It’s official: ObamaCare is the law of the land.
To be honest, I really thought it was going to fail by the narrowest of margins. I expected Stupak to hold the line (instead of selling out for the flimsiest of protections), and I believed that enough grown-up House Dems would realize that they could obtain meaningful reform in a slower and more bipartisan manner that would not entail electoral suicide. In short, I didn’t expect the House Democratic caucus to re-enact Jonestown.
Alas, the grown-ups never showed up — and now I’m angry.
The Senate Bill was flawed from the beginning. It was a legislative proposal designed to pass the Senate and be modified by the House in conference. Although many folks don’t necessarily understand or appreciate the sausage-making of federal law, the reality is that the Senate bill was, in essence, a first draft — filled with such pork as the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase. No one expected it would be enrolled, unamended, into the Federal Register, and so it wasn’t designed to be an airtight law.
This new Act is premised upon a dangerous gamble: That federal courts will sustain the notion that the Congress can compel private citizens to purchase a service from a private company as a condition of citizenship. That the courts will uphold this assumption is by no means guaranteed — there is a point where the “general welfare” clause must have a logical outer boundary, and if it’s not here, then the whole idea of limited government has become a dead letter.
Although the individual mandate is necessary for this whole scheme to succeed, its invalidation is unlikely to force the rollback of ObamaCare. Instead, it will shift the cost burden so significantly (after all, if individual citizens aren’t required to purchase insurance, many won’t — and the “capitve audience” of premium-payers who use few resources will not be around to subsidize care for everyone else) that either single-payer or economic collapse looms in the near future.
More to the point, thoughtful activists on the Right (e.g., National Review) and the Left (e.g., FireDogLake) allege that the bill does absolutely nothing to cut costs. The Congressional Budget Office claims the bill is likely to force many people off of their current employer-sponsored plans, and thoughtful commentators believe that the rosy assumptions about revenue and expenses are almost surely off by an order of magnitude.
Of course, we have had bad legislation before. We can lament it, but getting upset isn’t necessarily the best response.
So why am I angry? Because of what the process around ObamaCare’s passage means for the future of federal governance.
As much as people decry the arcane procedures and special deals that keep Washington moving, the reality is that Senate collegiality is what keeps the whole enterprise somewhat on track. The passions of the House, controlled by majority will, are tempered by the supermajority demands of the Senate. America has been spared much populist nonsense because the ship of activism foundered on the rocks of Senate procedure.
The Democratic leadership pulled out every possible trick to squelch the Republican minority. They are using reconciliation to “amend” ObamaCare. They contemplated the Slaughter Rule (a.k.a. “deem and pass”) to pass the bill without actually voting on it. They completely shut the Republicans out of debate and negotiations in the House, and except for some minor tinkering last summer in the Senate Finance Committee, Senate Republicans were likewise shut out. Not only do the Democrats own this bill 100 percent, but they spared no procedure in slamming the door on Republican objections — especially when the public polled overwhelmingly in opposition to both the bill and the process for passing it.
In short, the Democrats burned collegiality for the sake of a policy win — and for a law that is so fundamentally flawed that conservative and progressive activists alike are pessimistic that it will do what it purports.
The value of divided government and Senate supermajorities is that radical change is necessarily muted. This “gridlock” protects the people and provides the essential stability and predictability that greases the wheels of political and economic growth. It forces public policy reasonably close to the center.
The Democrats decided that respecting public opposition to their bill and honoring the longstanding restraint in the abuse of legislative procedures was less important than in appearing to be the saviors of a “century-old ideal” of the far left. In so doing, the partisan divide is inflammed to astronomical levels, inter-partisan trust is low, and voter anger is widespread — and none of it needed to happen, if only the grown-ups had stepped in and forced bipartisan incrementalism over radical unilateralism.
This. Will. Not. End. Well.