The health care debates over the last year have aroused strong feelings and exposed deep-seated polarities within our nation. Many have written articles and given speeches in support of and in opposition to the reform efforts. While nearly every detail of the proposed bill has been scrutinized, the costs of the proposed legislation continually emerged in the discussion. Opponents argued that they opposed the bill because it would drastically increase the national deficit and, thus, place a heavy financial burden on future generations. Proponents responded that it would decrease the deficit and, thus, ease the financial burden for future generations.
A recent CBO report states that the bill will reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the next ten years. However, a recent op-ed in The New York Times suggests that the bill will actually increase the deficit by $562 billion over the next ten years if you factor in elements not considered in the CBO analysis. Given the nuanced assertions offered by both sides of the debate, it seems impossible to determine whether the bill will increase or decrease the deficit, but it is likely that the reform will not cost as much as opponents claim or save as much as proponents claim. Despite the confusion produced by contradicting statements regarding almost every portion of the health care bill, one issue troubled me more than any of the aspects being endlessly debated.
One of the most frequent complaints that I heard about the bill was that the long term costs of the reform were unacceptable. Opponents asserted that they were “small government conservatives” who could not support such drastic increases to the national deficit. The more I heard such statements, the more troubled I became. The reason is simple. According to a November 2009 Forbes.com report, the United States has spent around $1 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will continue spending roughly $11 billion per month as long as we continue the war effort. Additionally, in January the CBO estimated that Obama’s latest troop increase, praised by even his staunchest conservative opponents, will cost an additional $36 billion over the next four years. I am troubled by these figures because so many people apparently miss the dark irony of staunchly supporting an effort that destroys human lives and staunchly opposing an effort that redeems human lives. I am troubled because the term “small government conservative” apparently means increasing military spending and decreasing spending on social services. So, the health care debates are not about “small government conservatives” versus “big government liberals.” The dispute is over this question, “On what is it acceptable to increase the size of the government and spend trillions of dollars?” As such, arguments against health care because of purportedly unacceptable deficit increases ring hollow and prove frivolous when the United States has increased our national deficit by $1 trillion (and counting) to fund wars that can never bring lasting peace and often bring lasting devastation and destruction. Clearly my pacifism is evident in this last statement, but it’s incomprehensible to me that so many have supported the war efforts while so many have also opposed health care reform.
What is more perplexing is that conservatives—many of whom claim that America is a “Christian nation” and decry the moral degradation wrought by “liberals”—have been so strongly opposed to this legislation, and have used the potentially high costs as a primary talking point for opposing reform. While I reject the notion that America, or any other nation, has been or can be a “Christian nation,” perhaps those making such claims should consider whether supporting war and rejecting health reform can be supported by the life and teachings of Jesus. Isn’t it morally reprehensible when people who argue that America is a “Christian nation” demonstrate their refusal to live by the teachings of Jesus when they defend war and attack health reform? Is it disturbing to anyone else that it’s easier to pass legislation to go to war than to enact health reform? Shouldn’t this concern those of us who seek to live their lives aligned with the ethics of a man who taught non-violence and preached compassion for the least of these? Are we not showing that we don’t really believe Jesus’ message of good news when we defend violence and decry compassion?