RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., November 21, 2014 – Our elected officials have a ministerial duty to create and administer the law without allowing their personal ideologies to affect this responsibility. They are not supposed to abuse whatever limited discretion they may have nor are they to perform their mission with improvidence. Based upon those criteria, they have failed miserably when it comes to what have become known as “entitlements.”
The word itself is interesting. According to the Merriam-Webster Diction, “entitlement” is primarily defined as “the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something.” In a normal world, that might correspond to the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” that are described within the Declaration of Independence.
Conversely, in a political world, the definition changes to “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges); a type of financial help provided by the Government for members of a particular group.” It should be noted that “a feeling or belief” differs substantially from a “right.”
Correspondingly, our Federal Government’s role is to treat people equally rather than to provide different “help” for “members of a particular group.”
This is not to suggest that the Federal Government does not have an obligation to assist those individuals who are suffering through no fault of their own. It absolutely does have that responsibility.
The distinction lies within the way our Government has been used to craft legislation that favors political constituencies in a manner that creates a form of collusion with respect to votes and/or monetary support. This type of complicity exists at the corporate level as well as at the individual level.
Let’s use the Affordable Care Act as an example. It was passed with the argument that health care was a right for every American. Taken alone, that would seem to be consistent with treating people equally.
However, it was skewed to address a business issue. Rather than focusing on how to provide effective health care to every citizen, it morphed into how to provide access to insurance for every citizen. The emphasis is not necessarily the same. The latter has given a booster shot to the insurance industry while serving as somewhat of a placebo with respect to citizens “in need.”
This is what we can expect in the absence of a ministerial policy that guides our Government to “do the right thing.” Let’s close that gap by crafting a Ministerial Policy represents the final element of The FREEDOM Process™ series; the “M” in the word FREEDOM.
As we have with other policies, we need to approach the development of a ministerial policy statement from a pragmatic perspective rather than a political one. It must be established with deference to the Constitution, reflect the values of our Republic, be clearly articulated, viably executed, and consistently applied to address those issues that impact the quality of life that we experience in the United States.
The Ministerial Policy statement of The FREEDOM PROCESS™
Consistent with the responsibilities and authority granted to it under the Constitution, the United States shall develop and maintain programs and services that provide for the general welfare of the citizens of the United States in a way that establishes an acceptable quality of life for every citizen. Such programs and services shall be singularly focused on preserving a culture that reflects the values of our Nation including our commitment to providing an equal opportunity to every citizen to pursue success as they chose to define it as well as our empathy for those who merit assistance. These programs and services shall be insulated from political influence to the highest degree possible, properly funded, efficiently administered, and consistently measured against well-defined metrics and sunset provisions that tie directly to their stated objectives. The Government shall encourage cooperative arrangements within the States and private sector to obviate the need for Federal intervention whenever feasible.
As we have with respect to the previous policies addressed in this series, we can gain an understanding of how this ministerial policy statement might be applied in practice if we parse its components.
“Consistent with the responsibilities and authority granted to it under the Constitution, the United States shall develop and maintain programs and services that provide for the general welfare of the citizens of the United States in a way that establishes an acceptable quality of life for every citizen.”
This sentence reminds us that the Federal Government is designed to serve a limited purpose. It is to serve as an umbrella to cover those issues concerning “quality of life,” which impact citizens across the States. The prior name of the Department of Health and Human Services may have been more descriptive of the program and service areas in which our Federal Government might be properly aligned; i.e., Health, Education and Welfare. It might also serve as a hint as to how the Department of Education might be appropriately re-merged with HHS to consolidate ministerial focus.
“Such programs and services shall be singularly focused on preserving a culture that reflects the values of our Nation including our commitment to providing an equal opportunity to every citizen to pursue success as they chose to define it as well as our empathy for those who merit assistance.”
This sentence reflects the compassion of our Nation. We have forgotten that our Republic is a remarkably different experiment in governance. It represents the first model of government in which the People are sovereign. If we return to those roots, we might enjoy a Government with a clear vision of where its focus should be: Protecting the general welfare of its citizens; ensuring an equal opportunity to all Americans to pursue success; and confirming its commitment to ethically provide for those in need.
Article I, Section 8 specifies that our Federal Government may collect taxes, etc. to “provide for the… general Welfare of the United States.” It is implicit that related Federal programs and services must impact the common interests of citizens across the United States.
This does not mean to suggest that programs and services must impact every citizen equally. There appropriately may be qualifying conditions that trigger the application of Federal resources (e.g., medical, monetary, etc.). However, the Government should not be in the business of crafting regulations that do not serve society as a whole. Health, education and welfare, administered without subjective political intent, all qualify for consideration in an ethically responsible society and they inure to everyone’s benefit either directly or indirectly.
As we have discussed in the past, providing individuals with an equal opportunity to pursue success as they choose to define it is a critical concept. It does not suggest that the Government has the authority to determine what constitutes success nor the responsibility to guarantee it. Government simply should enact legislation that provides an environment in which people may pursue their goals and be judged within the context of a meritocracy.
Programs and services that mask the symptoms of social issues, such as clear imbalances within our health care and education systems, must give way to solutions that actually address the root cause. Our current legislative approach and the growing trend of circumventing the process by Executive edict have only exacerbated the issue.
“These programs and services shall be insulated from political influence to the highest degree possible, properly funded, efficiently administered, and consistently measured against well-defined metrics and sunset provisions that tie directly to their stated objectives.”
We need to commit to providing health, education and appropriate welfare assistance in an equitable manner rather than as a vehicle through which political spoils are gathered. Programs and services that are created almost solely to attract the voting allegiance of particular constituencies need to be terminated. Similarly, programs and services that are essentially designed to repay certain lobbies for their ongoing political support must be exposed and ended.
In addition to the Machiavellian approach to the legislative process that MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber recently shared, there is an additional level of exploitation that must be addressed. Numerous programs and services are protected by a veil of public trust that cloaks their negative aspects; i.e., the belief that our elected officials are driven by their fiduciary duty to protect the best interests of the people. This often leads to a blind public acceptance of the program or service.
Social Security comes to mind. Had that program been presented as a lifetime tax on all citizens that would only inure to the benefit of half of them, it may not have been widely embraced. After all, it was based on a payout structure that did not commence until half of the supporting population was statistically expected to be dead (65 was the average life expectancy at the time Social Security was passed).
The false promises associated with the Affordable Care Act are a more recent reminder that “trust” is better given when earned. We inherently trust our elected officials to work on our behalf. History tells us that such trust is often misplaced when the facts are camouflaged by political rhetoric. We need to become more vigilant in this regard.
Funding is also a problem. Legislation is passed without a full understanding of its associated costs. It is assumed that these costs will be funded in some intelligent way in the future. Unfortunately, the only viable alternative is often debt. With our unfunded liabilities associated with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. now approaching $116 trillion, we might want to begin paying closer attention to that issue.
We need to understand the cost of our federal programs and services, fund them properly, administer them efficiently, and establish metrics against which they can be measured. If they fail to deliver upon their objectives, they need to be corrected, replaced or discontinued.
For example: We can dramatically reduce the cost of our existing “entitlement” programs by directing the Department of Justice to vigorously prosecute fraud, which consumes billions of tax dollars each year. This needs to extend well beyond Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It must encompass programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is designed to help the Agricultural lobby as much as it is designed to help those who comprise our rapidly expanding population living in poverty.
Welfare in general needs to be revisited. It has been used as much to suppress socio-economic advancement as to supplement legitimate needs. If people remain dependent, they will remain obedient from a political perspective.
Where is the outrage that poverty and illiteracy are on the rise in America? There is no excuse for it. However, there is a political benefit that is “built on the backs of the poor” (to copy a popular phrase that is ironically used to express the opposite).
We need to take a rational approach to solving our nation’s ministerial issues as opposed to a political one. For example: We can address elements of poverty, job creation, and health care at the same time if we construct an intelligent solution.
The Clinton Administration was on the right track when it rejected the classic application of welfare. It distinguished between permanent need and temporary need by requiring those of sound mind and body to work in return for temporary assistance. Let’s apply that same concept to a health care challenge that currently exists.
Roughly 100,000 people die in United States each year because of hospital-acquired infections (e.g., CDF, MRSA, VRE, etc.). These infections significantly contribute to the morbidity and mortally rates of our health care system and create associated costs both in terms of lives and money. Yet, they are highly controllable. They are directly attributable to inadequate sterilization, disinfection, and laundry efforts within our health care facilities.
- What if we were to provide meaningful jobs that could help address this issue for those who otherwise are in need of a job or temporary assistance?
- What if we could train such individuals on transferable skills that could command a salary within the health care industry or other facets of the private sector?
This approach would save lives, lower the cost of health care, and provide an opportunity to mitigate joblessness and poverty. It would also restore dignity for those impacted individuals and motivate them to pursue their own vision of success rather than to remain mired in a system that otherwise rewards the status quo.
This is but one example of how we should be administering Federal programs and services that are directed at quality of life issues. There are countless more that would require far more space than this column can provide. What improvements can you suggest?
As you consider that question, remember the final sentence of our mistrial policy statement: “The Government shall encourage cooperative arrangements within the States and private sector to obviate the need for Federal intervention whenever feasible.” The Constitution clearly states that the Federal Government has a more limited role than the States (under the Tenth Amendment) and the private sector (under the Ninth Amendment). Rather than always trying to “usurp the field,” we would be better served if our Government exercised appropriate discretion and deferred to the States and the People as much as possible.
A small boat turns much faster than a large ship. We can make more progress, and execute more tailored solutions if we stop burdening the Federal Government with responsibilities that were intended to be reserved to others.
To use a health care metaphor: Swelling is an abnormal enlargement of an area that emanates from a congenital condition, trauma or inflammation. The Constitution rules out a congenital cause. Thus, the swelling of our Federal Government is likely to have been the result of traumatic circumstances (a war, etc.) or a persistent source of inflammation (growth orchestrated by the Parties to expand their power).
Just as with physical swelling, it may be time to administer RICE with respect to our ministerial responsibilities (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation).
We should allow our Government to move at an appropriate pace rather to demand knee-jerk reactions (rest). We should cool down the hyper-partisan atmosphere in D.C. (ice). We should encourage Government to revisit its responsibilities and correctly size itself (compression). And we should establish a clear understanding that the People, not the Government, are sovereign in our Republic (elevation).
With that prescription in place, we now have completed The FREEDOM Process™. Our Nation’s prognosis is good if we follow the suggested protocol. I wish you and our great Nation good health.
TJ O’Hara provides nonpartisan political commentary every other Monday on The Daily Ledger, one of One America News Network’s featured shows on AT&T U-verse and VerizonFiOS channels at 11:00 PM Pacific with rebroadcasts the next day at 6:00 and 10:00 AM Eastern / 7:00 AM Pacific.
Mr. O’Hara will be hosting the show on November 25th and 26th. Please be sure to join him and his excellent guests.