Tag: Obamacare

Fidel Castro Endorses ObamaCare

As Dave Barry would say, I swear I am not making this up.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the Western Hemisphere’s last unreconstructed communist dictator endorsed President Obama’s new health care law:

HAVANA (AP) — It perhaps was not the endorsement President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress were looking for.

Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Thursday declared passage of American health care reform “a miracle” and a major victory for Obama’s presidency, but couldn’t help chide the United States for taking so long to enact what communist Cuba achieved decades ago.

“We consider health reform to have been an important battle and a success of his (Obama’s) government,” Castro wrote in an essay published in state media, adding that it would strengthen the president’s hand against lobbyists and “mercenaries.”…

“It is really incredible that 234 years after the Declaration of Independence … the government of that country has approved medical attention for the majority of its citizens, something that Cuba was able to do half a century ago,” Castro wrote…

Cuba provides free health care and education to all its citizens, and heavily subsidizes food, housing, utilities and transportation, policies that have earned it global praise. The government has warned that some of those benefits are no longer sustainable given Cuba’s ever-struggling economy, though it has so far not made major changes.

In recent speeches, Raul Castro has singled out medicine as an area where the government needs to be spending less, but he has not elaborated.

I’m sure the Obama administration and its echo chamber will nonetheless continue to claim that this is not socialized medicine.

Is the Health Care Lawsuit For Real?

The Hill asked me the following question:

Thirteen state attorneys general have filled a lawsuit claiming that the new healthcare reforms are unconstitutional.  Is this a real legal challenge or a political stunt?

Here’s my response:

The challenge is very real—and necessary—but we are in uncharted territory here so it’s difficult to predict how courts will react.
 
The strongest and most important legal argument attacks the constitutionality of the individual mandate to buy a certain approved health insurance plan. Never before has the federal government—or any other—tried to force Americans to buy a particular good or service. Never before has it said that every man, woman, and child alive has to purchase a particular product, on penalty of civil or criminal sanction or forfeiture. And never before have courts had to consider such a breathtaking assertion of raw power – not even during the height of the New Deal, when the Supreme Court ratified Congress’ regulation of what people grew in their backyards on the awkward theory that such behavior affected interstate commerce.
 
The individual health care mandate is an even greater expansion of congressional power under the Commerce Clause. And it cannot be justified under the Necessary and Proper or General Welfare Clauses either, because these provisions guide the exercise of Congress’ enumerated powers without adding to them. In short, if the challenges to this health care “reform” fail, nobody will ever be able to claim plausibly that the Constitution limits federal power.

You can read here the responses of other pundits – including several non-lawyers, curiously.

A Glance into Costa Rica’s Health Care System

Costa Rica – my home country – has suddenly become part of the health care debate after celebrity radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh said that he would move to Costa Rica go to Costa Rica for health care if  ObamaCare were approved by Congress the federal government gets too involved in health care in the next few years.

Soon after Sunday’s vote in the House of Representatives, a website was set up to buy Limbaugh a one-way, first-class ticket to Costa Rica. Liberals were quick to point out that my country has a socialized health care system that is among the best in Latin America.

People claim that in Costa Rica health care is a right, not a commodity. The problem surfaces when you actually need to exercise your “right.”

Last July, La Nación newspaper carried a report about one hospital that had 5,000 people on a waiting list for surgery, some waiting up to a year. Among those on the list, 900 patients waited months to have possible cancerous tumors extracted. According to the head of the Oncology Department, “We know that 85% to 90% will be cancer cases based on previous medical tests.” For many of these patients, the wait is the equivalent of a death sentence.

Stories like this are common in the Costa Rican press.

Unfortunately, the current nationalized health care system and the state-owned monopoly in health insurance stifle the development of a viable, dynamic private health care system. Thus, many Costa Ricans can’t imagine life without “free” health care. That’s too bad since there’s nothing free about mandatory monthly contributions from workers and nothing just about being forced to pay for deadly delays in health care attention.

The States Respond to ObamaCare

Today Politico Arena asks:

Do the 13 state attorneys general have a case against ObamaCare?

My response:

Absolutely.  It will be an uphill battle, because modern “constitutional law” is so far removed from the Constitution itself, but a win is not impossible.  There are three main arguments.  (1) Under the Constitution, as properly interpreted, Congress has no power to enact such a plan.  (2) The plan conscripts state governments into carrying out and paying for federal mandates.  And (3) the individual mandate amounts to an unlawful capitation or direct tax.

The first argument will almost certainly lose, because under post-1937 readings of the Commerce Clause, Congress can regulate anything that “affects” interstate commerce, which at some level is everything.  Under modern “constitutional law,” that’s what we’ve come to – under the pressure of FDR’s infamous Court-packing scheme, a Constitution authorizing only limited government has been turned into one that authorizes effectively unlimited government.

The second argument has promise: In New York v. United States (1992) and Printz v. United States (1997) the Court held that the federal government could not dragoon state legislatures or executives into carrying out and paying for federal programs.  Yet that is just what’s at issue here with the “exchanges” that states are required to establish.  To be sure, the states can “opt out,” but as yesterday’s suit argues, with so many people already on the Medicaid rolls, that option is effectively foreclosed.  Indeed, the new bill will force millions more on to the Medicaid rolls, which is one of the main reasons these states, already strapped by Medicaid expenditures, have brought suit.  Florida alone estimates that the added costs will grow from $149 billion in 2014 to $938 billion in 2017 to over one trillion dollars by 2019.

The third argument holds the most promise.  ObamaCare compels individuals to buy insurance from a private company (why stop there? why not cars from GM?), failing which they will be required to pay a tax (fine?).  This is an unprecedented expansion of Congress’s power “to regulate interstate commerce.”  But even if it were to pass the modern Commerce Clause test, the tax should fail because it’s not apportioned among the states in accordance with their population.

Let’s be clear, however.  This suit was brought because the 13 states (and I predict more will follow) see the handwriting on the wall.  ObamaCare will mark the effective end of federalism as we’ve known it, will bankrupt the states, and, because of that – here’s the clincher – is but a  stalking horse for federal single-payer health care in America.  This suit will keep the issue alive until November, when the American people will have a chance to weigh in.

A Post-Health Care Realignment?

From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal to Joe Biden’s Big F-ing Deal, progressives have led a consistent and largely successful campaign to expand the size and scope of the federal government. Now, Matt Yglesias suggests, it’s time to take a victory lap and call it a day:

For the past 65-70 years—and especially for the past 30 years since the end of the civil rights argument—American politics has been dominated by controversy over the size and scope of the welfare state. Today, that argument is largely over with liberals having largely won. […] The crux of the matter is that progressive efforts to expand the size of the welfare state are basically done. There are big items still on the progressive agenda. But they don’t really involve substantial new expenditures. Instead, you’re looking at carbon pricing, financial regulatory reform, and immigration reform as the medium-term agenda. Most broadly, questions about how to boost growth, how to deliver public services effectively, and about the appropriate balance of social investment between children and the elderly will take center stage. This will probably lead to some realigning of political coalitions. Liberal proponents of reduced trade barriers and increased immigration flows will likely feel emboldened about pushing that agenda, since the policy environment is getting substantially more redistributive and does much more to mitigate risk. Advocates of things like more and better preschooling are going to find themselves competing for funds primarily with the claims made by seniors.

I’d like to believe this is true, though I can’t say I’m persuaded. It seems at least as likely that, consistent with the historical pattern, the new status quo will simply be redefined as the “center,” and proposals to further augment the welfare state will move from the fringe to the mainstream of opinion on the left.

That said, it’s hardly unheard of for a political victory to yield the kind of medium-term realignment Yglesias is talking about. The end of the Cold War destabilized the Reagan-era conservative coalition by essentially taking off the table a central—and in some cases the only—point of agreement among diverse interest groups. Less dramatically, the passage of welfare reform in the 90s substantially reduced the political salience of welfare policy. The experience of countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, moreover, suggests that if Obamacare isn’t substantially rolled back fairly soon, it’s likely to become a political “given” that both parties take for granted. Libertarians, of course, have long lamented this political dynamic: Government programs create constituencies, and become extraordinarily difficult to cut or eliminate, even if they were highly controversial at their inceptions.

We don’t have to be happy about this pattern, but it is worth thinking about how it might alter the political landscape a few years down the line.  One possibility, as I suggest above, is that it will just shift the mainstream of political discourse to the left. But as libertarians have also long been at pains to point out, the left-right model of politics, with its roots in the seating protocols of the 18th century French assembly, conceals the multidimensional complexity of politics. There’s no intrinsic commonality between, say, “left” positions on taxation, foreign policy, and reproductive rights—the label here doesn’t reflect an underlying ideological coherence so much as the contingent requirements of assembling a viable political coalition at a particular time and place.  If an issue that many members of one coalition considered especially morally urgent is, practically speaking, taken off the table, the shape of the coalitions going forward depends largely on the issues that rise to salience. Libertarians are perhaps especially conscious of this precisely because we tend to take turns being more disgusted with one or another party—usually whichever holds power at a given moment.

The $64,000 question, of course, is what comes next. As 9/11 and the War on Terror reminded us, the central political issues of an era are often dictated by fundamentally unpredictable events. But some of the obvious current candidates are notable for the way they cut across the current partisan divide. In my own wheelhouse—privacy and surveillance issues—Republicans have lately been univocal in their support of expanded powers for the intelligence community, with plenty of help from hawkish Democrats. Given their fondness for invoking the specter of soviet totalitarian states, I’ve hoped that the folks mobilizing under the banner of the Tea Party might begin pushing back on the burgeoning surveillance state. Thus far I’ve hoped in vain, but if that coalition outlasts our current disputes, one can imagine it becoming an issue for them in 2011 as parts of the Patriot Act once again come up for reauthorization, or in 2012 when the FISA Amendments Act is due to sunset. In the past, the same issues have made strange bedfellows of the ACLU and the ACU, of Ron Paul Republicans and FireDogLake Democrats.  Obama has pledged to take up comprehensive immigration reform during his term, and there too significant constituencies within each party fall on opposite sides of the issue.

Further out than that it’s hard to predict. But more generally, the possibility that I find interesting is that—against a background of technologies that have radically reduced the barriers to rapid, fluid, and distributed group formation and mobilization—the protracted health care fight, the economic crisis, and the explosion of federal spending have created an array of potent political communities outside the party-centered coalitions. They’ve already shown they’re capable of surprising alliances—think Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist.  Suppose Yglesias is at least this far correct: The next set of political battles are likely to be fought along a different value dimension than was health care reform. Precisely because these groups formed outside the party-centered coalitions, and assuming they outlast the controversies that catalyzed their creation, it’s hard to predict which way they’ll move on tomorrow’s controversies. It’s entirely possible that there are latent and dispersed constituencies for policy change outside the bipartisan mainstream who have now, crucially, been connected: Any overlap on orthogonal value dimensions within or between the new groups won’t necessarily be evident until the relevant values are triggered by a high-visibility policy debate.  Still, it’s reason to expect that the next decade of American politics may be even more turbulent and surprising than the last one.

We Passed ObamaCare, but Will It Improve Health?

The answer may not be so obvious.  I’ll explore that issue at a Cato Institute policy forum this Thursday with two leading authorities on the subject: John Ayanian of Harvard Medical School and David Meltzer of the University of Chicago.

The forum is titled, “Would Universal Coverage Improve Health?” and will be held at 4pm this Thursday at the Cato Institute.  Click the link for details.

Individual Mandate Is Constitutional - If You Rewrite the Constitution

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) was asked on Friday where in the Constitution Congress gets the power to force people to buy health insurance.  He said, “Under several clauses, the good and welfare clause and a couple others.”

As it happens, there is no “good and welfare clause” – which Conyers should know, as both judiciary chairman and a lawyer.  But even if you excuse his casual use of constitutional language, what he probably means – the General Welfare Clause of Article I, Section 8 – is not a better answer.  What that clause does is limit Congress’s use of the powers enumerated elsewhere in that section to legislation that promotes ”the general welfare.”  (So earmarks are arguably unconstitutional, though you can make a colorable argument that, when considering a pork bill as a whole, with all parts of the country getting something, that monstrosity is collectively in “the general welfare” – maybe.)  In any event, the General Welfare Clause doesn’t give Congress any additional powers – and I’d be curious to know what the other “several clauses” are.

Conyers  also noted that, “All the scholars, the constitutional scholars that I know … they all say that there’s nothing unconstitutional in this bill and if there were, I would have tried to correct it if I thought there were.”  Well, Mr. Conyers, to start let me introduce you to three constitutional scholars – not fringe right-wing kooks or anything like that, but respected people who publish widely – who think Obamacare is unconstitutional.  Now will you try to “correct” the bill?

Here’s video of Conyers’s full remarks on the subject (h/t Jon Blanks):

And for a survey of the various constitutional issues attending Obamacare, see Randy Barnett’s oped from Sunday’s Washington Post.