really want a court ruling that says that Congress can force Americans to buy products or take other actions in furtherance of commerce?  In other instances, federal law requirements are simply attached to a decision and therefore become part of the individual decision-making process.  If I want to work, for example, I have to pay Social Security and have income tax withheld from my wages.  If I don’t want to pay Social Security, I can choose not to work.  With the “individual mandate,” however, there is no choice.  Simply by virtue of being an American, you become obligated to buy health insurance.

When we speak of constitutional doctrine, we have to take the long term view and look past the relative merits of the statute at issue.  If the Supreme Court rules that Congress has the constitutional power to force us to buy health insurance, what’s next?  Smoke alarms?  Government bonds?  Subscriptions to the Congressional Record?  And if we think the corruption and influence of lobbyists is out of control now, what will it be like if corporations and interest groups learn that, through some deft lobbying work, they can achieve passage of legislation that will require us to spend our money for their goods and services?

Your Tax Dollars At Work, Protecting Americans From Unlicensed Neighborhood Lemonade Stands

Does anyone in government stop and think about what they are really doing, anymore?

Here’s the latest story of some ridiculous lack of judgment by a government regulator.  A 7-year-old girl in a suburb of Portland, Oregon sets up a lemonade stand at a neighborhood festival and starts serving lemonade made from bottled water and Kool-Aid mix, at a price of 50 cents a cup.  Some county health inspector with a clipboard comes up and asks the kid to show her temporary restaurant license.  Not surprisingly, the child doesn’t have one — they cost $120, after all — and the health inspector tells the kid that she has to close up shop or face a $500 fine.  The child left in tears.  Of course, the county health inspectors defend the action, saying that they “need to put the public’s health first” and must “protect the public” no matter how small the business or how young the proprietor.

Didn’t anyone at the county health department ever have a lemonade stand?  Doesn’t anyone at the county health department have any common sense?  Is unlicensed lemonade sold by a 7-year-old really such an enormous risk to public health that the full weight of the country government must be brought to bear?

Whether a 7-year-old gets to run a lemonade stand without being harassed and reduced to tears by clipboard-waving bureaucrats doesn’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of things.  This story reveals a greater concern about how government works, however.  One reason why some people, at least, oppose the government making decisions about their health care is precisely because they are worried that those momentous decisions will be made by nameless bureaucrats who don’t have the sense to determine that a 7-year-old’s lemonade stand doesn’t pose a fundamental risk to public health.

The Voters Begin To Speak On “Health Care Reform”

Tuesday’s election in Missouri included a ballot initiative where voters were asked to weigh in on whether a key provision of the “health care reform” legislation — the “individual mandate” that requires people to either get health insurance or pay a penalty — should be invalidated.  More than 71 percent of the Missouri voters voted yes on that issue.

I’m sure supporters of health care reform have lots of rationalizations for the landslide in Missouri — it was a special election, Republicans were more motivated to go to the polls, serious people understand that ballot issues aren’t going to decide the matter and therefore we shouldn’t pay attention to the results, etc. — but I think the Missouri election result has to be viewed as having some significance.

The reality is that, when voters were asked to pull the lever on a key feature of the “health care reform” legislation, they rejected it overwhelmingly.  Commentators can pooh-pooh the results if they wish, but does anyone doubt that if Missouri voters had overwhelmingly approved of the individual mandate that result would have been cited as evidence that popular perception of the legislation was changing?

I don’t know whether an up or down vote on one part of a complex bill can tell us much about how voters will treat members of Congress when they stand for re-election in November.  Most voters aren’t single issue voters; they typically consider an incumbent’s overall record.  Still, if I were a Democrat who had voted in favor of the “health care reform” legislation and its individual mandate centerpiece, the Missouri results would leave me feeling queasy.

Recognizing Taxes As Taxes

The New York Times recently carried an interesting article on the Justice Department’s arguments against claims that the “health care reform” legislation is unconstitutional.  The “linchpin” of the argument is that the individual mandate, which requires people to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, is constitutional as an exercise of Congress’ broad taxing power.

The Justice Department’s argument is interesting because, while the “health care reform” legislation was being debated, President Obama and many of his congressional allies denied that the individual mandate was a tax.  For example, Congress did not cite its taxing power as a basis for the legislation.  Now that the legislation is being challenged, however, the Administration’s lawyers have recognized the individual mandate for what it is — a tax on individuals and their individual decisions — in order to buttress its prospects for being upheld.

Just another example of how duplicitous the legislative process can be.