Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Edwards Ad in Iowa: "Health Care"

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 433

John Edwards has put up a second ad in Iowa. The 30 second spot, titled "Health Care," runs as follows:

“When I’m president I’m going to say to members of Congress and members of my administration, including my cabinet: I’m glad that you have health care coverage and your family has health care coverage. But if you don’t pass universal health care by July of 2009 – in six months – I’m going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you. [Applause] There’s no excuse for politicians in Washington having health care when you don’t have health care. I’m John Edwards and I approve this message.”

The rhetoric and tone of the ad are vintage John Edwards. But I have questions. For instance, where the ad states "I’m going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you," what does that mean, exactly? What powers, specifically? A press release issued by the Edwards campaign today says, in part, "On the first day of Edwards’ administration, he will submit legislation that ends health care coverage for the president, all members of Congress, and all senior political appointees in the legislative and executive branches of government on July 20th, 2009 -- unless Congress has enacted universal health care reform.[emphasis added]" If John Edwards is planning to make good on his threat to end health care coverage for Congress by introducing legislation, isn't he forgetting that legislation is passed by Congress? I mean, Edwards does know that, doesn't he? Does John Edwards really expect the Legislative Branch, the castigation of which has become his main campaign theme, to suddenly change from the hopelessly corrupt institution he's been saying it is, and pass legislation that eliminates health care coverage for its own members? The bill would be dead on arrival, and its introduction would do nothing but irreparably poison from the outset Edwards' chances of achieving anything with Congress. Including, of course, universal health care.

If not legislation, what then? Executive order? Not likely. Presidents don't get to rule by fiat, no matter what George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would have us believe. Any attempt by the Executive Branch to eliminate health care for the Legislative Branch with a stroke of the presidential pen would face immediate challenge in the courts as a violation of Constitutional separation of powers. The likelihood of the order being upheld in the courts is remote, at best.

So what is John Edwards getting at here? If the answer is that John Edwards is the voice of the common American in this election, and this latest ad continues that strategy, then is it likely that this will win him any votes he doesn't already have? If it does, and this strategy ultimately delivers the White House to John Edwards, what will become of his ability to govern once he has tried, and likely failed, to achieve his objectives through unilateral application of presidential power?

Like so much about John Edwards, this latest salvo over health care, and the ad promoting it, just doesn't stand up to examination. The tragedy of John Edwards in this campaign cycle is that the approach he advocates to achieve the change that so many good people cry out for is so inherently flawed that it simply cannot succeed. Those who look to Edwards to deliver on his rhetoric will be sorely disappointed in the lack of results, leading to further disaffection of citizens from their government and the perpetuation of the apathy that is killing our democracy.

Change, in so many areas, simply must be achieved in this country. And sincerity, dedication, good intentions and even fiery rhetoric will all be necessary to make it happen. But they will not be enough, in themselves, to finally deliver results. That will require statecraft, and it will demand compromise. Ultimately, it will depend on the ability of the President of the United States to persuade people of all political viewpoints of the rightness of his/her cause, rather than merely exacting pain in consequence of defiance. Increasingly, John Edwards is demonstrating that he does not possess, or cares not to use, that ability. Whatever gifts and assets John Edwards may possess as a candidate, the fact that he no longer even feigns interest in the essential work of bringing people together to produce results for the American people makes him a very poor choice for our next president.


Independent said...

He's no Obama, but on the other hand, he's no Clinton either.

We could do worse.

Anonymous said...

I hearily disagree with the commentary espoused above. Utilizing the "bully pulpit" to push a mandate such as Universal Healthcare is well within what should be expected of the President as a leader, and such techniques have been used with great success in the past to serve the interests of the American people who voted the President into office precisely because they expected bold leadership. Edwards' agenda vis a vis a bill to withdraw congressional healthcare must NOT be confused with such Bush constitutional violations as spying illegally on Americans, etc. Why? because Edwards' plan is perfectly within the bounds of Executive power to submit legislation to congress, while what Bush did, he did in secret, knowing it was clearly illegal, and in the teeth of an express command by Congress not to do what he did.

Now, some constitutional scholars might argue that Edwards' proposal might violate the "Benefits clause" which I believe is located in the 27th Amendment (I could be wrong). This clause states that no Congressional benefits can be altered until the next voting cycle has passed. HOWEVER: THE QUESTION OF WHETHER THE CONGRESS' HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN FALLS UNDER THIS DEFINITION OF "BENEFITS" IS OPEN TO INTERPRETATION. As far as I know, this question has not been decided. (I could be mistaken.)If John Edwards wants to test the definition of Benefits for the sake of a political battle for universal healthcare, I believe that this is exactly the kind of creative and bold leadership America needs right now. It will force the American people to question their Congressional representatives about the fairness of the lack of universal healthcare and spur serious public debate.

In the 30's, when the Supreme Court kept invalidating new deal legislation based upon a cramped interpretation of the Interstate Commerce Clause, Roosevelt threatened to push legislation increasing the number of Justices - "packing the court" with New Deal supporters, and the gambit worked - as the Court began to allow the legislation without Roosevelt's plan even coming to fruition.

Furthermore, standing is an axiomatic constitutional doctrine that limits who can bring a constitutional challenge, and it is likely that no one would challenge the constitutionality of Edwards proposal (it would likely have to be enacted first to be "ripe") because the people aren't electing Congress to fight on Congress' own behalf (for their own benefits), but rather for the people, and third parties may not have standing on their own in the absense of Congressional action.

Either way - the Constitutional arguments are really kind of a red herring at this premature stage, and the benefits of Edwards' bold proposal, which would do much to stimulate discussion on universal healthcare, greatly outweigh any ticky tacky sniping such as those in the post above.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the anonymous commenter.

How is what Edwards says in this ad any different from what every candidate says when promising to do this or that when they are president? I'll make sure Medicare can negotiate with drug companies, I'll make universal pre-school a reality, I'll reduce our reliance on foreign oil, whatever--most things that presidential candidates promise to do require Congress to pass legislation.

Edwards is saying that this will be a priority for him. He will tell people who want to serve in his cabinet that they have to be willing to give up their health care coverage if Congress doesn't pass a universal plan within six months. He will use the bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act on this issue.

Contrast that with Obama, who hasn't even proposed a universal health care plan, let alone indicated that he will go to the mat with Congress to get them to pass one.


iPol said...

Hi desmoinesdem,

I am posting a reply to your comment, not to take exception to it, but to answer the question you ask within it. The difference between what Edwards is saying he will do on this issue, and what other candidates pledge to do on other issues is a simple matter of fundamental constitutional principle regarding checks and balances.

You are absolutely correct that most of the major policy initiatives proposed by all of the Democratic candidates will require Congress to pass legislation; that is, bringing about big changes in American policy cannot be done without the President and Congress working together. Where members of the two branches disagree, where there is opposition, then there must be either compromise or failure.

What no President is constitutionally empowered to do, however, is usurp the powers specifically enumerated to another branch of government, be it Congress, the courts, or the states. But that is exactly what John Edwards says he wants to do. Go back and reread his campaign’s statement from November 13, which I quoted in the post:
“On the first day of Edwards’ administration, he will submit legislation that ends health care coverage for the president, all members of Congress, and all senior political appointees in the legislative and executive branches of government on July 20th, 2009 -- unless Congress has enacted universal health care reform.”

John Edwards would have every right, as President, to submit legislation to Congress, on health care or any other issue. Equally, Congress has every right to decline to pass that legislation, even if they decline to pass it for what many would think to be the wrong reasons. But if Congress declines to pass that legislation, then Edwards would not be entitled to simply ignore that fact, and implement his proposals regardless.

Here’s an analogy: suppose in 1964, LBJ went before Congress and said, “I’m glad you have the unquestioned right to vote without intimidation or interference. But if you don’t pass the Voting Rights Act in six months, I’ll take away your right to vote.” Would that have been constitutional? Would that have survived a court challenge? Moreover, would that have done anything other than doom any chance of passage for the Voting Rights Act? Of course not, no more than is true of Edwards’ threat to somehow unilaterally end health care coverage for members of Congress.

Finally, regarding the Bully Pulpit: the Bully Pulpit is a euphemism for the President’s power to set the agenda and persuade the public and Congress to agree with his point of view. That is the last thing John Edwards is talking about in his ad and accompanying press statement. Read the text of the ad again:
“...if you don’t pass universal health care by July of 2009 – in six months – I’m going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you.”

That is not persuasion. That is coercion. And, absent Congressional passage of legislation, that is unconstitutional.

And the ultimate proof of my argument is that John Edwards himself cannot say how he will make good on his threat. I would be very interested to hear him outline in detail the specific actions he would take to deny health care coverage to Congress if his legislation isn’t passed and what his constitutional argument before the courts in support of his actions would be. But so far there has been nothing from either the candidate or the campaign explaining this.

The thing that drives me mad about all of this is that I agree with John Edwards’ underlying point: it is manifestly unfair for elected officials to enjoy basic benefits like health care coverage when so many of the people who voted to put them in office are denied those same basic benefits. But a President can’t just say to a constitutionally co-equal branch of government that no matter what they do on a particular issue or bill, the President has the power to do whatever he wants. That is patently unconstitutional, and, absent congressional passage of legislation, would be immediately overturned by the courts. And that would be precisely the kind of thing that would be so dispiriting to the American public: that once again, a president promised them something very important, and failed to deliver.

There are ways to achieve big change in this country, on health care, energy independence, climate change, restoring America’s leadership and moral authority in the world, and a host of other issues. But it begins with the constitution, the law of the land that presidents, congress, and, indeed, all of us, are obliged to uphold.

Thanks for taking time to post your comment and raise the question. These are important issues and deserve the kind of discussion you and other readers are raising.

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