‘Comprehensiveness’ not a four-letter word but just as bad

Obamacare appears to be headed for still another Supreme Court visit, and one reason is clear. It suffers from comprehensiveness, a legislative affliction viewed by many as remedy and fervently sought whether the subject is health care, financial institutions, immigration or you name it.

This is no small thing, this comprehensiveness. It fills hearts with unrealized expectations, launches thousand of pages worth of bad laws and can easily diminish the national future.

How might this phenomenon be more fully described? Let’s call it the presumptuous goal of being hurriedly exhaustive. We see it when our leaders try to do just about everything they think needs being done on a major matter through a solitary measure, aiming, in one fell swoop, to solve every related puzzle from A to Z. They generally let little get in the way, often not the Constitution and certainly not common sense advising that no group of politicians and experts has knowledge enough to pull this off, just vanity enough to try.

Then, after the passing of legislation few members of Congress had time or inclination to read and that may have been barely understandable anyway, we get the massive, suppressive regulatory addenda of the bureaucrats. Before too much longer, there are boulders hurtling at you, your neighbor, everyone in sight – the inescapable avalanche of unintended consequences.

Obamacare is guilty of all the above and more. President Barack Obama admitted he was wrong in saying you could keep your insurance policy if you liked without adding that this country won’t keep much of anything in the health care world as it was. We’ve already seen some of the hurt that can ensue along with some positives that could have been more simply achieved, and we’ve seen chaos and court involvement. Now comes another court ruling that could ultimately mean no one will get an insurance subsidy in the 34 states that set up no exchanges themselves, relying on the federal government to do the job.

While there’s been lots of righteous indignation about that ruling, careful analyses make a persuasive case that, in order to get the states to set up their own exchanges, the law does prevent their residents from receiving subsidies if they turn to federal exchanges instead.

Even if those analyses are right, some argue it would still be permissible for judges to junk this part of the law, which would be equivalent in principle to junking Congress. We may see if the Supreme Court does or does not like that idea. In the meantime, the subsidies will stay in effect and we can ponder how comprehensiveness bred befuddlement enough that Congress may well have enacted clauses largely unaware they were even there, which hardly makes them nil.

Now, for another legislative experiment demonstrating how devastating comprehensiveness can be, consider the 2,300-page, 2010 Dodd-Frank act re-regulating financial institutions in response to the 2008 financial crisis. It itself is a crisis, as Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute makes clear in a Wall Street Journal piece. He says the act has lessened economic growth through an immensely fattened regulatory state beating up unproductively on the financial industry. The law is so poorly written that bewildered, deadline-missing bureaucrats have only finished translating its verbiage into slightly more than half the required new rules, he shows. When we get the whole package, run for the woods.

The next comprehensive travesty some have in mind is immigration reform. If done prudently – one limited, well-considered, easily reviewable step a time – reform could lead to a virtual end of illegal entry, economic blessings as we profit from more emphasis on attracting those most likely to thrive and less hardship all around. Done the Obama way, the Democratic way, the everything-at-once way some Republicans also endorse, we could risk far-reaching harm.

How about quitting such nonsense?

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