Amend, Not Repeal

Catholic Quote of the day yesterday from the USCCB:

Following enactment of ACA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has not joined in efforts to repeal the law in its entirety, and we do not do so today.The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above.We therefore continue to urge Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws.

Which means they will not fight to repeal the law that gives universal health care, rather they will work to lobby the federal government to amend the law, rather than repeal it in its entirely.

A reasonable strategy and one that insures conversation continues and no longer polarizes.

Maybe things are getting better? Cooler heads, people. Cooler heads!

Did Chief Justice Roberts’ Ruling Give Catholics an Out on the HHS Mandate?

So I believe there’s a larger issue at play in yesterday’s Supreme Court Ruling on the Affordable Care Act. But first, let me offer a preview of a few issues. First is, the ruling was not about the HHS Mandate which requires employers who offer healthcare to include provisions for contraception and other controversial procedures. The Bishops have been stating that this violates a conscience clause for religious individuals as well as Catholic entities who object to such procedures. And the court’s recent ruling says nothing about that, per se. The ruling, as stated for the majority by Chief Justice Roberts, only states that the government can impose a tax on those who don’t purchase a health plan and that the government has the right to impose such as tax constitutionally.

This ruling, I think, also provides Catholic Bishops with an out because now each individual must purchase health insurance or pay the tax penalty. So the Bishops could very well simply no longer offer employees in Catholic institutions health insurance. In fact, ALL employers could very well not offer health insurance to their employees. The argument I’m making is that health care now no longer needs to be tied to employment. The government also offers it (or will, starting in 2014) and individuals can purchase it on their own or even choose to pay the tax for not buying it. Creating a pathway for individuals to purchase health care would get corporate dollars out of the health care game and create a healthy competition among the health care companies for individual dollars as opposed to corporate dollars, which I believe would create a thriving marketplace, cause the price to drop for said individuals, allow the best healthcare companies to rise to the top and create good relationships between health care companies and hospitals and practitioners.

Wow! I sound very libertarian today!

But what’s important for Catholics here in particular and why do I think the Bishops should do this?

Well, because then they no longer have to violate their consciences! They just pay their employees a higher cost of living wage and no longer offer health care. The church as a corporate sole need not make any corporate purchase that violates their conscience, rather they would allow individuals to decide whether they should purchase heath care at all. They might even hope that Catholics at large would refuse health care costs and just pay the tax. In essence, this is a libertarian kind of argument where the individual liberty is exercised.

If I’m the Bishops, (and I’m not) I walk away and I do so quietly. I phase out the current plans at a specific date (preferably 2014) and inform my employees that they’ll need to purchase plans on their own. They can simply take the government’s plan, which by the way is mostly free. Or they can opt for private insurance. Employees could also negotiate for say $5000 more to help defray the cost of living expense that would go up–which would be available because the line item of health care is now gone.

The larger question is whether this is cooperating with evil. I would say that it might be—but then therefore so is paying employees any salary. Why? Because I can take the money I make right now working in the church and go and buy drugs, pornography, or a host of other immoral things. How would this be any different? It wouldn’t. Unless I’m missing something–which I very well may be. Help me out if I am.

In short, the Church wouldn’t have to violate their conscience and everyone would get universal health care and it would be up to the individual to use contraception or not. The Federal Government would offer what the church could seemingly no longer do without violating its conscience and the church would simply look to give their employees a just wage which is all one could hope for.

But here’s something that I really like about this idea. Why SHOULD healthcare be tied to employment anyway? Why shouldn’t I get to compare who has the best rates for my family amongst the number of insurance companies that are out there? After all, that’s what I do with car insurance and home insurance and even pet insurance (You’re welcome, Haze the Dog)! Instead, right now I’m forced to use the insurance that my Human Resources Department chooses and offers to all of the employees–which very well might not be in my best interest and right now if I opted out of that plan I’d end up paying a whole lot more because individual plans aren’t as good as corporate ones and that’s because corporate dollars are inflated by the insurance company because they have the businesses over a barrel–especially the small business owner who pays through the teeth for their employee. The Affordable Care Act will give them tax breaks, but I think it might still be too expensive.

In short, I think this is win-win. But tell me what I’m missing if I am.

Honest Thoughts on the Supreme Court Ruling

So the Supreme Court Ruling on Obamacare is interesting. Justice Roberts, who is Catholic, by the way, ruled with the majority that the government’s plan is constitutional–but he did so in a most interesting way.

From the Washington Post:

If you read the opinions, he sided with the conservative bloc on every major legal question before the court. He voted with the conservatives to say the Commerce Clause did not justify the individual mandate. He voted with the conservatives to say the Necessary and Proper Clause did not justify the mandate. He voted with the conservatives to limit the federal government’s power to force states to carry out the planned expansion of Medicaid. ”He was on-board with the basic challenge,” said Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and a former clerk to Justice Kennedy. “He was on the conservative side of the controversial issues.”
His break with the conservatives, and his only point of agreement with the liberals, was in finding that the mandate was a “tax” — a finding that, while extremely important for the future of the Affordable Care Act, is not a hugely consequential legal question.

So in short, this means in layman’s terms that the government can’t force you to buy health care, despite the Republican wonks who will claim that this is what today’s ruling means. One should read the whole ruling by Roberts which is brilliant, especially this bit:

Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do. The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it. Ignoring that distinction would undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers.

What the government can do is impose a tax for those who don’t buy health care which is very similar to the state requiring us to buy car insurance or pay a fine if you get caught driving without it.

In the weirdest twist of Supreme Court Irony, Judge Kennedy who is usually the swing vote on these issues sided with the more conservative side, which signaled to many that the Affordable Care Act was going to be overturned. But Chief Justice Roberts turned the tables in a remarkable game of legal chess. He sided with many of the conservative arguments, save one, which made all the difference for the federal government.

The most straightforward reading of the individual mandate is that it commands individuals to purchase insurance. But, for the reasons explained, the Commerce Clause does not give Congress that power. It is therefore necessary to turn to the Government’s alternative argument: that the mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power to “lay and collect Taxes.” Art. I, §8, cl. 1. In pressing its taxing power argument, the Government asks the Court to view the mandate as imposing a tax on those who do not buy that product. Because “every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality,” Hooper v. California, 155 U. S. 648, the question is whether it is “fairly possible” to interpret the mandate as imposing such a tax, Crowell v. Benson, 285 U. S. 22. Pp. 31–32.

Roberts goes on to say one further thing:

Such an analysis suggests that the shared responsibility payment may for constitutional purposes be considered a tax. The payment is not so high that there is really no choice but to buy health insurance; the payment is not limited to willful violations, as penalties for unlawful acts often are; and the payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation. Cf. Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co., 259 U. S. 20–37. None of this is to say that payment is not intended to induce the purchase of health insurance. But the mandate need not be read to declare that failing to do so is unlawful. Neither the Affordable Care Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS. And Congress’s choice of language—stating that individuals “shall” obtain insurance or pay a “penalty”—does not require reading §5000A as punishing unlawful conduct. It may also be read as imposing a tax on those who go without insurance. See New York v. United States, 505 U. S. 144–174. Pp. 35–40.

So I’ve seen thousands of well…frankly stupid comments from people who obviously didn’t read the ruling. Instead, they say things like this makes the government a dictatorship and that they are making people buy insurance. To them I say, “Nope. Buy it or don’t buy it. But if you don’t, you have to pay a tax.” Furthermore, some will say “But what if I can’t afford it?” Well in 2014 Obamacare will give you insurance free of charge. That’s the whole point of the law, that everyone will be covered. They should probably extend that to undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. as the U.S. Bishops have stated, but that’s something that can be amended later if enough people lobby for it.

Universal health care is a right in my opinion and the Supreme Court didn’t exactly say that in this ruling, but I think Chief Justice Roberts wisely stood with the poor today and still held his Republican ideals high. He’s exactly who he said he’d be in the hearings and for that we should all be grateful because that’s what the court should do–slug it out in healthy debate that’s free from bias.

Sorta like this…the way it should be….and what makes our country great:

Should Teens Be Given a Life Sentence for Crimes They Commit?

That’s the question that the Supreme Court will be deciding for some time this spring and summer culminating in a probable decision this June.

Here’s some sparring amongst the Justices on this issue from the Huff Post:

(Justice) Alito soon asked (Lawyer Bryan) Stevenson to “tell us where the age line needs to be drawn for constitutional purposes,” and Stevenson obliged.

“I would draw it at 18, Justice Alito, because we’ve done that previously, we’ve done that consistently.”

“And you would say that at 17 — a person of 17 years and 10 months, 11 months, who commits the worst possible string of offenses still — and demonstrates great maturity — still cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole,” Alito asked.

“That’s right,” Stevenson replied, pointing again to the previous two cases that drew that line.

Justice Stephen Breyer later played the opposite with Alabama Solicitor General John Nieman, asking him to name a lower age limit for the sentence of life without parole. “Do you want to say 12? Do you want to say 10? Do you want to say 9? Because as soon as whatever you say, I’m going to say, ‘And why not 14?'”

Kennedy, however, seized upon Stevenson’s more modest argument, put forward in his briefs, that the court could also declare unconstitutional the mandatory imposition of life without parole, leaving juries with the ability to mete out that punishment after they considered mitigating factors such as age, mental health, and home life. So seriously did Kennedy seem to take this option that several times he tried to pull Stevenson back from his maximalist argument.

Stevenson inspires me and it looks like he might gain a half victory for sure. My guess is that the justices will rescind the mandatory imposition of life without parole and leave juries to decide whether they can impose such a sentence after meting out all the factors involved.

Bryan Stevenson discusses the moral arguments around poverty, life in prison for teens and the death penalty in this TED video which is worth every second to watch.

For the record, I believe Judge Ginsburg made the best point of the day when she responded to this exchange:

Still, life without parole “reinforces the sanctity of human life and it expresses the State’s moral outrage,” Arkansas Assistant Attorney General Kent Holt said in defense of his state’s sentencing law.

“You say the sanctity of human life, but you’re dealing with a 14-year-old being sentenced to life in prison, so he will die in prison without any hope,” Ginsburg retorted. “I mean, essentially you’re making a 14-year-old a throwaway person.”

I agree we have no right to do that to someone, especially a poor someone who grew up without the opportunities that even lower middle class families have.

My mother would often say about children who get in trouble with the law, or who get addicted to drugs or alcohol a simple phrase. “What do we expect? That’s all they know. That’s all they see. That’s all they’ve been exposed to. For them, this is “normal.””

And while some escape a life of poverty there are far too many that don’t. The incarceration rate amongst impoverished people, regardless of race is sky high. Wealth is the great emancipator and for that we should be ashamed.