Posts Tagged ‘health care summit’
By: James Robertson
President Obama’s summit on health care reform today marks an unprecedented move by the administration to offer Republicans a final say on proposed health care legislation before it is inevitably forced through a divided Congress. While Obama claims that the summit represents a move by Democrats to “reach out” to Republican opposition and allow them to reconcile their differences with the reforms, the meeting more obviously represents a last-ditch effort on the part of the administration to ensure that their top domestic priority doesn’t die on Capitol Hill. Such a failure would undoubtedly cripple the public’s faith in the current administration and significantly reduce its ability to govern. Of greater importance, though, is not the success of health care reform for the sake of this administration, but the success (or failure) of this summit for the sake of policymaking in the American republic.
The founders established democracy in the America by vesting the main legislative power in a national congress. The bicameral design of the U.S. Congress evolved to ensure equal representation of individuals and states in the policymaking process. Today, the Congress finds itself plagued with a mountain of debt and deeply divided along partisan lines, seemingly incapable of addressing public concerns or accomplishing much of anything at all. While not advertised as such, Obama’s summit represents an executive effort to counter the legislature’s ineptitude by removing the policy discussion from the halls of Congress itself to an executive suite in the Blair House, right across the way from the Oval Office.
This summit carries with it the message of hope that pervaded Obama’s campaign for the presidency; a sentiment that has been called into question recently due to the stalling of health care reform. The President clearly seeks to portray the message that, although the legislature as a whole has proven itself unable to deal with the issue, he is willing to take matters into his own hands and force Congressional leaders from both parties to hammer out a proposal, compromised or otherwise. While this move might appear noble and altruistic on the President’s part, its inherent disregard of Constitutional structure poses some dangerous implications for the future of democracy in America.
The U.S. Constitution establishes Congress in Article 1, then moves on to lay out Executive powers in Article 2. This order was not coincidental. The Founders recognized the danger of an over-powerful executive and, for that reason, gave the Executive few explicit duties and left policymaking to Congress. In Constitutional debates, James Madison was quick to note the dangers of a ruling majority. The presidential veto, the bill of rights, and the senate filibuster rule are just a few safeguards that protect Americans from the tyranny of a malevolent majority. Moving policymaking outside of the Congress and into the realm of the executive ignores this structure, bypassing these protections and perilously endangering liberty.
Many will note that Presidents have long involved themselves in the formulation of American policies. The increasing use of Presidential signing statements most clearly reflects a Presidential attempt at policymaking. These informal declarations have become the President’s way of directing, or in some cases limiting, Congress’ actions. Also, legislators judge Presidential proposals on different merits due to their possible political ramifications. However, removing debate on an issue from the floor of the Congress itself and into an executive conference room adjacent to the White House lawn not only symbolizes more executive interference, but very clearly increases Executive influence over the crafting of domestic policies.
This problem, like most facing America today, could easily be resolved by simply obeying the Constitution. Failure to recognize and abide by Constitutional guidelines led Congress to subsidize and socialize American industries while sustaining a Cold War-era empirical foreign presence, both of which contributed to the current debt of astronomical proportions. Exceeding their Constitutional boundaries allowed Congress to act in ways that immediately benefited many Americans and bought them some good will in the short run. Ultimately, though, by ignoring their Constitutional mandate, Congress damaged this brilliant structure of American government and led us to the broken system we have today. The answer to this problem lies not in an Executive takeover of the legislature, but rather in a return to the rule of law and a government that acts within the limited structure set forth by the Constitution.