Healthcare reform's deciding moment -- maybe
Good news. The congressional "super committee" is going to decide this month on deficit-reduction measures.
Sheesh. Remember when George W. Bush called himself "the decider"? Apparently, in Washington, he was the last of his kind.
Take the super committee: six Democrats and six Republicans charged with recommending cuts to reduce the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
Hard? Yes. Necessary? Yes. "Profiles in Courage"? Apparently, no.
In an effort to avoid stark failure, a fallback plan is emerging that would push tough decisions on taxes to next year, perhaps into a lame-duck session after the election, according to officials familiar with the panel's discussions.
Under this scenario, the two sides would agree now to a level of revenue from new taxes. They would direct the congressional tax-writing committees to revamp the tax code with fixed dates and goals. The object would be to generate new revenue while lowering corporate rates and keeping the top individual bracket no higher than the current 35%.
The move would allow the two sides to reach the outlines of the deal now, while deferring the most difficult issues until both see who wins the 2012 election.
Hey, folks, here's some news: We have elections all the time. The winners try to enact their agenda (see healthcare reform, below). The losers do everything in their power to block that agenda (see healthcare reform, below).
And not much gets done.
So tell my again why waiting for still another election result would make deficit-reduction decisions any easier?
Look how healthcare reform has worked. The Democrats pushed it through with no Republican support. Republicans hate it so much that they've vowed to repeal it. And Republican-led legal efforts to overturn it led to the Supreme Court on Monday agreeing to decide its fate.
The justices said they would rule on constitutional challenges to the entire law brought by top Republican officials from 26 states, who contend the Democratic-controlled Congress overstepped its authority in passing the measure.
The high court is likely to rule on the issue by late June as the presidential campaign moves into high gear.
OK, that's good. Then it really could be a campaign issue again, for better or worse.
But as always with legal issues, there's the fine print:
In agreeing to hear the cases, the court said it will decide four questions that have arisen: Is it constitutional for Congress to require all persons to have health insurance by 2014? If this provision is struck down, can it be "severed" from the law or must the entire statute fall? Is it unfair to the states to force them to pay the extra cost of expanding the Medicaid program? Finally, should a decision be put off until 2015 when the first taxpayers would pay a penalty for not having health insurance?
The latter question gives the court a way to put off a decision if the justices opt to do so. A long-standing tax law says judges should not decide on "tax" cases until someone has paid the tax, and the penalty for not having health insurance would be collected by the Internal Revenue Service.
Great. We'll wait breathlessley for the high court to rule -– and the ruling could well be "We'll get back to you"?
Here's the deal: People die because they don't have access to healthcare. It's not a very good system. Even with the Democrats' healthcare reform law, it isn't a very good system.
So, Supreme Court justices, don't put this off. We need a decision: Either this system is legal, in which case we can stop arguing and start implementing; or it's illegal, in which case we can start arguing again and devise a new, better system.
And the same goes for deficit reduction: Putting off tough decisions is one reason we're in this fix. (For example, borrowing money to pay for wars instead of making the politically unpopular but prudent decision to raise taxes.)
When decisions are made, someone (or many someones) are going to be unhappy (see healthcare reform, above).
But in the cases of deficit reduction and healthcare reform, I'd far rather have a decision I'm unhappy with than no decision at all.
Photo: Nurse Susan Peel gives a whooping cough vaccination to a student at Inderkum High School in Sacramento. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press