Human Events Blog

The folly of federal “reforms”

A follow-up to my earlier post about Mitt Romney’s plans for ObamaCare repeal:

During the primaries, Romney took some grief for saying that portions of ObamaCare would be acceptable in the context of state programs, but were Constitutionally unacceptable at the federal level.  This was derided as an excuse for the author of RomneyCare to hide behind, while he took potshots at the distressingly similar ObamaCare.

Personally, I always thought this federalist argument was logically valid as far as it went, but it was too thin to base Romney’s entire critique of ObamaCare on.  The states can indeed do many things forbidden to the federal government.  But the American people, to their great misfortune, have come to accept a profound re-definition of the relationship between the states and Washington.  They generally disdain the notion that the central government should be thwarted from carrying out a perceived act of benevolence, simply because the Constitution says so.  The idea state governments should be more powerful than the federal Leviathan strikes them as odd.

It’s never a bad idea to remind Americans of their true Constitutional inheritance, but that’s a long-term project.  Meanwhile, they needed more immediate, detailed criticism of what ObamaCare does wrong, in order to support the difficult endeavor of repealing it… which only begins with Mitt Romney winning the White House, and Republicans improving their position in the Senate, should those things come to pass.

But there are two more excellent reasons to shift the focus of health care reform to the states, beyond the Constitutional limitations placed on the federal government.  One is a compelling general argument in favor of federalism: individual Americans have much more influence on state governments, and if they dislike a particular state’s programs, they can leave. 

It’s sad to realize that contemporary America has lost much of its appreciation for the power of competition, which is vastly more potent than the imagination of central planners.  Part of the Founders’ genius in emphasizing the importance of government obtaining “the consent of the governed” is that it has both moral and practical implications.  The ability to withdraw consent is the wellspring of competition.  Every program, government or private, performs differently before a captive audience.  That’s one of the reasons we don’t tolerate private-sector monopolies… but we have become far too tolerant of public-sector monopolies.

The other great advantage to shifting the frontiers of health-care reform back to the fifty state capitols is that Washington, D.C., is absolutely incapable of executing a centralized health care program.

Look at what happened to ObamaCare.  Remember the backroom deals, special exemptions, amendments, and penciled-in sub-paragraphs?  And look at how much of the design that escaped the Frankenstein legislative laboratory atop Capitol Hill has already crumbled away, like the 1099 reporting requirements and the CLASS Act.  Remember the blizzard of waivers flung at “special” unions and companies, whose compliance with the twisted monstrosity of ObamaCare was deemed too much of a burden.

If ObamaCare is replaced with another reform that relies too heavily upon federal planning and implementation, it will suffer a similar fate, even if the initial design is much sounder than ObamaCare.  One hopes a President Romney and his Congressional leadership would run a tighter, more open, less special-interest-crazed ship than Obama did – that’s not a very high bar to hurdle – but there would still be compromises, amendments, and tidal waves of political pressure rolling in from the media.

There’s little point in decrying this process.  It’s the way things work, and for all the bloviating politicians indulge at the expense of “special interests” and “lobbyists” – by which they invariably mean the other side’s special interests – citizens have a right to lobby the government, and representatives indisputably have the power to amend legislation.  Washington is a wonderland that can produce two-page bills with a hundred pages of amendments.  Its legislative sausage always contains plenty of filler.

The same sort of thing happens at the state level, but there’s noticeably less filler in state capitol sausage, and when you’re talking about trillion-dollar reforms, even ten or fifteen percent less crap results in a much healthier meal.  The idea of any complex problem receiving an elegantly designed, finely engineered universal solution from Washington is frankly ludicrous.  And the ability to vote with our feet will always give average Americans far more real and lasting influence over state and local governments than any combination of lobbyists and political action groups provide for our distant central government.  Central planning is one vote, one time, followed by a lot of heart-ache and special interest tinkering.  A system you can walk away from will always be more responsive to your needs, on a continuing basis.

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