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Utah GrassRoots 2015 Legislative Report Addendum—SB164substitute
SB164Substitute, “Access to Health Care Amendments”, sponsored by Senator Shiozawa and Representative Dunnigan, would have expanded Medicaid (and the number of individuals on Medicaid) in Utah by applying for and accepting an estimated $890 million of federal funds over the next 3 years.
SB164Substitute was one of several proposals, during this year’s General Session of the Utah State Legislature, to expand Medicaid in Utah, and to do so with lots of federal funds. Other such bills that were filed, but did not get as far as SB164Substitute, include HB307, SB83, and SB153. The proposed spending increases in these bills ranged from $50 million/year to over $1 billion/year depending on the bill, the year, and how many individuals would end up applying for Medicaid. Federal funding was envisioned to cover 70-100% of the costs of these proposed expansions.
It is understandable that our Governor and others might want to take advantage of federal funds that are there “for the taking” if only we make the necessary applications. The amount of money that might be brought to our state appears to be substantial. Still, is it wise to apply for and accept these federal funds?
What is the effect on Utah’s sovereignty when Utah accepts funds from the national government? Former US Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson expressed the opinion that “[N]o State or local government can accept funds from the Federal and remain independent in performing its functions, nor can the citizens exercise their rights of self-government under such conditions” (speech entitled “The Proper Role of Government”). Was Mr. Benson correct? It seems the evidence clearly indicates that he was correct; in case after case, it seems that state governments are succumbing to the temptation to spend tax-dollars inappropriately because of the lure of, or strings attached to, federal funding.
Other questions should also enter into the Medicaid expansion debate.
What is the proper role of government? This is a moral question—and a very important one, given that government wields force in ways that few other institutions do, and given that improper use of force can and does damage people’s lives, liberty, and property.
A traditional American view is that government is properly an agent of the people, ordained by the people. This view is enshrined in the Preamble to The Constitution of the United States: “We the People of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” If We the People ordain the government, it would seem that we can only give government authority that we ourselves have . . . and that moral authority is limited—especially when it comes to the use of force.
This view, that the government’s authority to use force is limited, is dominant in the US Constitution, as reflected in the powers of Congress that are enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of that document. James Madison wrote: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined” (Federalist No. 45, Paragraph 9). Alexander Hamilton further wrote:
Provision of health care is not enumerated in Article I, Section 8, and appears to be a usurped power. We should be nervous about encouraging such exercise of usurped power—an exercise that greatly contributes to heavy taxes, and to a heavy burden of debt.
Is provision of health care a proper role of state government? This question may not be answered quite as clearly by our state constitution, though some might say that use of tax-dollars for redistribution to health-care consumers is contrary to our Declaration of Rights: “Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation” (Utah State Constitution, Article I, Section 22).
And, maybe the most fundamental question: Do the same moral standards that apply to us as individuals also apply to our government?
Should we help those in need of health care? Most would probably agree that the answer is “Yes.” But by what means? By force? Would it be right for [insert your own name, or somebody else’s] to forcibly take money from a neighbor and use it to pay another’s health care bill. At GrassRoots, we do not think it would be right for us to use force in this manner—and we would therefore consider it wrong to instruct our agent (the government) to do this for us.
In our society, we may not always agree on the answers to questions of morality in our various debates. Nevertheless, “charity” by force does not feel right to us at GrassRoots—and seems not to be a legitimate subject for delegation to our agents, our state and national governments. Please consider what is and is not rightful use of force for you as an individual. Your judgment may or may not agree with ours. But we hope most of us would agree that the same moral standards that apply to us as individuals, should also be applied to our agents in the various levels and departments of government.
GrassRoots approves of a “no” vote on SB164Substitute, and generally opposes tax-financed expansion of Medicaid.
SB164Substitute passed the Senate 17-11 on February 25th, but failed the House Business and Labor Committee 4-9 on March 4th (“yes” votes cast by Representatives Duckworth, Froerer, Brad King, and Webb; “no” votes cast by Representatives Anderegg, Jon Cox, Dunnigan, Knotwell, Val Peterson, Roberts, Schultz, Stanard, and Wilson).
The other major proposals to expand Medicaid in Utah (HB307, SB83, and SB153) also died during the General Legislative Session. There has been some talk of Governor Herbert calling a special session about this issue. At GrassRoots, we hope that he does not.
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