With satisfaction, fanfare and a bit of gloating, the president signed into law a landmark health care bill March 23, surrounded by the party leadership who managed to revive once more the oft-pronounced dead legislation. While lip service was paid to the transparency and cooperation promised, they did, in fact, accomplish bipartisanship — 34 Democrats stood against bribes and intimidation, joining Republicans in voting no.
While no elected member of either party or anyone capable of reason ever denied health care is in need of serious reform, only time will tell if the end justified the means in a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy. Inarguably, there are excellent and sorely needed reforms in the bill; however, it was orchestrated without any input from Republicans.
Having served on Capitol Hill in an advisory status for five years, I find this lack of common purpose among the political parties the most troubling aspect of this legislation. From day one, House Republicans were shut out of the discussion and other than a token offer from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus of Montana, that door was closed as well. The election is history and "to the victor belongs the spoils," as interpreted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Democrats and much of the mainstream media would have you believe that Republicans have been obstructionists, "the party of no," from Social Security through Medicare, civil rights and health care. Illustrative of this revisionist history have been the works of St. Louis Post-Dispatch cartoonist R. J. Matson's "Wrong Side of History" and MSNBC cartoonist Daryl Cagle's "Leaving Legacies" (Columbia Tribune), both accusing the GOP of opposing reform.
Had either availed themselves of readily accessible information, they would have discovered the reverse to be true. In the vote for the Social Security Act of 1935, 84 percent of House Republicans voted yes while 76 percent of Senate Republicans did likewise. For Medicare in 1965, 52 percent of House Republicans voted in the affirmative, as did 43 percent of Republican Senators.
While the revisionist history of the Social Security and Medicare vote is appalling, the distortion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act vote is worse. Eighty percent of House Republicans voted yes along with 82 percent of Republican Senators.The Democrats mustered 62 percent in the House and 69 percent in the Senate. Further research would have revealed the Civil Rights Act was written by Everett Dirksen, a Republican senator from Illinois, and that Republicans thwarted the attempt to kill the bill by filibuster.
Accordingly, both parties should review those landmark pieces of legislation for a lesson in the art of compromise. Somehow, House Speakers Joseph Byrnes and Carl Albert and Minority Leader Bertrand Snell (in 1935 and 1965) were able to gain bipartisan support, while in the Senate, Majority Leaders Joseph Robinson and Mike Mansfield and Minority Leaders Charles McNary and Everett Dirksen mirrored the efforts of the other body. I might add that the Democratic Party held the majority in each instance.
This health care bill was muscled through by one-party initiatives, some of which were considered unsavory even by Democratic Party members. Along with Republicans, the health care bill is opposed by a majority of Americans; consequently, to paraphrase a Colin Powell-ism: "You enact it, you own it." It may well prove to be an albatross for Democrats.
Two red flags in the bill are the constitutionality of forcing people to purchase health insurance and the accuracy of the Congressional Budget Office projections of the deficit reduction versus the actual cost. The oft-voiced comparison of requiring automobile insurance to that of health is false — there is no government mandate of car ownership. The question that must be adjudicated: "Does Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce empower Congress to compel citizens to engage in commerce?" (Article I, Section 8)
As for CBO cost estimates, the history of entitlements demands a comparison with Medicare. Its initial cost in 1966 was $3 billion, projected to cost $12 billion in 1990. Medicare's actual cost in 1990 was $107 billion, nine times the projected outlay. Beware of CBO estimates, as they have no control over the future.
It might be wise for the Democrats to accept two Republican ideas — tort reform and enabling people to purchase health insurance across state lines — as both reduce individual costs. Adding Republican ideas may provide Democrats with company when, and if, the boat sinks.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.