The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled today to uphold The Affordable Care Act. The court has ruled not on the wisdom of the law, but on the constitutionality, and found it to be so. The deciding vote and majority opinion author was Chief Justice John Roberts. If you want to read the whole 193-page opinion, published today, here’s the link: National Federation of Independent Business, ET AL., vs. Sibelius Secretary of Health and Human Services, ET AL.
I was not in favor of this law as it stood by the time it got around to passage, but I figured that this half a loaf was better than none, and I’d bet a lot of people felt the same way. There were some provisions I really liked, including keep your kids on until age 26, no preexisting condition exceptions, no annual or lifetime limits on care, and the health exchanges for those that can’t get coverage any other way. I also like the gradual closing of the Medicare “donut hole”, but I would have liked that to be immediate.
I wasn’t too sure about the individual mandate, though. I knew it was first proposed by an adviser to George H.W. Bush in 1989, and was promoted by Republicans in Congress during 1993’s furor over Hillary Clinton’s health plan. It seemed like a giveaway to the insurance companies, to me.
What has followed since this morning’s announcement has been what you might expect. A lot of cheering on one side, a lot of booing on the other, and plenty of politicking right out of the gate. John Boehner and Eric Cantor said that before the announcement came today, they agreed to hold a symbolic and pointless vote in the House of Representatives on July 11 if the decision did not go their way. They have promised to waste taxpayer time and money on this. A 13-year-old might say, “Oh, real mature!”, but that’s just a concise way of pointing out that the 13-year-old displays more understanding of and perspective on the situation than these two “Leaders” in the House. FOX is barking, MSNBC is crowing, and the Republican candidate for President is saying that the Supreme Court is wrong, and now he has to fix it. Like I say, just about what you’d expect.
Just about, but I didn’t expect this in the Daily Freeman today “HEALTH LAW: Rep. Chris Gibson calls for bipartisan compromise on reforms“. Here is a quote from his press release. “I respect that the Supreme Court has spoken, and the solution now must be legislative. We should begin substantive, bipartisan discussion on commonsense reforms – a number of which I have cosponsored or voted on already. I’m confident our replacement solutions can include insurance reform for wider access to options and choices, including coverage until 26 and beyond, medical liability reform, coverage for preexisting conditions and an assurance that coverage can’t be dropped when you get sick.”
Understanding that Representative Gibson missed the negotiation opportunities in the passage of this bill, I thought that the Congressman was bypassing House superiors, calling for reasoned compromise where there had been none before. I thought I was seeing the beginnings of a “bipartisan discussion”, a thing that has been sorely lacking between the parties in Washington and here in our area. If that’s what you want to see, don’t read the other paragraph in the same statement. In short, Gibson wants to wipe out the Affordable Care Act, using the same polarizing rhetoric as appears in the talking points. According to this, we’ll kill it, and we’ll replace it with something else, sometime. That’s a shame, because what he calls for above is already in the law. In the end, about what you’d expect.
We need to insure more than 300 million people in this country. How do we do that? We don’t want employers to pay for it. That puts the brakes on hiring. We don’t want the government to pay for it. We label that socialism. We don’t want the individual mandate, as that has been defined as a tax. Ninety-five percent of all Republicans in congress have knuckled under and promised Grover Norquist not to ever raise taxes for any reason, ever. If you ever break your promise to him, or refuse to sign in the first place, Norquist promises to crush you in the next election. I am not even sure what makes this kind of extortion legal. Norquist said in an August 2009 Washington Post interview, “When I became 21, I decided that nobody learned anything about politics after the age of 21”. He has proven to us all that he believes that.
The Constitution’s Article VI guarantees we pay for what we, as a nation, want. We have to pay for the roads and bridges, even if we don’t drive on them. We have to pay for our public schools, even if we don’t have kids in them. We have to pay for police, fire, military, the common defense, and on and on, even if we do not perceive that we use them. Right now, we here in Kingston are going through a crisis with our hospital coverage, due in part to poor reimbursement rates, and people with little to no coverage using the emergency room as their only form of health care. Somehow we have to pay for that, or we will be in a real pickle, whether each individual uses the hospital or not.
The real trick is deciding what we want. Whomever we elect this Fall to represent us in Congress will be doing us a disservice if they refuse to reach out and discuss, with everybody there, the problems that face us. You are not obligated to Grover Norquist. You are obligated to us. You should be able to learn, and grow, and reasonably work on our issues. This is the real shame of what we have come to. People in congress, on all sides, are serving only the people that agree with them; the lobbyists, the donors, the talking heads, the others in their caucuses, and the people that voted for them. Our representatives are acting as though they are playing for the Red Team or the Blue Team. We can do better.
How can we do better? Well, for one, everybody who has signed Norquist’s letter can renounce it. You can not negotiate with a boot on your neck. You can only capitulate. This would be a real act of political courage. It would be even more courageous if it was just one or two representatives started the ball rolling, but all of these people claim to be leaders. It shouldn’t be too hard to find someone to lead. They claim not to be in the thrall of any special interest, or even their own party. They claim that their first interest is the work, and not re-election. My dad used to say, “You dance with the one what brung ya.” Well, your constituents brung ya, all of them, and not the K Street bullies with the checkbooks. If you do well for your constituents, they will send you back.
Another thing we can do as constituents: We can go to meetings, town hall events, discussions, appearances, etc., and TALK to your candidates and representatives. Don’t yell, don’t threaten, and don’t cheer the people who do. They are people, too, and I don’t suppose they respond well to berating. That will surely drive them into the arms of people who tell them what they want to hear. Honestly tell your representative or candidate what you want, suggest ways to achieve what you want, and engage people at these events. Call or write or email your congressman, President, State or local representative, even those you disagree with, and calmly lay out your position. One example is the relationship I have with my Alderman. He and I are not in the same party, we don’t really know each other, but he is my Alderman. When I have an issue I feel strongly about, I will call and write him. He always calls back, we talk, and he adds the input to his consideration. Does he vote exactly as I’d like? Not always, but you can’t always get what you want. All I ask for is honest representation. Even with that, our participation can not end at the ballot box.
You can tell your candidates to meet with the opposition. I understand that there is a pecking order in any elected body, but it is OK for rookies to make friends with their opposite numbers. As they rise through the ranks, they will be more likely to reach across to friends on the other side than enemies in another trench.
We’ve been hearing this week from former Secretary of State and retired General Colin Powell. He’s out with a new book about what he’s learned, called It Worked for Me. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you I haven’t read the book yet. But he’s an interesting guy, and I like listening to him. One thing he said during an interview broadcast on WAMC really struck me. He said that, “we must be careful not to turn our adversaries into our enemies.”
In a short while, talk of this decision will die down, people will move on to the other things that matter, and we are going to be left with the problems that still need fixing, at all levels of government and life. Our hospital group will be in trouble, we will be absorbing job losses there and in the schools, taxes will be high, and we will still need to fix Washington Avenue and Washington, D.C. None of this can get done if we don’t work together.