Archives: 11/2009

Should the Government Pay for Christian Science?

Leaders of the Church of Christ, Scientist, are pushing to get a provision into the health care bill that would mandate equal treatment for “spiritual healing,” such as Christian Science prayer treatments. Sens. John Kerry and Orrin Hatch are trying to get it inserted into the Senate bill, according to the Washington Post.

Kerry’s spokeswoman, Whitney Smith, told the Los Angeles Times that insurers would not be forced to cover prayer. Instead, she said, “the amendment would prevent insurers from discriminating against benefits that qualify as spiritual care if the care is recognized by the IRS as a legitimate medical expense. Plans are free to impose standards on spiritual and medical care as long as both are treated equally. It does not mandate that plans provide spiritual care.”

So far the provision has not been included in either the House or the Senate bill, but efforts are continuing. The Post reports that “opponents of spiritual care coverage – a coalition of separation-of-church-and-state advocates, pediatricians and children’s health activists – say such a provision would waste money, endanger lives and, in some cases, amount to government-funded prayer.”

To a lot of us, this sounds ridiculous. Pray if you think it helps. But why should that be the government’s business? And why on earth would we want the government to mandate that insurers cover prayers?

But if you want government health care, then this is the world you have chosen. We’ve already seen pitched battles over whether abortion should be covered by government programs, or government-subsidized programs, or insurance plans that participate in the government “exchange.” The House bill eliminates a tax penalty for same-sex couples who receive health benefits from employers, but so far the Senate bill does not. The House bill provides grants to states for “home visitation” programs in which nurses and social workers counsel pregnant women and new mothers in low-income families, coaching them on “parenting practices” and skills needed to “interact with their child to enhance age-appropriate development” – a program that some American families would surely find Big Brother-ish.

But that’s the reality of government-funded and directed health care. If the government is paying for it, then every inclusion or exclusion – abortion, fertility treatments, prayer, same-sex couples, acupuncture, homeopathy – becomes a matter for political decision. And political decisions become the subject of political activity and lobbying, by groups ranging from Big Pharma to small insurance companies to nurses to Catholic bishops to Christian Scientists. No wonder lobbying is up in our increasingly politicized economy, particularly in the health care arena.

You can’t have government pay for something as personal and intimate as health care, and not find the government poking around in the bedroom, the medicine cabinet, the sickroom, and the chapel.

Would ObamaCare Kill Medical Innovation?

Medical innovation – new discoveries that make medical care better and less expensive – is the most important kind of health care reform.

In this new Cato study, Glen Whitman and Ray Raad show that the United States leads the world in medical innovation – and that President Obama’s health plan would likely reduce such innovation, to the detriment of the entire world.

This Reason.tv video shows how…

Nice work, boys.

(Cross-posted at NRO’s The Corner.)

Air Traffic Control Troubles

A computer glitch in the Federal Aviation Administration’s national air traffic control system caused delays and cancelations last Thursday. A spokesperson for the air traffic control employees union called it a “nightmare.” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said the nation’s ATC system is “in shambles” and called for more “resources, manpower, and technology” for the FAA.

The FAA is already trying to implement a $35 billion overhaul of the nation’s air traffic control system that would replace old-fashioned radar technology with modern satellite-based GPS navigation. As I blogged last month, the FAA tried to deploy the new computer system at the first of twenty regional facilities, but the system misidentified an airliner and was shut down. This failure wasn’t surprising considering the FAA’s decades of mismanagement.

This week Reason TV released an excellent video on the nation’s air traffic control system, which can be viewed here. The video effectively illustrates broader, more fundamental problems with the way the government operates. For instance, the FAA needs to upgrade is ATC systems, members of Congress spend millions of taxpayer dollars on seldom-used airports in their district.

The video also highlights the fact that our neighbors to the north have already successfully privatized their air traffic control system. As a Cato essay on privatization notes, “The Canadian system has received high marks for sound finances, solid management, and investment in new technologies.”

Reforming the GOP

This morning, Politico Arena asks:

Do you take Glenn Beck’s “new national movement” seriously? Is the GOP establishment letting itinerant celebrities and talk show stars set the party’s agenda?

As Winston Churchill understood, democracy is messy (and, as in his case, sometimes ungrateful).  Glenn Beck is no William F. Buckley Jr.  But then, “Joe the Plumber” probably never read National Review, which like most other journals of “high opinion” was never self-sustaining.  Liberals today, their noses in the air Obama style, look across America from the vantage of the famous New Yorker cover and see pitchfork brigades, forgetting that those who fill the brigades generally love America, which is more than can be said of some of the baggage that has surrounded Obama.

There is a problem in the Republican Party, to be sure.  Nominally the party of limited constitutional government, it recently gave us two presidents from the same family – one standing for a “kinder and gentler” government, the other for “compassionate conservatism” – plus a career Senate nominee for president, none of whom ever really understood the party’s core principles, much less nourished them as they must be nourished from generation to generation.  As a result, the party has been hollowed out intellectually and spiritually, and into that vacuum, which nature abhors, has poured an assortment of people, most from outside the party.

The struggle in democracies between intellectual rigor and populism is as old as that between Socrates and the sophists.  We all know the dangers of populist demagoguery.  But there is also great danger in rule by elites, which are hardly immune from demagogy and outright fraud (witness the “accounting” in the current health care debate).  Achieving that balance is often difficult and messy.  But I for one am encouraged by this populist movement to reform the Republican Party.  I know, for example, that at the Orlando rally The New York Times referenced this past Saturday, people passed out copies of the Cato Institute’s pocket Constitution, which includes the Declaration of Independence and my preface relating the two documents with respect to their underlying principles.  The people who attended the April 15 tea parties and the September 12 march on Washington were ordinary Americans who understand that something is fundamentally wrong, constitutionally, with the direction the country has taken over the past two decades, at least.  They see the Republican Party, in our two-party system, as the more likely institution for changing that, but not as the party is presently constituted.  Still, there are people within the party who give hope and are ready to take over.  Populists working outside the party, together with those of us who do “politics” (broadly understood) for a living, may just be the spark that enables that to happen.

ObamaCare Cost-Estimate Watch: Day #157

House Democrats introduced the first complete draft of President Obama’s health plan on June 19.

Since then, Congress has spent 157 days considering the Obama health plan without ever laying eyes on a complete cost estimate.

The Senate has called up its version for floor consideration without a complete cost estimate.  (Shouldn’t these eight Democratic-caucusing senators be upset about that?)

The House even passed its version – again, without a complete cost estimate.

(Cross-posted at Politico’s Health Care Arena.)

Congress Grows Fed Up

The Wall Street Journal reported that Congress likes Fed Chairman Bernanke, but not the institution that he heads. There is growing consensus that the Fed needs to be reformed and restructured.  Most notably, there are calls to strip the Fed of its supervisory authority.  In practice, the new sentiment reflects the failure of the Fed to rein in risk taking by the largest banks.

The Fed is pushing back.  One reserve bank president said that removing the Fed’s supervisory authority “would affect our ability to conduct monetary authority effectively.” He went on to say that without the supervisory authority, the Fed wouldn’t know enough about risks brewing in the economy.  This argument is shop worn. The Fed had the authority. It fueled the housing boom with its monetary policy and failed to head off the banking crisis with its supervisory powers. And let us not forget the regional banking crises of the 1990s; the fallout of the Latin American debt crisis for Citibank; and others (e.g., the failure of Continental Illinois National Bank).  All on the Fed’s watch.

Around the world, some central banks have supervisory authority over banks and some do not.  There is no clear pattern for either monetary policy or bank regulation with respect to how the powers are structured and distributed.  Other factors seem to matter much more. It would be useful to identify what they are.

Congress is moving a few deck chairs around as the ship sinks. No fundamental rethinking of bank regulation is occurring. The Fed is probably being made a scapegoat for Congress’s own failings.  But that is how Washington works.

Cato Files Brief to Extend Second Amendment Rights, Provide Protections for Privileges or Immunities

Last year, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court confirmed what most scholars and a substantial majority of Americans long believed: that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. Heller led to the current challenge to Chicago’s handgun ban, which raises the question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment protects that right against infringement by state and local governments. The Seventh Circuit answered the question in the negative, finding itself foreclosed by 19th-century Supreme Court decisions. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case – after Cato filed an amicus brief supporting the cert petition – and specifically consider whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause or its Privileges or Immunities Clause is the proper provision for incorporating the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms as against the states.

Now Cato, joined by the Pacific Legal Foundation, has filed a brief supporting those challenging the handgun ban – who are represented by Alan Gura, the lawyer who successfully argued Heller – and calling for an overruling of the Slaughter-House Cases, which eviscerated the Privileges or Immunities Clause in 1873. Slaughter-House narrowly circumscribed the rights protected by the Privileges or Immunities Clause, contrary to the intentions of the Amendment’s framers and in direct contradiction to the developments in legal theory that underlay its adoption.

We also argue that in addition to ignoring the history surrounding the Fourteenth Amendment, the Slaughter-House majority violated basic rules of constitutional interpretation. Finally, restoring the Privileges or Immunities Clause would not result in the demise of substantive due process because the idea at the core of that doctrine – that the Due Process Clause imposes something more than mere procedural limits on government power – was widely accepted when the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted and its authors rightly believed that the Due Process and the Privileges or Immunities Clauses would provide separate but overlapping protections for individual rights.

Again, go here to read Cato’s brief in McDonald v. City of Chicago.  Related, Josh Blackman and I have put up on SSRN our article, “Opening Pandora’s Box? Privileges or Immunities, The Constitution in 2020, and Properly Incorporating the Second Amendment,” which comes out in January in the Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy.  I will be blogging more about “Pandora” – and, of course, the McDonald case – in future.