Has America Run out of Gas?

Among one of the head-scratchers I’ve heard this political season is the notion that Congress should repeal the health care plan passed earlier this year because – whoever happens to be speaking – just doesn’t understand what’s in it!  This has been said so often and for so long a period, you’d think that it had been written in Aramaic and we’re still waiting for the translation.

Analyzing the situation, let’s look at what we do know.  First, the plan provides for covering adult children under their parents’ policy until the age of 26.  In a normal economy, they can finish college and find their first job, which would presumably cover them or provide them the income to buy their own policy.  Second, the bill provides that insurance companies cannot deny coverage because of someone’s pre-existing conditions, including children with asthma, or individuals with prior heart events or cancer.  Those two aspects alone are good things.  And because we’re talking about life, death, and people being spent into poverty to pay health care bills, it’s no small deal!

So, what is the hidden, nefarious thing that might jump out and bite us?  No one has really ever identified what that might be . . . they just keep saying “we don’t know what’s in there.”  The nuclear launch codes, perhaps?

The puzzler is this: isn’t there someone – not counting the monkeys who must have written it – who has had a chance to read the whole bill by now?  Surely, it strains credulity to imagine that it has not been examined by lawyers from insurance companies and hospitals, the AMA, Pfizer, just to name a few?  If there were something truly horrible – so horrible that we’d rather deny coverage to our adult children, sick children, and adults with prior serious illness  – wouldn’t we have been alerted by now?

I suppose it boils down to the unknowable.  Will it help bring down the deficit?  Will the premiums really be affordable?  What other loopholes will insurance companies find to deny payment?   These and other issues cannot be known until the plan is implemented.  After all, with all legislation, the devil is in the details, agency rulemakings, etc.  Moreover, comprehensive legislation of this type is never perfect in its first draft – it is amended and tweaked as flaws reveal themselves . . . you don’t do an Etch-a-Sketch start-over.

And yet, John and Jane Q. Public can complain that he and she don’t know what’s in this legislation and use that ignorance to try and thwart the entire plan.  What is the basis of this position?  If the Publics feel entitled to understand everything in the health care bill, one must surmise that they have already mastered the laws enacting Medicare, Social Security, the Interstate Highway System, and the Federal Communications Act.  If that legislation, too, is unclear to them, why shouldn’t they be repealed?

Or are they complaining that the bill was just too long and that makes it unknowable and just flat-out suspicious?  Are we reaching a point where the words are too big and legislation must be written and presented at somewhere between a 6th or 8th grade reading level, the “sweet spot of readability.”  Or is the complaint simply that laws should be written to a maximum word count or page limitation . . . maybe the length of a short story in Good Housekeeping?

And what about judicial opinions that have the force and effect of law?  Would they want to throw judges out because they were too long-winded, or, heaven forbid, wrote in another language – perfidious legalese!!!  Skimming through a case on my desk from Austin’s own Third Court of Appeals, I see mentions of the following:  full faith and credit, plea to the jurisdiction, severance of a claim,  extrinsic construction aids, specific-versus-general statutory-construction principle, liberally construed, and explicitly preempted.   How many non-lawyers could follow the reasoning of the court with these tidbits?   Should judges and lawyers be forced to write so that the Publics can understand the legal principles the use to resolve every court case?

I once thought the Platonic ideal of a class of Philosopher-kings to head governments was a bad idea, even considering the theory that they would be raised to be moral leaders and would be guided by rationality rather than appetites.  The democratic ideal of citizens participating in the government seemed so much better.   But now, I wonder.

There is a new crop of Americans who glory in their ignorance as if that were sufficient justification for electing them or their representatives to run our government, which, by the way, they will seek to dismantle.

They seem oblivious to our 200 plus years of our history of providing a decent life for all citizens, which began in earnest in 1935 with the creation of the social security system for the elderly, and was later supplemented with programs like  Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Head Start, to name a few.  Also worth mentioning is the Guaranteed Student Loan Program which provided an avenue for young people with limited resources to pay for college educations.  A plan for insuring citizens who don’t have job-provided health care  or can’t get health insurance for health reasons is a natural progression in our history.  In fact, considering that we are talking about life and death, it is long overdue.

But these folks don’t want to pay for anything, support anything new, or take care of anyone, all while they pull institutions apart, build walls around our borders, and keep stoking the war machine with our young people as fodder.  Is this the beginning of the end of American progress, and our claim to exceptionalism?   Has America lost its way or just run out of gas on the road to a more perfect union, the one on which our forefathers set us traveling over 200 years ago?

I can’t help but think of the response of Ben Franklin, when he was asked at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, “What have you wrought?”  He answered, “… a Republic, if you can keep it.”  If only we can.

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About nowandthenadays

Observer of life who writes about Austin, women's issues, history, and politics. I retired as a Texas Assistant Attorney General after almost 40 years in state government in May, 2013.
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