A judge’s weak tea

    Nobody was shocked yesterday when a conservative federal judge, tapped for the bench by Ronald Reagan, struck down the health care reform law. The Republican attorney general in Florida had shopped the lawsuit to the largely conservative U.S. Circuit Court in Pensacola, and he got the man he wanted. By the way, the score is now tied at 2-2 (two federal judges ruling thumbs-up, two ruling thumbs-down), with 12 other legal challenges having been dismissed in other federal venues.But what’s astonishing, to the point of mystification, is the content of the new ruling. It blends the ideological spin of a tea-party partisan with the intellectual heft of a Palin. Indeed, Mark Meckler, the national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, was right on the money yesterday when he said of the decision by Judge Roger Vinson, “It’s very exciting. He’s invoking the tea party movement.” (Wait a second: I thought conservatives didn’t like it when “unelected judges” promoted their ideological “agendas.”) The reform law, as we know by now, hinges on a requirement that Americans buy health insurance; the law’s proponents argue (rightly, as I’ve previously explained) that this requirement is constitutional under the Commerce Clause, which broadly permits Congress to regulate economic activity across state lines. And the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld many such laws, dating back more than half a century. But Judge Vinson sought to knock out the insurance-purchase requirement with this fact-free rationale:”…the mere status of being without health insurance, in and of itself, has absolutely no impact on interstate commerce – at least not any moreso than the status of being without any particular good or service….If impact on interstate commerce were to be expressed and calculated mathematically, the status of being uninsured would necessarily be represented by zero.””Absolutely no impact?” “Zero?”I felt like I was like reading a transcript from Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. In the empirical world, it has long been established that when people forgo the purchase of health insurance, it drives up the premiums of those who do have insurance. This is a phenomenon that, by definition, crosses state lines. When the voluntarily uninsured get sick and go to the hospital, the health providers naturally treat them – and pass along the costs to the insured. This is just another reason why health care costs comprise 17 percent of the national economy.Judge Vinson, at one point, does manage to let reality trump ideology; he concedes that medical treatment of the uninsured winds up costing the rest of us roughly $43 billion a year. But the temptation to talk like a tea partier is apparently too great. Hence, this passage:”If (Congress) has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction…it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted. It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America, would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place.”That one is a stitch. Did he copy and paste it from a tea-party manifesto, or what?Never mind the fatuous hyperbole about how the government might “force people to buy tea.” What’s truly astonishing is his fatuous suggestion that a decision to forgo the purchase of health insurance is no more consequential than a decision to forgo the purchase of tea. If millions of people choose not to buy tea for their households, it has zip impact on your personal finances. If millions of people choose not to buy health insurance and subsequently get sick, it has an adverse impact on your personal finances. Vinson seems to think that health insurance is no different than “any particular good or service.” He’s demonstrably wrong; inactivity by “passive” individuals shifts billions in costs to the rest of society.Anyway, Vinson is not the last word. The health reform fight will continue to reverberate in the courts – which seem to be just as divided on this issue as the other branches of government (and the nation). Two Republican appointees have ruled against the reform law, and two Democratic appointees have ruled in favor. We can fully expect to hear definitively from the highest court in a year or two, and, given the makeup of the nine brethren, and the likelihood of a close decision swayed by the usual swing voter, it’s likely we will wind up in this country with what we have now (a Darwinian mess), or what was recently enacted (a regulated private enterprise model). Either way, we’ll likely be calling it Anthony KennedyCare.

     

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    Meanwhile, regarding Palin’s aforementioned intellectual heft, here’s a new entry, courtesy of her Jan. 26 appearance on Fox News. Yo to all English students, let’s see you diagram this verbatim sentence:

    “That was another one of those WTF moments that when he has so often repeated this ‘Sputnik moment’ that he would aspire Americans to celebrate, and he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yeah, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.”

    And hang on a second…isn’t it sacred doctrine, among conservatives, that Ronald Reagan “won the Cold War” 30 years later by forcing the Soviets to spend too recklessly on the arms race? What’s all this semi-coherent business from Palin about the Soviets collapsing because of the space race? Maybe, out of respect for Reagan, Fox News might want to consider putting a more qualified Republican politician on its payroll.

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