Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.
Lambson: First, a disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, I have not read the Supreme Court's ObamaCare decision carefully, and I may change my mind as I become better informed. Second, a political statement: I oppose Obama's health care policy. It is a running leap down the road to serfdom. Third, my current opinion on the court's decision: Four justices on each side found reasons to vote the way they did. Roberts voted the way legal argument and precedent seem to require: The individual mandate is a tax even if Obama says it isn't, and the federal government's authority to tax is well established. I would prefer this authority to be more limited (a pox on the 16th Amendment!), but it isn't.
Bagley: I don't especially like the individual mandate, which is what all this sturm and drang is about. To recap: The individual mandate was first cooked up by the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank), and put forward by GOP legislators as their market-friendly national health care plan in response to Hillary Clinton's evil, socialist plan. Orrin Hatch voted for the mandate in 1993 before he voted against it under Obama, just as Mitt Romney used to tout his individual mandate Massachusetts plan as a model for the nation before Obama took him up on it.
Candidate Obama in 2008 didn't like the individual mandate either, but came around in 2009 when it looked like the best approach to get Republicans to sign on. Boy, was he wrong.
Lambson: Since politics seems to be a game, I suppose it is fine to keep score. Your scorekeeping illustrates my point that there are all sorts of shenanigans on both sides. Both sides proclaim, at least some of the time, that they favor limited government. Both sides, when given the chance, expand government. It is no surprise that politicians have supported the individual mandate and removed support when the other side was poised to take credit. It is part of the game. Not being a Republican or a Democrat, I don't care who is supporting the various aspects of Obama's health care policy most recently or who thought of them first.
Bagley: I don't care about blame (okay, maybe a little), but I am more interested in solutions. On the other hand, the GOP isn't interested in solutions, even their own, if it means beating Obama.
You sport a unique outlook: Your solution would be ...?
Lambson: The dilemma is that it is heartless to let people suffer the consequences of their bad luck (whether or not it is a product of their irresponsible choices), but systematically protecting people creates incentives for bad behavior. Every policy from laissez faire to European-style social insurance has flaws. I prefer less government because I don't like the idea of the politicians deciding who gets treated when resources are scarce. I would start by divorcing health insurance from employment. Although dated, I think the arguments in this opinion piece are still worth considering: http://www.limitedgovernment.org/publications/pubs/briefs/pdfs/brf6-4.pdf
Bagley: I don't like the idea of health insurance CEOs deciding who gets treated when their bonuses are on the line. One of the most eloquent indictments of our broken health care system is a cartoon by my brilliant colleague Jen Sorenson. Be sure to click through to the end of "An Open Letter to the Supreme Court About Health Insurance," by Jen Sorenson Kaiser Health News. There are four pages.
Last week's Top Comment is from Andrew Davidson:
"It's okay to change your stance on issues when you are presented with new information or what we might call 'evolving'. It's when you go back and forth and back and forth that it becomes a problem and you start to realize the candidate has no moral compass and will simply say and do anything to get elected."