Time to renew the Constitution

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Think everything that’s wrong with this country is President Obama’s fault, or the Republicans’, or both? Nah. The real problem isn’t a person or party. The real problem is that America’s political system doesn’t work anymore. If we “threw out all the bums,” pretty soon we’d decide that the new bunch were bums, too.

Let’s illustrate the political system’s problems using Obamacare.

Remember what the health care system was like in 2008? If you were sick, the insurance companies wouldn’t cover you. If you were sick too long, they’d drop you.

The entire system was (and still is) based on compensating medical providers for treating us, not for curing us or preventing illness. As a result, American health care is misdirected and costs far more than it does elsewhere, making the country less competitive and adding to the national debt. People die because it’s based on the wrong incentives.

Such a system did not need tweaking. It needed an overhaul. A lengthy national conversation involving medical providers, insurers and patients should have occurred. Democrats and Republicans should have worked together to create solutions. Reforms should have occurred in stages, with the states serving as laboratories of democracy. It should have taken a decade.

Can you even imagine that? Not only did it not happen, but it could not have happened, for many reasons. Democrats and Republicans had no incentives to work together – except for the good of the country, and that wasn’t enough because playing politics was more important. The job had to be rushed because the 2010 elections began the instant after Obama took the oath of office in 2009. It’s all a big game now.

The system made it impossible to reform health care the way it should have been reformed. And so we got what we got – a law altering American life that was passed quickly without broad support. I don’t hate it as much as some people do, given what it replaced. A lot of people have health insurance that didn’t have it before. But it’s complicated, messy and too centrally directed, and it doesn’t do enough to contain costs. We’re not sure where it’s going, and so people fear it, and understandably so. Now that Republicans control Congress, they’ll pretend to try to torpedo it, but they don’t have anything to offer in its place.

This is no way to run a railroad.

The Constitution has served us well for more than two centuries and is an example for the rest of the world. But the political system can no longer address big problems responsibly. The Founding Fathers created a government. Today’s elected officials can hardly pass a budget.

Meanwhile, the system has not prevented what the Founding Fathers hoped it would prevent. Government has grown far bigger than they intended. Service in Congress has become a career. A political class of lobbyists, campaign professionals and influencers make their livings by extracting taxpayer money and/or sowing discord. A wealthy aristocracy with unlimited resources exerts too much influence over policymakers.

The Founding Fathers anticipated some of this, but they could not have known what life would be like in the 21st century. And so the Constitution needs to be renewed through the amendment process. Examples to be considered should include, among others, term limits, campaign finance reform, and some kind of balanced budget requirement.

It’s hard to imagine Congress making any of this happen, but a movement, the Convention of the States, is trying to amend the Constitution through a states-led process that has never been used before. An Arkansas chapter is trying to pass a resolution through the state Legislature. Because it takes 34 states to call a convention, it will be an uphill battle nationally.

Our political system doesn’t do what it was meant to do and can’t solve new problems, either. The Founding Fathers rightfully made the Constitution difficult to amend. However, the Constitution itself was a revolutionary document written by people who understood that sometimes things need to be shaken up.

13 thoughts on “Time to renew the Constitution

  1. Just say no to a convention. I would have no expectation that the delegates to such a confab would be any better than the current leadership we have in this country. And if the current leadership doesn’t pay attention to the current Constitution, why should we expect them to pay attention to a revised one?

    How about a test case first? Add a balanced budget amendment and if the Congress actually obey its, then we can try further revisions to the Constitution.

  2. You say that what we got in the Affordable Care Act was “too centrally directed.” My struggle is to understand how any solution to our health care problem could be anything else. It’s certainly not anything else in any of the other nations I know about. We may hate big government and rail against it, but this is one area in which it seems to be necessary.
    Or is it that we Americans are the only ones on this planet who are unable to solve this most basic of problems?

  3. According to the Constitutional set up we have the general government only has power to do what it is explicit allowed to in the Constitution. Health care insurance is not one of those explicit powers.

    States are allowed to do anything that the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit them from doing. Thus, a state government can have a health care insurance program if that state’s constitution allows it.

  4. Hi, Ken.

    My response would be, what we are doing isn’t working. I understand your argument that the current leadership isn’t paying attention to the current Constitution enough – but it’s not completely ignored. Are there term limits for the president? Yes. Has any president tried to violate them? No. They serve two terms, and they’re out. So if there was a term limits provision in the Constitution, that would be a pretty significant change that would actually happen. Why not at least try to do something before it’s too late?

  5. Hi, Sandy. I don’t have a solution for health care, except to make it more consumer-driven, but I don’t really know how to do that. I agree that it requires a national solution, but there’s just too many details with Obamacare – all the things that have to be covered, etc. But I do agree that the free market alone will not solve this problem.

  6. If the idea for health care insurance reform, ignoring the Constitution of course, was a general government solution for those who couldn’t afford health insurance, then subsidies could have been simply given to those in need and they could have purchased insurance. That wasn’t what was done because that wasn’t the goal.

  7. That would have been one way to go, Ken, provided that there was a requirement for people to buy insurance if they could afford it. Absent that, I’m really not sure why I’ve been buying insurance all these years – considering I could have saved my $800 a month, and then when there was a health situation simply gotten my health care for free.

  8. “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate” – William of Ockham

    In English it is: “Plurality should not be posited without necessity.”

    It has been simplified into Occam’s razor: “The simplest answer is usually the best one.”

    Our federal government is in great need of Occam’s razor.

  9. I think there are 2 things really working against us in finding a solution to health care.
    First, we Americans are extremely individualistic. (I’m not saying that’s necessarily good or bad.) Out attitude is that we’re not going to let the damned government tell us what to do! We’re not about to let the government require us to have health insurance or anything else. Why, that’s just unAmerican, we say. The problem here is that universal coverage requires universal compliance. Unless everyone opts in, there’s no abiding solution. And Americans aren’t about to opt in.
    Second, we Americans are so wedded to capitalism that we’ll never accept anything other than the lousy set-up we’ve had all these years. Do you realize how much American drug companies are charging us for their products? I recently found that my new drug insurance plan wouldn’t cover one of my medications. I went online and found an international drug company that sold me the pills for less than a tenth of what American drug companies are charging–and the package was in my mail box in less than a week. I’m thru with being screwed by big pharma. I’m as willing to be a capitalist as anyone else, and I’m therefore taking my business elsewhere.

  10. Sandy, the problem isn’t capitalism not the free market. What we have today is corporatism, or crony capitalism, where big corporations and big banks are in cahoots with big government.

  11. Sandy and Ken, I don’t think you two are actually very far apart. The argument the past few decades has always been about big government. In reality, the problem is big everything. The crony capitalism argument transcends the tired left-right dichotomy. Liberals, libertarians, tea partiers – a lot of us would agree that these huge corporations are a huge threat and almost synonymous with big government nowadays. So basically, I agree with both your points. And I think you basically agree with each other.

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