Now that the special election has been held in Massachusetts to fill the vacant United States Senate seat, the Democrats in the Senate have lost their filibuster-proof majority, and new political winds are blowing. So, it’s worth considering where we are in the health reform debate.
My friend Kathy Gallagher from the New York State Catholic Conference suggested that the best way to illustrate the status and fate of the bills currently before Congress is this — take the largest stack of paper in your house, go over to the window, open it up and throw all the papers out.
That may be a bit dramatic, but there’s no doubt that the entire political dynamic has changed, and there is clearly a groundswell of opposition to increased government spending and activism. As a result, the Senate health reform bill, which has been sent to the House for consideration, is unlikely to pass without major changes. Given the new make-up of the Senate, no bill will pass that body again without significant concessions to the Republicans and moderate Democrats. Moderate members of Congress, particularly the Democrats, are re-calculating their political futures, and are unlikely to support dramatic expansions of government activity or increases in taxes.
This new situation also has tremendous significance for pro-lifers. It now appears much less likely that there will be an expansion of federal abortion funding under the guise of health care reform.
In short, it seems likely that the current bills have reached their expiration dates, and the President and the Congressional leadership will have to look to new ideas to break the deadlock and accomplish any kind of health care reform.
I think that Catholic social teaching provides a possible solution, particularly the principle of subsidiarity. This requires that, in developing social policies, we must defer to the most local level that can handle the problem adequately. So, the primary responsibility for virtually all issues falls on individuals and families. We must respect their freedom to make decisions about their welfare, trust that in most cases they will act rationally, while at the same time enacting social policies that help them make decisions and offer assistance when they are unable to accomplish their goals.
Now, there are many possible policy solutions that would satisfy the principle of subsidiarity. But one that would also accomplish the major goals of health reform (restraining costs, allocating costs fairly across the population, increasing consumer choice, attaining universal coverage) could include some of the following:
The President and Congress could pass these initiatives in a very simple piece of legislation that would, in my opinion, enjoy wide bi-partisan support. It wouldn’t significantly expand the role of government in the economy, and wouldn’t dramatically increase deficits or taxes. It also wouldn’t require all Americans to pay for abortions, or leave them in fear of government health care rationing.
Elections have consequences. The Massachusetts election result is saying something very clear — it’s time to start thinking of new solutions.