How much does our Constitution say about the structure of and the exchanges within our society? I thought about this question while contemplating the perspectives of the Republicans and Democrats toward health care financing under the Affordable Care Act. To Republicans, the ACA is a clear and present danger to the American economy.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, refers to the GOP campaign against President Obama’s signature health care finance plan as a “train wreck” that has not gotten off well due to technical flaws; describes the number of enrollees as being lower than promised; and has provided some Americans with health care insurance choices that are far from affordable.
Democrats, from the time Mr. Obama campaigned for president in 2007, have touted an expansion of health care insurance coverage to approximately 30-40 million uninsured. Health care is their holy grail; a promise to American society passed down from President Franklin Roosevelt during his tenure in the White House and reiterated by the Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pushes back against John Boehner with equal fervor. Says Mrs. Pelosi, “I remind my colleagues that, that bill passed the United States Senate in a bipartisan way with a veto-proof majority, a veto-proof majority. But that’s not good enough for you. You have to slash it by 70 percent to harm those children once again this week. It wreaks havoc on the health care for our seniors by disrupting provider payments for Medicare and Medicaid. Either you don’t know what you’re doing or this is one of the most intentional acts of brutality that you have cooked up with stiff competition for that honor.”
Does the Constitution support either party’s version of a good society when it comes to health care? I don’t see it, not with the type of Constitution we have now.
By my observation, our current Constitution serves a three-fold purpose. One, it delineates the powers held by the national and state governments, with states having reserved to them certain police powers.
Second, the Articles spell out the powers held by the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, the checks and balances that each branch places on the other. The Executive is responsible for enforcement of law; the Legislative responsible for drafting law; the Judiciary holding sole responsibility for interpreting whether law or some other federal action passes constitutional muster.
Third, via its Amendments, the Constitution serves as the buffer between the citizenry and the potential abuses of government, given its rules, institutions, tax-funded largesse, and power of the gun. The problem with this Constitution is that while it gives us some insight into the organization of American and how government should function (mind, I say some), it gives us no insight into the role of government in American society.
For example, is the role top-down versus lateral? Should government be passive versus an aggressive intervener in the workings of society? What should be its limits? What is its role in organizing the economy? Should it have one?
If the Constitution laid out a role for government as organizer of the economy, the debate surrounding whether government should regulate 17% of the economy might be severely mitigated, reduced to if we do it, how.
Has American society properly addressed this debate?