Editorial: Close encounters
The ongoing debate over healthcare reform is really out of this world
Notes on the news:
Scientists operating the planet-seeking Kepler satellite telescope reported last week that they have found 1,235 possible planets orbiting other stars. Astronomers say that while some of these planets may be similar to Earth, most are so different and so remote that it is highly unlikely—though not impossible—that the inhabitants are arguing over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Meanwhile, on this planet, the most commotion outside of Cairo concerned the healthcare reform law. There were battles in the courts and Congress waged with all the fury of Klingon warriors. You almost expected to see Michael Rennie land a flying saucer in Washington and deliver a peace ultimatum to the politicians.
The week of conflict was launched when U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Florida issued a decision as sweeping as the Milky Way. This was a closely watched case since a multitude of mostly Republican officials from 26 states filed the litigation to kill the reform law. A federal judge in Virginia previously had struck down the individual mandate to purchase insurance coverage, but left the rest of the law intact. Vinson ruled that since the mandate is unconstitutional, the entire law violates the Constitution. While this was hailed by reform opponents, some legal critics found his reasoning and expansive interpretations as imaginative as science fiction. Perhaps Vinson, who loves camellia flowers and riffed on the Founding Fathers and the Boston Tea Party in his decision, was inspired to create a hybrid of law and ideology.
Later, on Capitol Hill, Republicans pursued their quest to quash the reform law, which they regard as Plan 9 from Outer Space. They tried to attach an amendment identical to the House repeal measure to an air traffic safety bill in the Senate. The attempt failed in a party-line vote, just as the repeal effort in the House was approved in a party-line vote.
These partisan maneuvers may be gratifying to people who watch too much cable TV, but for those with feet planted on terra firma, they are expensive, counterproductive diversions from the real challenges facing the country.
The people who are invoking the Constitution and the Founding Fathers in their crusade to destroy the individual mandate and government-sanctioned health coverage probably won't want to hear a couple of tidbits from the early days of the republic. Some history buffs have noted recently that in 1798, Congress passed “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” The law authorized creation of a government-operated system of marine hospitals and mandated that privately employed merchant marine sailors pay a tax on their wages to support that system. Foreign trade, conducted by private ships, was considered vital to the economic health of the nation and to keep those ships manned, Congress wanted to keep sailors, who labored in a dangerous occupation, healthy.
This government-run, mandated scheme was signed into law by President (and Founding Father) John Adams.
The other bit of Americana cited recently involves Founding Father George Washington. Congress passed and Washington signed the Militia Act of 1792. The law established state militias and national standards for their operation. It required every “free, able-bodied white male citizen,” between 18 and 45 (with a few exceptions) to equip himself with a musket, a bayonet and ammunition.
We cannot know what the 18th century architects of this nation would say about the issues confronting Americans in the 21st century. But it seems the Founding Fathers, contrary to a lot of current chatter, didn't consider mandates alien ideas after all.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.