McLaughlin’s alternate universe
Neil McLaughlin’s latest editorial (“Close encounters,” Feb. 7, p. 26) cannot go unchallenged. To have some obtuse reference to a historical event—“An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen”—be offered as precedent in light of serious contemporary constitutional discussions, simply points out that the legal critics you cite have too much time on their hands and should back off of the science fiction.
Rather than add complexity to the already complicated world, some of us in the real world try to focus on a few simple truths. Simple truth No. 1: Health reform is the most partisan piece of social engineering legislation since the Social Security Act of 1935.
A correct read of history is simple truth No. 2: When an oppressive government attempts to apply its will against the liberty of an empowered people, there will be hell to pay. The November elections sent an unequivocal message in this regard. A revealing discussion between two former majority leaders of Congress (Dr. Bill Frist and Tom Daschle) during last year’s American Hospital Association annual meeting in Washington, noted that some years ago, the Republican majority briefly considered using the “reconciliation process” to pass a piece of legislation not tied to the budget. Recall that this was the extraordinary legislative technique invoked by last year’s Democratic majority to eventually pass health reform along party lines (since they could not get it done by following traditional rules). This so-called “nuclear option” was previously rejected by the Republican majority, noted Frist, as it was determined that it would be too disruptive to the governing process.
A correct interpretation of this “debate” is simple truth No. 3: It is not a debate at all, but rather nuclear fallout, and fallout is toxic. In collusion with the White House, the last Congress set off this partisan bomb by imposing its will on a minority, against strong majority public opinion. The result is that despite some positive and needed provisions in the health reform legislation concerning health insurance, the method by which it expanded beyond all reason and was eventually passed was simply unconscionable. Many of us feel it is better to repeal this toxic law and start all over. There is truly consensus opinion regarding a number of important items that should be enacted, but not like this. It seems likely that you might also buy into the notion that to repeal health reform is to add to the federal deficit. This is truly the most vacuous argument of all. It defies logic to believe that covering an additional 30 million-plus people is free.
This leads to simple truth No. 4: If you have no money, any additional spending adds to a deficit. It should be noted that for the first time in history, we are now in a negative cash situation with Social Security—in other words, the declining number of people who are paying for the growing number of retirees no longer covers the full cost of this entitlement. The great Ponzi scheme that is Social Security has caught up with us. To make matters worse, the borrowing of Social Security reserves over the years to meet other excess federal spending must now be paid back. This internal debt now amounts to more than $2 trillion. Sure, if you leave out physician cost adjustments and assume something that has never happened before (bending the Medicare cost curve down— “savings,” not just bending the rate of increase) you can get the Congressional Budget Office to give you a correct answer to a silly question. Fortunately, the American public trusts their gut more than government and recognizes simple truth No. 5: Adding to the cost of healthcare during a recession is a really bad idea and does not lead to employment growth.
Perhaps using your editorial space to share some of these concerns would be better than “Close encounters.” I confess I am not really hopeful for such editorial enlightenment. Until then, may the force be with you as you continue to invoke science fiction into real life discussions—“Nanu, nanu,” as Mork would say. For the rest of us, we would prefer to get about the business of real health reform.
Scott A. Mason Managing Partner SKM Enterprises