Washington's New Buzzword

Mandating Individual Responsibility

“Responsibility” is Washington’s new buzzword. President Obama used the word (or some derivative) four times in his speech to the AFL-CIO on Labor Day, eight times in his speech to schoolchildren and six times in his joint address to Congress on health care. Personal responsibility is a core conservative value, but the policies proposed by the President and liberals in Congress often emphasize government responsibility over individual responsibility. That’s a step in the wrong direction.

During his joint address to Congress last week, President Obama said “And unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek — especially requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions — just can’t be achieved. That’s why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance.” The President’s proposal is — unhappily — historic. The government has never forced Americans to buy a federally-prescribed health insurance plan.  

The individual mandate amounts to a direct tax on millions of Americans. Imposing an individual mandate on Americans to purchase health insurance is fundamentally in opposition to what many believe about the personal rights of individuals and their liberties. Whether or not an individual mandate is even constitutional has not been properly debated among lawmakers.

The issue here is the role of government. While congressional supporters of the public option and the single-payer system see health care as some sort of “right,” Americans have traditionally seen government as a defender of personal liberty. There’s a difference.

The President is right when he says that too many Americans are uninsured, and that too many Americans end up getting care in hospital emergency rooms. The truth is that Americans do have, in that sense, a “legal right” to health care that is subsidized by the taxpayers.

But the best way to secure expanded coverage and lessen this dependence on emergency rooms is by creating positive incentives, including premium assistance for coverage and tax credits, while facilitating easy access to coverage, without violating personal liberty. That’s what Americans should expect of their government — not more coercion from Washington. The attack on personal freedom also is an attack on personal responsibility.   

Labor Nominee Dodges Questions

President Obama’s choice to head the Department of Labor’s law enforcement activities has come under scrutiny from Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). In a letter to the President, Senator Enzi said, “there are at least four significant inconsistencies between Ms. [Patricia] Smith’s statements for the record and documents related to the Wage and Hour Watch Program” that she established in New York. According to the Washington Times, the program “deputized unions and advocacy groups to visit private businesses and report wage violations to the government.” Whether Ms. Smith “intentionally misled the Senate” or “unintentionally gave inaccurate statements to the Senate,” her ability to serve in such an important capacity has been called into question by Enzi. He also expressed concern over her “ability to work with small businesses.”

More Irresponsible Spending

As the fiscal year draws to a close, the Senate is pushing to finish up its appropriations process, work the House completed in July. The fact that next year’s deficit is projected to be $1.5 trillion should cause lawmakers to prioritize spending and begin reforming entitlements. Nobody ever accused Washington of employing logic, though.

The three spending bill the Senate is set to consider this week would increase spending by $24.5 billion — 17.2 percent over last year’s non-emergency level. Then there are the earmarks. They include:

$2 million for “interpretive displays” for the California National Historic Trail in Nevada. $1 million to “replace electric fish barriers” at the Quinault National Fish Hatchery in Washington State. $3 million for a “Childs Park” in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. $1 million for “marine education on Narragansett Bay” in Rhode Island.

Calls for fiscal responsibility ring hollow.

Finishing the Job in Afghanistan

On September 18, 2001, President Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which passed the House 420-1 and the Senate 98-0. The measure authorized the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons” responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks. Eight years later, President Obama must decide how to proceed against al Qaeda and in Afghanistan. Thus far, the President has ignored the outrage from his anti-war base and taken prudent measures. Afghanistan is a winnable war, but only if the President learns the lessons from Iraq and exhibits patience and an unwavering commitment to victory. Any sign of retreat, such as a “small footprint” plan, would energize our enemies across the globe and weaken American security.

Hot Air Hypocrisy

Last week, Britain’s Climate Change Committee suggested capping airline emissions at 2005 levels. Some see rationing as the only way to prevent a doubling of air travel by 2050, an outcome Greenpeace warns against. But Americans aren’t going to trade our freedom of mobility for an inconsequential impact on global temperatures. And if activists really believe air travel is a problem, they should cancel the planned international summit in Copenhagen, Denmark and replace it with a series of teleconference and webinars. If the conference commences in December, it demonstrates that climate activists want to limit your growth and restrict your freedom, not theirs.