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Would the Founders have approved of the health-care reform process?

"The process that led to this bill was sleazy," Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Sunday's Meet the Press. "It was the worst of Washington." Maybe so, though I'm not sure what the best of Washington looks like. The Iraq debate, where lies and fear-mongering forced a sort of cowed bipartisanship and wrongheaded consensus? The Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, with its three-hour vote and so much blackmail and arm-twisting and intimidation that the House Ethics Committee had to open an investigation and issue reprimands?

Either way, Rick Hertzberg points out that the process might have looked like the worst of Washington, but it was also pretty similar to the process that created Washington.

It occurred to me the other day that the Constitution itself was ratified in much the same way that health-care reform finally got passed.

The ratification fight was a few months shorter than the health-care fight, but it was at least as contentious. In many states approval was far from a sure thing. The ideological lines weren’t the same then as they are now—the French wouldn’t invent “left” and “right” for another couple of years—but some of the issues Federalists and Anti-Federalists tussled over still echo. Some skeptics of the new charter feared a big expansion of centralized power. Some worried that their liberties would be put in peril.

What emerged during the process was an informal but unmistakable promise by proponents to make adding a bill of rights the new national government’s first order of business. At the New York ratification convention—the one that the Federalist Papers were written to influence—Hamilton struck a deal to make ratification conditional on a recommendation that a bill of rights be appended. Even so, the thing passed by just three votes out of fifty-seven. Without a lot of such slip-slidey maneuvering the whole effort would have collapsed.

In other words, pass and patch. In other words, reconciliation.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 29, 2010; 8:06 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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"The process that led to this bill was sleazy,"

the process isnt sleazy, the people are sleazy.

a number of the people that get elected, are sleazy.
bought and paid for by lobbys and special interests.
or not really bright enough to be in positions of high leadership.
or people of real moral cowardice.
or have egos and lifestyles that get in the way of their being able to make decisions that are about others, and not themselves.
but maybe lindsay graham is right.... watching the republicans, and their lack of intelligent leadership in congress, try uniformly, to sabotage the efforts to create this bill, was just about the worst of washington.

"It was the worst of Washington."

really, lindsay graham?
the worst of washington....

there were the mccarthy years.
there was watergate and the nixon years...
with the debate over vietnam.
there was iraq.
the election of george w. bush....
and in the executive branch....
a president in office who had alzheimers...
and another president who was too morally weak to be president.
another president who lacked the intellectual capability to hold that office.

one can legitmately wonder how well the american people have been served by many of its leaders and presidents, over the years.

Posted by: jkaren | March 29, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Mr. Klein..excellent perspective and succinct text.. and jkaren.. you are right.. we have been ignored and ripped off by D.C. for all of modernity.

Posted by: newbeeboy | March 29, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Comparing consensus of 39 out of 55 delegates to a 219-212 vote is a bit dishonest. Over 70% of delegates signed.

And the Constitution also required every state individually to choose whether or not to ratify the Constitution. The health reform effort certainly has no such requirement.

So would the Founders have approved of making a major change to the country with barely 50% of the representatives supporting it? The Constitution certainly had higher standards. Amendments also have higher standards. Calling a convention has higher standards. Impeachments have a higher standard. Expelling a member from Congress has a higher standard. Overriding a veto again requires more than a mere majority. Treaties also require more than a simple majority.

I'd say that the founders likely would not have approved. They seemed to understand that it is dangerous to do anything major in such a way that alienates a large portion of the country. I think we are already starting to see the fallout of passing such a major piece of legislation without more than a simple majority.

Posted by: RichardCA | March 29, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

@RichardCA: what about the Senate, where the bill had a 60% majority?

Moreover, individual states CAN opt out of the ACA, if they can find a more efficient way to provide coverage.

Posted by: etdean1 | March 29, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

"They seemed to understand that it is dangerous to do anything major in such a way that alienates a large portion of the country."

Which is why the original compromise of "federalism" failed so spectacularly in the Civil War. It's the founders of the re-born nation (John Bingham in particular), and their intention for a strong, central republic (as shown by the 13th-15th amendments) that we should also look to for guidance in present day Constitutional arguments. The original founders are important, but so are the second framers.

Viewed this way, the endless protests alienating "people" (which, as usual, is the south) sound totally ridiculous when they are always the last ones to be dragged along in improving the country. I mean, a mere cursory look at the history of social legislation shows that each bill has been a step in the right direction (although definitely needing constant improvements) rather than causing "all these problems over all these years" or whatever.

Posted by: Chris_ | March 29, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

The comparison is a spectacular stretch.

Posted by: casaalta | March 29, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

"we have been ignored and ripped off by D.C. for all of modernity"

Please don't blame the District of Columbia.

Posted by: thehersch | March 29, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Richard, the Constitution requires supermajorities for impeachment, treaty ratification and the adoption of Constitutional amendments. Since the ACA is none of those things, I'm not sure how that's relevant except as an attempt at Calvinball style goalpost relocation.

If the Founders had believed that "it is dangerous to do anything major in such a way that alienates a large portion of the country," they probably would not have established the simple majority as the standard for passing legislation in both Houses. This is the constitutional standard. Things like the filibuster and the senatorial hold are the extra-Constitutional innovations that would probably disappoint or appall the Founders .

Posted by: zimbar | March 29, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

"So would the Founders have approved of making a major change to the country with barely 50% of the representatives supporting it?"

Leaving aside the tendentious characterization of this legislation as "a major change to the country", in the system actually devised by the framers of the Constitution, with the current number of Representatives and Senators, the health care bill could have passed the House 110 to 108, and passed the Senate 26 to 25. Supermajorities are required for specific things, and a health care bill isn't one of them.

Posted by: thehersch | March 29, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

My thought regarding the way we villify our elected 'public servants' once we have voted them into office: they come from among us, and they have the same virtues, vices, strengths, weaknesses that are among us in the population at large. They get elected in part by appealing to our more or less selfish interests.

Are the people in government collectively any worse, say, than the people in the business and financial world? Are they like the proverbial 'hypocrites in the church' that are often cited by people who want to complain about religious folk? Or are they more like the whole congregation, with all its qualities?

Even the best among us have episodes or parts of our lives, things we have said, etc., that we wouldn't want blazoned across the newspapers or taken as the measure of our whole lives. If you are in public office, your slightest remark can become a tarry brush to mark you out. I believe there are many fine and dedicated people among our elected, who do not deserve this constant cynicism on the part of the public and the media. And of course, some less so, who do.

If we live long enough, we all make compromises. In general, the work on the health reform bill was a cut above 'Washington as usual,' if you don't count the brain-dead negativism of the united GOP.

In some sense, our politics mirrors our society as a whole. If we want better political figures, we need to work for a better, more ethically aware, society. When we collectively deserve better public figures, we'll get them.

Posted by: PeggyB1 | March 29, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Sleazy Mr. Graham? Are we to conclude that adjective applies only to those that supported the bill? It follows therefore that claims of 'pulling the plug on Grandma' were based upon Mr. Grassely's accurate understanding of the bill, right? And no one in the Republican party was influenced by money from the insurance industry? Do I understand you correctly?

As a nation, our system can't produce optimal solutions to our challenges until we eliminate private funds from entering the political process. Until then, our nation will suffer from the vampires that now roam the halls of the capitol and drain the political discourse of its most vital currency: intellectual honesty.

Posted by: sdavis3398 | March 29, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

The people have already destroyed Obamacare. Do an internet search for "Healthcare Exemptions" and you'll see that Native Americans, the Amish, and other religious beliefs are Exempt. Each American shares the above mentioned in thier 1st Amendment right to choose to trust God with their body, which is what people have done for thousands of years. The current media blitz is to put a government boot on your throat, however you have a legal right to not accept Obamacare. You are exempt from harassment and penalties. Learn and apply it. The statute is 18 (5) EXEMPTIONS FROM INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY REQUIREMENTS.

Posted by: givenallthings | March 29, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

The Founders didn't approve of giving constitutional rights to anyone other than white male property owners. They excluded women, blacks, and native Americans from the political process; so WHY exactly should I care what the founders would think of the health care legislation?

Posted by: CMAN27 | March 29, 2010 7:18 PM | Report abuse

your Declaration of Independence proclaims your attachment to "life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Isn't this enough to justify the adoption of a health-care system for "all men" (i.e. all human beings). Besides remember that since the founding fathers your Constitution has evolved, thank God!Wondering what the Founding Fathers would have thought of such a system is simply irrelevant, if not stupid.

Posted by: jpflecourt | March 30, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

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