Reconciliation betrays intent of founders

Freedom New Mexico

As the full-court-press by his administration to pass a health insurance bill that polls show most Americans oppose or have serious reservations about, we will have more to say about the curious faux-populist tactics President Barack Obama is using as he becomes increasingly desperate. For now let us just remark that it is curious to vilify and demonize health insurance companies as bloodsucking parasites on the body politic in order to pass a bill that would require all Americans to buy their products.

The subject for today, however, is the propriety of passing a large-scale reorganization of one-sixth of the economy with a narrow partisan majority. It may well turn out to be possible for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to cobble together such majorities through threats and legalized bribery. But to do so would not only represent a departure from prior practice with such sweeping legislation, it also would harm social cohesion, as the founders of this republic knew.

The Federalist Papers, the essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, which appeared in newspapers to persuade Americans to approve the U.S. Constitution, are full of warnings against legislating with transient majorities. The very structure of the national government, with three co-equal branches and with two separate legislative bodies, chosen in different ways, is calculated to make the conversion of transient majorities into law purposely difficult.

The founders not only protected certain individual rights from majority rule by passing the Bill of Rights, they understood that, when majorities impose their will on sizable minorities, resentment and incipient rebellion often ensue. So they strove to make sure that major new laws would command not just a bare majority but something approaching a consensus before they could be enacted.

Passing legislation that is not only major but, arguably, revolutionary in scope when a majority of the people actually oppose it is hardly the definition of prudence.

The legislation that instituted the Social Security system in 1935 passed the House by a vote of 372-33 (2 present and 33 not voting), with Republicans favoring it 81-15. The Senate approved its version by a 77-6 vote (12 not voting), with Republicans voting 16-5 in favor. After a conference committee reconciled the two versions final passage came by voice vote in both houses.

Medicare was approved in 1965 by a 313-115 vote in the House, Republicans favoring it (70-68) and a 68-21 vote (with Republicans opposing it, 17-13) in the Senate.

The overhaul of the health care system currently being proposed is arguably more far-reaching in scope than either Social Security or Medicare. Yet the administration and Democratic congressional leaders are planning to push it through on a strictly partisan vote, knowing they will get at most a smattering of Republican votes, and figuring that the margin in the House will be one or two votes if they are lucky.

No wonder they’re having trouble assembling even those bare majorities when Democrats have overwhelming numbers. Passing major legislation in such a way is bound to create resentment and resistance, to polarize the country and its capital even more than they are already. Prudence would suggest deferring until a real consensus emerges.