“The faith of the American people in the Supreme Court has to be earned back. And it doesn’t happen overnight. That literally takes years and decades. And I think the Chief Justice has done, not irreparable damage to the court, but damage that will be frankly hard if it can ever be overcome.” — Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli
By Kathryn Watson – Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA — Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli made headlines when Virginia became the first state to file suit against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Now, of course, the headline is that President Barack Obama won.
Q: Why should people care about the outcome of the Affordable Care Act?
A: They (the federal government) have taken on a massive new spending program when they’re bankrupt already. I mean, the federal government can’t afford this.
Now, having said that, most of the burden falls on the private sector at a time when we’ve had long-term — we’re now in four years of — economic stagnation. That strikes me as just economically foolish. And it opens the door for Mitt Romney….
For 47 years, going back to the Great Society, our federal government has had one, and only one, answer to every challenge in health care — and that is more government. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working out for you?” We need to go in the other direction. I don’t know how many times we have to prove this to ourselves before, as a nation, we get it straight. But this is the worst impairment of the notion that we might have markets in health care, probably ever.
Now let me give you an example. Next time you go to the doctor for whatever, get a checkup, whatever, go to the desk, tell them you want to pay cash. And ask them how much it costs. And the odds are, they don’t even know the answer to the question. They don’t even know. Because there are no prices in this health care, quote, market, unquote. And I use quotes around the word market because the most fundamental piece of information in markets is prices. That is how distorted we are now. That is how far from letting consumers feel and see and react to the impact of prices in their lives and on their businesses.
And that has had tragic consequences for our health care market. We spend more of our economy on health care than virtually any other nation in the world — well, free nation. And we do have the best health care quality in the world, but it comes at an incredible price, which prices many people out….
Q: What would you do to repair the system?
I frankly think that we need to focus very hard on bringing down prices as the means to generating access for more and more and more Americans to health care and health insurance…. And one outcome of this that I hope to happen is if we stop this nonsense at the federal level of these 2,000-page bills. What we need are 20-, 10-page bills….Equalizing tax treatment for individuals with corporations. Why should corporations have a huge advantage over individuals in the tax treatment of health insurance? … Open the doors to your employees and so forth, but give them the money and let them buy it. And let the individuals deduct it from their taxes, which is the federal policy change we need…
There’s no reason that health insurance and health care are any different than any other type of market, if we let them function as a market. And right now, we don’t. Not to say that I’m passionate about it or anything.
Q: You’re running for governor next year. Do you think Virginians will remember you as the guy who spearheaded the fight against Obamacare, or as the guy who lost the fight?
A: People are complex. They’re not going to boil it down to one thing. Certainly health care has been a big deal. Speaking more broadly, our efforts to push back on the federal government in the areas where they have been overreaching has been a central part of our time here. People are going to judge whether they appreciate my pursuit of those goals, or whether they do not. And that’s what elections are about. They’re partly about accountability.
And part of the decision by any voter in deciding whether to vote for me for governor next year is going to be their evaluation of how I’ve done as attorney general, and that is totally legitimate. I completely accept that. I encourage it. It’s a good thing.
By and large, the damage that this federal overreach has done and the legal questionability of so much of it unfolds in people’s lives and in the economy. I think they’re seeing the value of us fighting back, and I think a lot of people appreciate that there is someone that will actually fight for them. It’s amazing how many people will run for office, do all that work. And simply take whatever beating comes. And (many people) don’t do that.
We fight for the Constitution, we fight for our Virginians, and we’re going to keep doing that. In the constitutional area, you are right. That’s been the part the most attention’s been paid…
(But) we’ve had a lot of success to point to in other areas (work on human trafficking, child pornography, Medicaid fraud), and I don’t — if you’d told me this is where we’d end up in health care and in our federal fight, we’d have undertaken them anyway. I mean, it’s very important to do this. I mean, you can’t sit idly by and just let the sappers undermine the Constitution. The first thing in my oath of office is to defend the Constitution, and we take that very seriously.
Q: We’ve heard Republicans say repeal is the answer.
A: When I think of repeal, I presume that what people mean is taking out what’s already been done and stopping it going forward. I guess it sounds to me like different people are taking different meanings of the word “repeal.” What you described sounds like a view of repeal that just means don’t do any more going forward. And I view repeal as taking out what’s already been done as well, going backward. And there are people who think that’s pretty disruptive. But it’s less disruptive than the bill itself.
My thought on next steps is constructive steps along the lines of the policy proposals I was mentioning earlier. Start putting in place one thing at a time, one thing at a time, bang, bang, bang, steady as she goes, keep doing it….
There’s no silver bullet to American health care reform. But what there are is the old, a lot of little bites. If you want to eat an elephant, how do you do it? One bite at a time. And it’s very important when we get to repeal and start working on what comes next, that the federal government — Republicans and Democrats, because I’ll sue Republicans just as fast as I’d sue Democrats — that they not trample on the states’ role in this process and the prerogatives of the states. And it’s very important for that flexibility to be maintained, encouraged, and frankly, relied upon.
There’s this habit at the federal level to try to solve everything themselves, and that’s not what the founders had in mind. And what you end up doing is not solving.
Q: The Supreme Court struck down the Medicaid clause — hinging federal Medicaid funding on states’ expansion of Medicaid rolls. Do you attribute that to Virginia’s lawsuit?
A: No. No, no. Of all the peculiarities, that was kind of a throw-in argument by the other states. It was thought to be the longest of long shots. But at the same time, nobody seriously thought the court — any court — would uphold this mandate under the taxing power. And in fact, no court did, except the Supreme Court….
Nonetheless, on the constitutional level, the constitutional defender in me does feel like we did the right thing — and that we protected the interests we set out to protect. But we ended up with a situation where the Chief Justice (John Roberts) just blew off the doors on the taxing power. So they (Congress) really can charge you dollars for anything (they) want (you) to do if you don’t do it. And that’s an extraordinary erosion of liberty, if the congress has the guts to use it.
And this is sort of the saving grace. … The taxing power is the part of the Constitution that, let’s face it, senators and congressmen are most afraid to use….
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