The President’s Limited Role in Health Care

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on August 5th, 2009

One of the odder arguments in the health care debate is that President Obama is having trouble pushing his health care reform agenda through because he has provided general talking points ontmpphpXCWxfS[1] the legislation rather than a draft bill.  The argument is odd for two reasons.  The first reason is that it suggests that the president would be more successful if he had a specific plan to sell.  This argument ignores the possibility that the congressional forces aligned against health care reform would prefer to have a specific plan to fight rather than a general set of reasonable principles.  Picking apart draft legislation and vowing to vote against it both because it is not perfect and because it is the president’s legislation is a perfect way to delay reform and kill the eventual legislation.  This does not mean that the president will win with his strategy.  However, it does put the onus on Congress to either get him a bill on an issue that the American public has suggested it wants fixed or implicitly admit that Congress cannot get the job done.  The second reason the argument is odd is that providing a list of policies and priorities is the type of limited control a chief executive ought to have over legislation.  The president can veto legislation, but must execute the laws that legislators pass and that he signs.  President Obama’s outline for health care reform incorporates items that need to be in the legislation if it is to avoid a presidential veto.  In addition, his outline also suggets his priorities in executing any legislation that may become law.  This is also reasonable because execution is his area of constitutional responsibility.  These twin functions of his list arguably mark the limit of the president’s constitutional responsibility.  The irony in the argument that President Obama ought to draft legislation and send it to Congress is that he is not the legislator-in-chief and arguably would overstep his proper role in doing so.  This is not to say that it would be improper for him to draft legislation.  Rather, it is to say that Congress would have every legitimate reason to ignore any such draft legislation.


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