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Edwards' Health Care Gambit

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Author 7299 ran a piece on Senator John Edwards' idea to try and use the power of the presidency to remove health care for the president, all cabinet officials, and Congress if some form of universal health care is not passed by July 20th, 2009. In it, they try to debunk his claims that he could use presidential power to do such a thing, citing separation of powers doctrine;
All Edwards could do as president is to push Congress to legislate away its own health-care coverage. And in fact, that's as far as he goes when stating his position on his Web site. According to a campaign press release from earlier this fall:
Edwards press release: Edwards said on the first day of his administration he would submit legislation that ends health care coverage for the president, all members of Congress, and all senior political appointees in both branches of government on July 20th, 2009 - unless universal health care legislation that meets four specific, non-negotiable principles has been passed by that date.
That doesn't sound like much of a threat, does it? Congress would have to pass a law in order to exempt itself, or the president, or the Cabinet, or any other federal employee, from health care coverage. Readers can judge for themselves how far such a bill would get. It may make a tougher-sounding political ad for Edwards to threaten Congress outright "to take your health care away from you." But it's a threat that is misleading and empty. Edwards, who's a lawyer, should know better.
As usual, the simplistic, surface approach of most media nowadays has been applied. The author does not think past the knee-jerk separation of powers argument to more subtle uses of presidential power. Here's Edwards explaining exactly what he means on Face the Nation, emphasis mine;
SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this, senator, about one of your recent ads. One of your ads says that if you are president and Congress doesn't pass universal health care by July 2009, you are going to use your power as president to take Congress' health care plan away from them. How do you go about doing that? Fmr. Sen. EDWARDS: Well, can I just add one thing? SCHIEFFER: Sure. Fmr. Sen. EDWARDS: There is another piece to that. I also say that I will take away--do--use my power, the power that I have available to take away the health care for members of my administration. And the basic idea is I don't think politicians in Washington should be protecting their health care when we have 47 million people in this country who don't have health care coverage. But to answer your question, the most powerful tool that the president has is the bully pulpit. And that means making the case to America, submitting legislation to support exactly what I just said, and then making the case to America in any place--any congressional district or any state where a senator is opposing it--saying 'your senator, your congressman is defending their health care at the same time that they're not providing health care for you.'
Edwards did not just fall off the turnip truck- assumed he did not know the limits of presidential power, or perhaps didn't think too long on his idea. In reality, Edwards' gambit is smart; by making Republicans (as the former Senator notes frequently, Democrats will not be the problem on this issue) vote against health care for all and for their own plans, he puts them in an untenable position going into 2010. Thus, John Edwards' argument not only provides a path to universal health care, he also hints at aggressive moves as president to further the Democratic majority in Congress by using positive, popular wedge issues to pressure increasingly isolated GOP lawmakers.


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Mike Kuykendall is a progressive, patriotic veteran of the U.S. Air Force, fighting hard to save our democracy.

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