I have been watching the 'shut down' of the US Federal government with something akin to astonishment. I confess, that based on the Huff Post reports and the BBC it seemed, at the very least, as if there was some deliberate 'self-destruct' intention at work in their Congress. Why would any party refuse to pass a budget to keep government services running? What really does lie behind this impassioned response to funding the "Obamacare" plan? Digging around, and asking some direct questions of a few of my US contacts has turned up some answers that leave me wondering if the US legislators actually understand democracy at all!
Let's start with the Act at the centre of this row. Obamacare, the proper title is The Patient Care and Affordable Care Act, is an astonishingly hefty tome, I'm told over a thousand pages in length. It was presented to Congress, unread and unseen, and Congress was given precisely 24 hours to pass it. Pardon? Pass a complex Bill of a thousand pages in one 24 hour sitting? That is precisely what was done. Immediately before the 2011 election and while the Democrats had small majorities in the Congress. The then Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, told those who objected, I quote, "You have to pass this Bill to be able to read what's in it."
I'm sorry, but had I been an elected member I would have refused to vote. Or I would have voted "No". It is just plain irresponsible to move, accept and adopt something as far reaching and as politically important as this without knowing precisely what is and what is not provided for by it. There is no way such an Bill can be read in just 24 hours! Yet this is exactly how the Congress was railroaded into passing the Bill. And now they are reaping the result.
Having learned this, and I have learned that such tactics are by no means unique, I find myself appalled by it. The US is always held up as the 'model' of western democracy, yet, in passing legislation in this manner, it is employing tactics used in the Soviet Union and in Communist China under Stalin and Mao. This is not western democratic process, this isn't good practice and it makes for appalling laws. If this is the 'model' of democracy they are following, I am not at all surprised the US has got itself into the mess it has. Nowhere in the world (apart from certain already mentioned dictatorships) can complex Bills be tabled, unread, unopposed, and adopted in 24 hours. In Britain, it would take up to three years to get legislation like this through the Houses of Parliament, because part of the democratic process is to allow public consultation, multiple reviews, revision of the text, judicial reviews, scrutiny by both Houses and finally it emerges as an Act. You cannot claim to be making good laws when you throw a thousand page document at the House, tell them to pass it, and then read it. That is a travesty. It is NOT democracy at work, that is playing ideological games.
Interestingly, I am also told that the reason Congress has at last bared its teeth is that many of its members face re-election next year. The President doesn't. He no longer, in the words of Ret Butler in Gone with the Wind, "gives a damn." He's now in the happy position of not having to bother about what the electorate will say or do come election day. The Members of Congress do - and, from what I am told, the impact of the Bill on the voters is starting to bite and to produce some very angry voters. I expect I would be too, if I was being told that my existing Health Care Plan was going to cost me 2 to 3 times what it used to cost, or that I must now pay the first $5,000 of any major treatment. Yet that is what is happening. Obama has also 'rewarded' Congress by exempting them from the provisions of the Bill and around 1,200 other institutions and large donor concerns, but the small businesses are being crippled by it. If you employ fifty or more people you must provide a Health Care Scheme. The cost to employers has been hiked by the Insurance providers, so, again as I suspect I would be forced to do, businesses on that threshold, are cutting staff.
Contrary to what a lot of the commentators outside the US seem to think, Obamacare is NOT about providing a National Health Service. It is about compelling people to buy Health Insurance. Those in work, in employers schemes or in private schemes are being made to pay more in order to fund those not in work. It is now illegal to NOT take out Health insurance according to my source, and that is hurting a lot of folk on low wages.
I remain astonished and appalled by the manner in which the US is dealing with the 'Debt Freeze' (although it isn't unique either I discovered, there have been 17 of these in the last few decades, at least 15 caused by the Democrats refusing to pass budgets under Republican Administrations). I am even more appalled by the manner in which the nation that purports to be the leader of the democratic world makes its laws. I accept that the Bill was not drafted in total secrecy, there must be some mechanism of consultation involved, but there does seem to be no mechanism for agreement on amendments or changes during the process. One thousand page documents are not written overnight, and Congress should never be allowed to pass one without the members having read it carefully. Twenty-four hours to read, consider, discuss, amend and then adopt one? No way.
I can only hope that this cavalier approach to creating legislation will now be revisited and revised. Europe, the UK and several other states could probably provide the US with much more workable, democratic and reasonable models. Would someone please persuade them to adopt one!
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