Universal Health Care

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the U.S. made a ruling on what had been called the most monumental case in U.S. history, though surely that was a slight exaggeration. It was anyhow on all the news outlets constantly for the last several weeks, and  when the actual case was being heard back in the spring, it was covered like the O.J. Simpson trial. So the entire U.S. has been focused on this court case for the better part of six months, no joke.

For Icelanders, it might be hard to imagine just how important this court case was for Americans. On the legal side, it was ruling on a small technicality of the law that, if overturned, would have put in jeopardy a whole slue of Federal government policies. The reason for this is that to overturn this law, the court would have had to rule that the Federal government was not allow to impose taxes for anything that was not strictly financial (commerce) in nature. This would have put all sorts of government incentives--everything from environmental to charity to agricultural stipends--in legal limbo, and would have paved the way for conservatives to begin suing the Federal government for a dizzying array of policies.

On the more personal side, it might also be hard for Icelanders to understand just how much the prospect of having universal healthcare is a drastic idea for Americans. First of all, not having universal healtcare has been a huge part of what distinguishes the U.S. from Europe for a long time, and loosing that distinction, however dubious, is something that is going to take a while to get used to. Secondly, there is naturally anxiety about changing a flawed system we know over to a system created through a series of compromises on the floor of the U.S. Congress. But of course, there is also a genuine feeling of relief that finally affordable health care will be within reach of not only wealthy Americans but all Americans. Mixed in with that though is the concern that although long term it will save companies money, in the short term there will probably be some price hikes and the like as all the new policies take affect. This legislation is a major overhall not just to how the healthcare system works in the U.S., but also to how small businesses and entrepreneurs manage their employees and their finances. So it is going to have a big impact on the U.S. economy overall.

But as I heard about the ruling driving into work yesterday morning, I had perhaps an odd reaction that had very little to do with any of those huge issues. I couldn't help but be so proud of Chief Justice Roberts, who had always struck me as a very level headed and principled man. I remember watching his confirmation hearings back in 2004 I think, and being impressed with his answers. I really did trust that he would not be making his rulings based on politics (unlike some of the other justices) and I was very gratified when he was made Chief Justice, even though he was not the most senior member of the bench. So when I heard that he had been the one to break rank yesterday, and vote on the technicalities of the law rather than on partisan politics, well frankly, it made me proud to be an American.

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