Next month, the Supreme Court will deliver its judgment on the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act. The key issue is the “individual mandate” which requires people to buy insurance.
After the March hearings, legal writer Jeffrey Toobin wrote that President Obama’s soliciter-general had an “off day” when he tried to defend the bill. “Still, it’s worth noting the magnitude of the challenge that he was facing,” he wrote. By “challenge,” Toobin didn’t mean the task of defending a jury-rigged bill passed by dubious methods by members of Congress who hadn’t bothered to read it. Rather, he meant the tough questions members of the court asked him, for which there were no easy answers.
Toobin’s defense of the bill in essence is that Congress ought to be free to do whatever it thinks is best and that “unelected, unaccountable, life-tenured judges” shouldn’t overturn the work of “the democratically elected branches of government.” It’s a little hard to square this blind faith in Congress at a time when the institution’s approval ratings are at historic lows. And you have to wonder if Toobin would be as critical of the Supreme Court if it were questioning a Congress dominated by right wing zealots.
Even Anthony Kennedy – supposedly the moderate on the court and often the “swing vote” — said that the mandate “changes the relationship of the federal government to the individual in a very fundamental way.” But rather than inspiring some skepticism and concern about the bill, Kennedy’s thoughtful comment provoked Toobin to belittle the justice’s competence.
Nothing seems capable of persuading partisans that ObamaCare might be less than Holy Writ: Not the spectacle of deal-making with special interests, not the sordid attempt to buy votes for its passage, not the fact that more than half the country still opposes the bill. The government’s own budget office has said that ObamaCare will cost far more than promised. Health and Human Services has already jettisoned the bill’s long term care entitlement as economically impossible. Moreover, the bill didn’t address the structural problems in our health care system, the perverse incentives created by tax policies, or the looming insolvency of Medicare and Medicaid
In an audacious display of indifference to the truth, the president claimed that the bill was passed by “a strong majority,” while everyone knows it barely passed, and only with resort to the dubious device of “reconciliation.” Instead of trying to sell the public on the bill, Obama displayed his characteristic detachment and let Congress cook up another convoluted 2,700-page bureaucratic monstrosity.
Economist Alan Blinder implied that opposition to Obamacare is an attack on health care and disease prevention, that the bill represents the sole avenue of reform and that its provisions are actually implicit in the Declaration of Independence’s guarantee of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Many “advanced” countries have state-run health care, he wrote, without mentioning that those states also have health care funding crises. He added his own dig at the Supreme Court: “Does anyone think it is sensible to have nine lawyers decide what sort of health care payment system the nation should have?”
Of course, the court isn’t deciding what kind of health care payment system the nation should have. It’s deciding whether ObamaCare is constitutional. That’s exactly what the Supreme Court is supposed to do. Blinder expressed alarm that if the mandate is declared unconstitutional, the entire bill would be destroyed, as if to say that even if it’s unconstitutional and poorly conceived, the court ought to approve it to avoid “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
Funny, how people can applaud when the Supreme Court “legislates” in accordance with their views and then be appalled when it swings the other way. It’s worth noting that reservations about ObamaCare are appearing even among Democrats. North Carolina Democratic Congressman Brad Miller recently said that, “We could have all been better off – President Obama politically, Democrats in Congress politically, and the nation would have been better off ” if his party had tabled OmamaCare. Liberal icon Barney Frank said, “I think we paid a terrible price for health care” and suggested that the Democrats should have had second thoughts about ObamaCare after the storm of opposition arose.
This show of introspection, rare for politicians, is encouraging. But note that the concern is all about political repercussions. What they should be worried about is the viability of ObamaCare and its impact on the future of the United States. Health care should never have become a political football fought over by Republicans and Democrat, a religious war that one side must win and the other must lose. The only debate should be about what will work and what can we afford.
There are many ways to reform the system that have been ignored. ObamaCare has unfortunately and needlessly enmeshed health care in profound issues such as the encroachment of the regulatory state on individual freedoms and the division of power between federal and state governments. It keeps us locked on the rail of unsustainable deficit spending. Opponents of the bill argue that it would give Congress unlimited power over all individual economic decisions. We should step with care into that brave new world. There may be dragons there.