April 29, 2008

April 29, 2008 | Commentary on Health Care

Federally Mandated Health Care Ahead?

Are we getting closer to socialized medicine? Some in the Senate are pushing for a bill to replace our current flawed health system with one that involves a complete federal takeover of our health care system, complete with mandates and federally approved, state-crafted plans.

This Hillary Care-light approach, sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) is called the "Healthy Americans Act." We're already dangerously close to socialized medicine; some estimates predict that health care spending is approaching a 50/50 split between the public and private sectors. Yet the Wyden-Bennett approach would lead to even more government control of individual health care decision-making.

Federal mandates and new taxes for people who refuse to buy insurance sound like a combination only a liberal would embrace. Yet some right-leaning Republicans have jumped aboard because the bill addresses some tax inequities in our health care system.

Today, employer-based coverage provides unlimited tax relief for employees, but not for those who purchase coverage on their own. The Wyden-Bennett plan creates a new individual-based system and offers some tax relief for plans purchased by all individuals. Great, but this doesn't change the fact that this plan replaces a flawed system with one that could do even more harm to our health care system.

Worse, one of the mandates in the bill expressly directs health care issuers to make "abortion services" available, with very limited exceptions. Conservatives need to offer a robust, ahem, second opinion of this flawed approach.

Restoration of Constitutional Government

Many in Congress have forgotten the words of Thomas Jefferson -- that "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) haven't forgotten, judging by their "Enumerated Powers Act." Under it, all bills introduced would have to contain "a concise and definite statement" citing the specific provision in the constitution as authority for a bill. If there is no specific authority for a new "Bridge to Nowhere," for an earmark to improve the shelf life of vegetables, or to federally fund Planned Parenthood, then a member of the House or Senate can raise a point of order against the legislation.

Conservatives would enjoy some debates on the proper scope and role of the federal government. If a piece of legislation would impinge on the Tenth Amendment protection of states or "the people" to govern in areas "not delegated to the United States by the Constitution," then the bill would be subject to the new Shadegg-Coburn point of order. Also, if a bill didn't fit into an enumerated power in Article I, Section 8, it would be subject to the point of order. Conservatives should watch to see which members of Congress support this effort to restore constitutional governance.

Senatorial Attendance

Many Americans would jump at the chance to make $169,300 a year. Yet even with this generous salary, eight lawmakers have missed at least one out of every four votes on the Senate floor since 2007. Not surprisingly, presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama are the worst offenders.

While Clinton has missed 30% of the votes since 2007, the equivalent of a blue-collar worker missing 74 days of work, she is well ahead of her campaigning colleagues. Bitter middle-class America would surely be dismayed that Obama has missed 40% of the votes, 100 blue-collar days. McCain has the distinction of missing more votes than any current senator, missing 58% since 2007.

Despite several well-publicized visits to Washington to participate in high-profile votes, all three have missed votes this year that matter to conservatives. Clinton, McCain and Obama failed to vote on a crucial defense bill that authorized important programs to fight the Global War on Terror and a $30 billion mortgage bailout giveaway to banks, while Clinton and Obama also missed numerous votes on FISA renewal. McCain had the lone distinction of missing two votes on border security during the budget debate. Americans deserve to know where those auditioning for the role of president stand on these crucial issues.

Most mandates are bad, but some are good. Conservatives should mandate that Congress limit itself to the specific enumerated powers given to it by our Constitution and show up for votes. If not, many in Congress may be mandated to find a new job this coming January.

Brian Darling is director of US Senate relations and congressional analyst at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

About the Author

Brian Darling Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Government Studies

First appeared in Human Events