TABOR and health care exchanges point to pressure on pols to act

They were the best of laws; they were the worst of laws.

That’s about as far as I can torture Dickens without causing a problem with readers who love literature. What I’m talking about are two laws that are contentious and seem unrelated, but their controversy springs from the same impulse.

The first is that old chestnut we seem to be constantly revisiting, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Recently, the conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, approached the Grand Junction City Council about passing a resolution to support the constitutional provision.

The request engendered the expected awkward and unusual responses. One council member pointed out the issue was “politically sensitive” and a decision shouldn’t be rushed. Another offered the odd, pop-culture-rooted observation that he was “not interested in going there.”

Another reported he had been hearing word on the street that people were wondering what the council was up to and was in favor of having a discussion. I like that last remark. It has sort of a Kojak vibe to it.

At that point, someone apparently signaled a bunt and the council took the decisive step of appointing a study group on the topic.

Since TABOR is part of the state Constitution, I looked up the oath of office for the council and part of the oath is to support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Colorado. So, if someone suggested supporting the First Amendment, would he get the same response?

I know it’s trendy in some circles to be over-stimulated about TABOR, but there seems to be a difference between one’s official and personal position.

The other piece of law to discuss is Senate Bill 200 from this year’s state legislative session, which deals with the establishment of health care exchanges. It was created allegedly to comply with the mandates of the Obama administration’s health care reform, the constitutionality of which is still being determined in the federal courts. Parenthetically, TABOR has been found constitutional for nearly 19 years and will continue to be so.

This legislation, dubbed “Amycare” by detractors, was co-sponsored by House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, a Republican from Monument and normally a fairly conservative one. The measure has been criticized by many conservatives as an overly intrusive program designed to implement a federal law that some folks (including a few federal judges) believe is unconstitutional.

Rep. Stephens counters that she is simply being proactive so the federal government will not implement its own version of the exchanges. Her critics feel she has succumbed to the idea that government is the solution to everyone’s problems and her system is overly bureaucratic and unnecessary.

In discussing the plan with John Schroyer of the Colorado Springs Gazette, she explained that the law will “create a 12-member board.” Three of them will be ex-officio — representing the state Division of Insurance, the Division of Health Care Policy and Finance, as well as business. The other nine are appointed: five from the governor, but only three can be from his party, and four are from legislative leadership. The speaker of the House, the president of the Senate and the the minority leaders of both houses each get one pick.

No, that doesn’t seem bureaucratic at all. And that’s just the committee, not the work.

So what’s the connection between spendthrifts sulking over constitutional restraints and conservative politicians falling into statism?

That would be the almost irresistible impulse of elected officials and bureaucrats to do something. The siren song of using political power and treasure to leave some mark often is a basis for antipathy toward restrictions on spending or regulation. Frequently, officials who have had minimal impact in the private sector see the opportunity to do so through the power of government, while others, in positions of leadership, often decide they are failing if they don’t have some law, building or bridge to nowhere to point to as a legacy.

Few awards, plaques or bits of “signature legislation” are found for not screwing something up, and that may be our fault. Government operates best when it does a few specific things well. We should be more rewarding of officials who recognize that fact.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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