You may agree or disagree with the writer (I think I’ve made it clear I agree with him) but it’s wonderful to read at least one person who isn’t swallowing the conservative premise whole.
He isn’t passively and patiently answering the narrow question conservatives chose to ask, as in nearly every other editorial or analysis of health care I’ve read. He doesn’t get that far. He doesn’t accept the question as they chose to frame it.
I don’t know why Federalist Society types seem get this incredible deference from the country as a whole, no matter how insane their arguments, but it seems to me we might want to start actually listening critically to these Big Questions they’re always raising, instead of accepting the question and moving right to desperate defense.
If conservative ideas are so solid and bedrock and logical, the questions they select and frame so carefully should survive a rigorous public inquiry and debate, before we get to answering them. We really don’t have to defer to them. It’s entirely possible they’re completely wrong right from the get-go.
So far, in two of the pending lawsuits, opponents of the law have succeeded in spinning the judges, framing the lawsuits as posing the question whether (as Virginia argued) the federal government can “impose a penalty for what amounts to passive inactivity.”
But the judicial answer, it seems to me, should be two-fold.
The first, and most important, answer a judge should give is, “I dunno. Find a case where the government does that and get back to me.” Because that description of the Affordable Care Act is simply inaccurate.
Here’s how Judge Henry Hudson put it in his decision in Cuccinelli v. Sebelius: The Act “requires that every United States citizen, other than those falling within specified exceptions, maintain a minimum level of health insurance.”
This snappy apothegm is the logical equivalent of saying that the Defense Appropriations Act “requires that every United States citizen, other than those who leave the country, engage in accepting a minimum level of protection by the United States military.” The provisions of the Health Care Act provide a benefit. The majority of Americans, who already have health coverage (and seem, by and large, to regard this coverage as worth bargaining for) will simply see improvements in their existing health care benefits, such as an end to lifetime benefit limits and the right to include older adult children on their policies. A significant number of others who are currently uninsured will become eligible for government-funded health insurance.
There will remain a small but significant number of Americans who can afford health care insurance but choose not to buy it. But contrary to the sound bite above, even they are not required to “maintain a minimum level of health insurance.” If they wish to keep their uninsured status, they may do so by paying an addition to their income tax bills–ranging from as little as $695 for an individual taxpayer to $2085 for a family of six or more. The claim that the government is “forcing individuals to buy a commercial product” is worse than spin; it is simply false.
The doctrine under which the Act is being assailed quite simply constitutes a threat to most of the significant advances in federal law of the past 100 years: federal pension programs, national wildernesses and parks, consumer protection, environmental regulation, and most particularly statutory guarantees of civil rights.
It’s not coincidental that right now Ron Paul laments the Civil Rights Act and that Haley Barbour speaks fondly the segregated South, that anti-immigrant extremists target birthright citizenship, or that right-wingers seek to wreck the Constitution with an old-South style amendment letting states repeal federal laws. A decision to void the Act would furnish a powerful precedent for those who would “restore” a libertarian dreamland that never existed, and that for most of us would quickly become a nightmare.