Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vague gestures toward unspecified reforms

A few days ago (meaning before today's Supreme ruling on the Affordable Care Act), Jonathan Chait in the New York Times Magazine wonders about the difference between a right and a privilege. If you are poor, are you entitled to a big house? A large flat-screen TV? If didn't work as hard as Romney, had the misfortune of having poor parents, went to bad schools, aren't very smart, or trained for an industry that collapsed are you entitled to nice clothes or air conditioning?

Or health care?

We as a society essentially agree that no, a poor person is stuck with the little house (or apartment or mobile home) that doesn't have air, the puny TV, clothes from Goodwill, and perhaps food from the local food bank. Some forms of material deprivation are morally acceptable.

I can't (and Chait doesn't) say whether we as a society think health care is a right or a privilege. What Chait says is that the GOP definitely believes it is not a right. So in all their talk about repealing Obamacare you won't hear any of them talk about what they would replace it with. Because they don't intend to replace it. The GOP budgets call for throwing more people off Medicare.
Their reason for failing to defend their actual principles is obvious enough: That tens of millions of Americans deservedly lack a right to basic medical treatment is a politically difficult proposition. Thus, they oppose Obamacare without defending the indefensible conditions they actually favor. Their tactic of adding vague gestures toward unspecified future reforms has been so successful that news reports almost uniformly describe the Republican health-care stance as yet-to-be-determined, rather than an outright defense of maintaining health care as an earned privilege rather than a right.

Now that the Supremes have ruled on the Affordable Care Act (and I'll let you peruse your favorite news source for details) there is a strange question to ponder. Why did Chief Justice John Roberts spend so much effort in saying the Affordable Care Act is permitted because it is a tax and not because it is interstate commerce? Why split hairs like that?

I heard a variety of NPR hosts interviewing GOP members of Congress (oh, I wish they would follow those interviews with rebuttals by Democrats!). Some of them jumped all over that tax designation -- The largest tax increase in history! And on the poor! Jonathan Chait (again) proposes another idea. Roberts is slowly and carefully chipping away at the idea that the federal government has anything to do with interstate commerce. Just imagine the mischief that could cause.

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