Morning Bell: Is Obamacare Consistent With Our First Principles?

Conn Carroll /

During one of Sen. Arlen Specter’s (D-PA) early health care townhalls in Lebanon, Pennsylvania; mother of two Katy Abram told the audience: “I don’t believe this is just about health care. It’s not about TARP. It’s not about left and right. This is about the systematic dismantling of this country. I’m only 35 years-old. I’ve never been interested in politics. You have awakened the sleeping giant.” Abrams is dead on. Our federal government has, unfortunately, long been drifting away from the limited government principles first envisioned by our founders. But over the past eleven months, that drift has turned into an all out sprint towards an undemocratic, technocratic, leviathan state … a type of government that our Constitution was specifically designed to prevent.

As Abram points out, both political parties have been complicit in the rapid deterioration of our founding principles. It was after all President Bush who pushed for and signed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 which created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). When the Bush administration submitted their legislation to Congress we warned: “From a constitutional standpoint, the current versions of the legislation are different in scope, and especially in kind, from almost any federal legislation that has come before.” Specifically we identified: (1) Congress’s enumerated power—or lack thereof—to intervene with private markets in the manner contemplated, (2) the lack of meaningful standards to guide the extremely broad grant of discretion to the Treasury secretary (the “legislative delegation” problem), (3) limitations on judicial review over the exercise of that almost limitless discretion, and (4) related separation of powers concerns.

The only thing that truly surprised us after the legislation’s passage was just how quickly our worst fears were realized. The TARP plan, as sold to Congress, was never even implemented and, instead, it quickly devolved into a political slush fund. Because of the broad delegations of authority in the bill, the American people were left with no real avenue to check the federal government’s unprecedented interference in the U.S. economy. When Members of Congress voted for the bill in October 2008, could any of them honestly say they thought they had just voted to bailout General Motors and Chrysler?

The proposed health care legislation is just as bad, if not worse, than TARP. Sec. 142 of H.R. 3200 grants the new Orwellian-titled “Health Choices Commissioner” broad lawmaking authority, including the power to: set standards for every Americans health insurance plan, determine which of your current insurance plans do or do not meet that standard, and then  punish plans that do not meet that standard. Even worse is what is not yet in the bill, but is desperately wanted by the Obama administration. A super-empowered Medicare Payment Advisory Commission that is specifically designed to “save money in an apolitical, technocratic way.” The entire purpose of this part of Obamacare would be to take medical decisions away from patients and vest it in a panel of experts specifically designed to be completely unaccountable to the American people. Is this what the Framers of the Constitution had in mind?

When the Constitution was being ratified, James Madison, writing as Publius, sought to allay fears that the new national government would turn into a Leviathan. In the 45th Federalist Paper he emphasized that adoption of the Constitution would create a government of enumerated, and therefore strictly limited, powers. Madison said: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined… [and] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce….” Federal tax collectors, Madison assured everyone, “will be principally on the seacoast, and not very numerous.” Exactly six months after publication of this essay, New York became the 11th state to ratify the Constitution. Is turning over one-sixth of our nation’s economy over to Obama’s super-MedPAC panel in any way consistent with this vision?

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