The health reform debate has been at the center of a decades-long struggle in this country to find the balance between liberty and equality – two fundamental principles that form the genius of America.
Freedom is the fulcrum of our prosperity with respect for the right of every one of us to pursue our dreams and happiness. And the conviction that all of us are created equal guides our compassion out of respect for the dignity of every person. America is great because we value both, and both are vital to the strength of this great country.
Legislators bring those convictions to the process of developing legislation, and that is, I think, behind their cry for bipartisanship. The American people want both liberty and equality to guide careful legislative decisions that balance these principles in our unique democracy.
But last night, we saw an arrogant abuse of the process and of political power. The American people have spoken in every way they can that this bill does not produce either equality or liberty; they fear it will devolve more and more power to Washington and to the political process — that it puts too much power in the hands of government and too little in the hands of freedom-loving people.
I had the privilege of watching the debate unfold in the House gallery last evening as a guest of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and his chief of staff, Kelly Lungren McCollum, and I thank them deeply for inviting me to be there in person.
I heard many false promises: “Every uninsured American can become insured,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). Speaker Pelosi said: “This legislation will lead to healthier lives, more liberty to pursue hopes and dreams and happiness for the American people. This is an American proposal that honors the traditions of our country.”
Other Democrats said that people won’t have to lose their health coverage and that they can see a doctor anytime they want. And over and over we heard that this huge new government entitlement will reduce the deficit.
But the actual bill defies those promises.
“You can’t improve the health of a nation by bankrupting its children,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling said. “This bill fundamentally changes the relationship between government and free people.”
Rep. Paul Ryan spoke about the larger vision of America. “America is not just a nationality,” he said. “America is an idea. It’s the most pro-human idea ever designed by mankind.”
But he warned “we are fast approaching a tipping point where more Americans depend on the federal government than on themselves for their livelihoods – a point where we, the American people, trade in our commitment and our concern for our individual liberties in exchange for government benefits and dependencies….
“Do we believe that the goal of government is to promote equal opportunity for all Americans to make the most of their lives – or do we now believe that government’s role is to equalize the results of people’s lives?
“The European social welfare state promoted by this legislation is not sustainable. This is not who we are and it is not who we should become.
“Today marks a major turning point in American history. Our founders got it right, when they wrote in the Declaration of Independence that our rights come from nature and nature's God – not from government,” Ryan said.
Thirty four Democrats voted with the Republicans and against ObamaCare. Not one of them was given a chance to speak last night. Most agree with Republicans in their concern about how this violates the culture of this country.
The American people are rising up and letting their legislators know every way they can that ObamaCare got it wrong. This sweeping, 2,700-page bill will be signed into law, likely this week. The debate over a second bill in the Senate is only a sideshow. The health overhaul law is passed. ObamaCare will be the law of the land.
Battles will continue in the courts, in the states, in the Congress, in the media, and around dining room tables, likely for years to come.
And the people’s voice will be heard the next time they have a chance to speak, at the polls in November.
But today is a sad day for our great country. Neither the cause of equality nor liberty has been served. As Republican Leader John Boehner concluded, in voting for this bill, “We break our trust with Americans.”