Bipartisanship: The Answer To So Many Questions

Last month, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) failed to garner enough Republican support in the House of Representatives to pass their chamber and move on to the Senate.  The failure was partly due to the fact that it had zero support from the Democrats, but also because of differing factions amongst the GOP.  Democrats refuse to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and many of the Republicans didn’t think that the AHCA went far enough in repealing and replacing the ACA.

Almost everyone agrees that the ACA as it stands right now is not the healthcare plan of the future for America.  Those on the left side of the aisle want minor tweaking to keep it fluid, or maybe even more reform to make it more socialistic or universal.  Those on the right side of the aisle want to get rid of much or all of the ACA and start over on healthcare reform.  In reality, the only answer that will work best for all of America is one that lies somewhere in the middle of those two sides.

Throughout America’s history, there are many examples of legislation that were passed with a large majority of bipartisan support.  Social Security and Medicare were enacted with strong bipartisan support.  In 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (funneling money into skilled worker education) was passed with great bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.  The problems we are seeing with the US healthcare laws (current and proposed) are because none of them have had any bipartisan support.  When the ACA was passed in 2010, there was no Republican support for the bill in either the House or the Senate.  While there were many reasons for no GOP support (and even some Democrats in the House voted against it), a big reason was that many people didn’t even know what the thousands of pages of legislation and regulations would fully accomplish.  In the words of then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it – away from the fog of the controversy.”

Fast forward about 7 years and you will find the Republicans trying the same method with the repeal and replacement of the ACA.  They drafted the bill in the House of Representatives behind closed doors with no opposition party input, brought it to the public and planned a vote all within a 2-week period.  There was no Democratic support for the bill.

We now have 2 bills that have only been supported by the party that was/is in power over the 2 chambers of Congress and the presidency.  This leaves the bills very vulnerable the next time there is a power shift in Washington.  If the Republicans are able to force their bill through, the next time the Democrats have control of Congress and have a Democratic President, then they will try to change it to their idea of what is best.  In reality, we need to have both parties sit down at the table and have some give and take.  Compromise never feels great when you give up something that you want, but in the end, getting something that is best for everyone and helps everyone is better than temporary pride.  The Democrats will need to give up some of their more socialistic healthcare ideas and the Republicans will need to give up their opposition to some of the current ACA provisions.

While I don’t pretend to have the answers for what to keep and what to do away with, I know that it’s not going to be an easy road and it’s not going to be a quick road, but it’s a road that we need to travel down to fix a system that isn’t working very well and isn’t headed in a good direction.  Congressmen and women need to stop worrying about all the special interest lobbyist and come together to think about the American people.  Talk with Doctors, talk to nurses and people in the business office of healthcare clinics.  Congress needs to get input from the people who will be carrying out these policies, instead of pretending that they know how to make you healthy, as if they have already gone through med school.  But most importantly, bipartisanship is the only strong answer for the future of healthcare in the United States.


Side note: While I personally believe that healthcare reform was something that was never granted to the legislative branch (see here), Congress has already opened that can of worms.  So, I believe the only thing that can be done now is to fix what is currently in place.

Jason – Three Patriots

Powers of the Supreme Court

So far, we have covered the powers granted by the US Constitution to the legislative branch (read here) and the executive branch (read here), which leaves just one final branch—the judicial branch of government.  Once again, let’s start by defining what the judicial branch entails.  The judicial branch is headed by the US Supreme Court with the lower level civil and criminal courts below it.  Broadly, the purpose of the judicial system is the interpret and apply the law.  Typically, most court cases begin in the lower courts with judges applying their own interpretation of the laws and the Constitution.  No matter the outcome of the lower court’s ruling, the losing party can appeal that decision to a higher court—all the way up to the US Supreme Court.  At that point in time, the justices of the Supreme Court will look at all the cases that have made it to the highest court and will decide if they will hear the case or leave the ruling of the lower courts in effect.

If the justices believe the case is worth hearing, arguments before the court are scheduled from October to April each year.  The court hears arguments, asks questions, and sometimes, includes their own opinions in the questioning.  Later, they come to a conclusion on the constitutionality of each case with a vote or series of votes.  All 9 justices (odd number to decrease possibility of a tie) will vote based on their interpretation of the laws and the Constitution.  Then, one of the justices will write a majority opinion, and one or more will write a dissenting opinion if the decision is not unanimous.  By the end of June, all cases heard by the court will be ruled upon by the justices, and the majority and dissenting opinions are released.  At this point in time, the court’s ruling is final…unless the Constitution is amended, or the court reconsiders its opinion and changes it (which is extremely rare).

Article III of the Constitution states what powers the Supreme Court is allowed:

“The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;–to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;–to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;–to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;– to Controversies between two or more States;–between a State and Citizens of another State;–between Citizens of different States;–between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.”

Interestingly enough, the Constitution does not grant the power of judicial review (where the constitutionality of laws is interpreted), but that power has been in practice since the early 1800s without any legitimate challenge to the authority.

Let’s take a real world example to provide some context here.  In 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) into law.  Part of that legislation included a mandate that all people have health insurance or pay a penalty when they file their taxes each year.  Many argued that this mandate was unconstitutional and outside of the powers granted to Congress in the Constitution.  A lawsuit was filed against the mandate in Florida, and the District Court agreed that it was not constitutional.  The government appealed that decision to the 3-judge panel of the 11th District Court of Appeals, who agreed with the lower court 2-1 that the mandate was unconstitutional.  The government then appealed that decision to the US Supreme Court, and arguments were heard in March 2012.

The Supreme Court was divided on its ruling, but in a 5-4 decision, it stated that the individual mandate was constitutional by declaring it a tax rather than a penalty.

This 5-4 ruling by the Court is somewhat unprecedented.  It actually changed the law that was passed by Congress and signed by the President rather than deciding if it was constitutional.  The original powers granted to the Supreme Court in the Constitution do not allow them power to change laws; that power is given only to the legislative branch.

History has very few instances where the court has overstepped its power to rule…at least, until the last decade or so.  Most recently, another example of judicial overreach has hit the news.  In 2015, the Court ruled that the ban on gay marriage was not only unconstitutional, but they also legalized it in every state, ignoring what the individual state had to say about it.  This is another incidence where the Court’s power was seen by many to be abused beyond what it was given.

If the court thought that the laws of the US or a state were not in compliance with the Constitution, they have every right to remove it, but they have not been given a power to make their own laws after invalidating another.  They are also not allowed to rewrite a law so that it becomes constitutional; that is the responsibility of the legislature.  In such a case, the Court should give its ruling to invalidate a law, and then, Congress can decide what it wants to do with the issue at hand.

There is a fine line between using and abusing powers granted by the Constitution, and lately, the Court has been teetering on the wrong side of its granted powers. As with the legislative and executive branches, the extra powers that the judiciary has taken upon itself will be very difficult to remove due to the precedence that has been set for future justices and judges.

Supreme Court Chief Justice

Jason – Three Patriots