It was only a decade ago that the Democratic Party styled itself as the party of unbridled democracy, attempting to throw out the rule of law and the unique legalistic nuance of our electoral system in an effort to make sure that the winner of the popular vote—then-Vice President Al Gore (D)—became president. In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court had to weigh in, ruling that Florida’s election laws had to be followed as-written and couldn’t be changed on a whim because the outcome didn’t meet with everybody’s approval. As such, the state’s electors went (with the presidency) to then-Governor George W. Bush (R-TX).
Many Democrats were apoplectic, declaring that the will of the people had been usurped by a cadre of beltway elites in Washington. It may have looked that way on its face, but we simply don’t elect presidents by popular vote. You might not like the Electoral College system—heck, I’m not sure I like it either—but it’s the system we have, and its outcomes don’t always align with the popular vote. That’s reality, and we are free to amend that system at any time using one of the two methods of amendment provided-for by the Constitution itself.
Regardless, you would think that the party of unbridled democracy—that which treats the will of the people as the most sacrosanct of things, never to be ignored or usurped—would have refrained from passing a health care reform act opposed by a clear plurality of the voters (a majority in many polls) and likewise thought to be more harmful than helpful by just under two-thirds of doctors. The will of the people is quite clear: we want health care reform, but we don’t want the version of it that Congress passed last year. If there was any doubt about this, the last Congressional election should have made it painfully obvious. You would think that the Democratic Party would be the one to have noticed that the people were not at all happy with what they were doing.
I have many, many problems with the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” passed into law last March. First and foremost, it is a clear and obvious violation of the U.S. Constitution’s limitations on federal authority. Once again, if we want to change things in the Constitution we have two methods available to us for doing it. We can’t just ignore the parts we don’t like. The health care law is a direct, undeniable violation of the Tenth Amendment—part of the Bill of Rights, for God’s sake. Further, even if it had been Constitutional, I object on moral grounds to there being a mandate that people buy health insurance. People should indeed have a right to affordable health care, but having a right to something doesn’t mean anybody has the right to make you take advantage of it. I have a right to my religion, but you may not compel me to have faith. I have a right to free speech, but you may not compel me to speak. Finally, I object to being compelled to pay for people’s elective procedures. I shouldn’t have to pay for your liposuction, nor, more morally repugnant, do you have any right to make me fund your abortions, contraception, etc.
These are the most fundamental moral and legal objections to the act passed last year by the Democratic super-majorities in Congress, but they aren’t the only problems. Even if the act had been great in every respect, and had lacked these affronts to civil liberties and basic human rights, it would still be worthy of a re-do.
Why? Mostly because of all the promises that President Barack Obama (D) and his party broke in creating it. Obama promised that it would be crafted in a bipartisan fashion, and that Republican ideas would be considered and included. Obama promised that all debates about health care reform, and all the efforts to craft the bill, would occur in public on C-SPAN and be open to public scrutiny. Obama promised that we would have at least several days to review the bill before it proceeded to a vote. None of these things happened. They didn’t even try.
For all of these reasons, the health care reform act is damaged goods. It has fostered ill-will between the Democratic and Republican parties, ramped-up public mis-trust to unprecedented levels, spurred legal challenges from at least 27 states, and contributed—more than any other issue—to the Democratic Party’s 2010 electoral trouncing. One of the first major legislative acts of the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives was today’s 245-189 vote to repeal the health care act. Curiously, the repeal vote—which included three Democrats in addition to the unified Republican caucus—was a more bipartisan affair than the original health care bill itself, which enjoyed no Republican support.
Political observers don’t think the repeal will go anywhere, since the Democratic Party still holds a majority in the U.S. Senate and, even if it somehow did pass the Senate, it would almost definitely be vetoed by President Obama. They are probably correct in this analysis, but the Democratic Party might want to reconsider. When faced with such a stinging political rebuke as the Democratic Party has suffered in the last year, there are two basic options. You can dig in, declaring the correctness of your original position in the face of reality, or you can surprise everybody by admitting you messed up. The Democratic Party has done plenty of the former, but maybe it’s time to try some of the latter. Often, the best possible thing you can do in these situations is swallow your pride, admit you made a mistake, and try again.
Believe it or not, repealing last year’s health care act would be an incredibly shrewd strategic move for the Democratic Party. Of course, there is a clear mandate for health care reform—most thinking people realize that our system is flawed and needs serious improvement. A repeal would, therefore, lead by-necessity to a re-do. It would be an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work together and compromise to create a reform plan that passes Constitutional muster, doesn’t trample people’s civil liberties, doesn’t balloon the federal deficit, earns the support of the medical profession, and is crafted in the transparent, open fashion that Obama promised in the first place. Republicans would be forced to participate, lest they be branded as mindless obstructionists. Somewhat diabolically, it is Democrats who would garner much of the credit for ‘doing it right this time’ (since credit or blame so-often lands at the feet of the President). It is Democrats who will see their fortunes rise as people begin to see them as team-players again, not unilateralist dictators. As such, if played well by liberal politicos, a ‘repeal and replace’ strategy would actually benefit the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party!
Assuming that the Democrats intend to continue their irrational support for the flawed, politically-poisoned reform act, Republicans will find continued political benefit in demanding repeal. The apparent tone-deafness of the Democratic majority in the Senate, and the Democratic president, against broad opposition to this law will simply result in more political gains for the Republican opposition. Counterintuitively, Democrats would be better served by voting for repeal and working with their Republican brethren to craft a new, bipartisan reform bill. They will be setting themselves up for further electoral ‘shellacking’ by standing firm with their unpopular creation.
What would a bipartisan health care reform act look like? I discussed some ideas last March (Health Care We Can Believe In) while this other monstrosity was making its way through Congress.