The Health-Care Reform Act: Que Paso?

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What has this gargantuan statute wrought? To this question, there can be only one answer: Nobody knows.

I am being quite serious: no single human being knows — no one can know — what provisions the statute’s more than 2,000 pages contain. Even if someone had the power to read and remember everything in this massive legislative enactment, he would still harbor a multitude of uncertainties about: how the courts will interpret the law’s general provisions; how the various administrative agencies will flesh out the statute with new regulations; the precise way in which each provision will be implemented; how, when, and in what amounts funds will be made available for carrying out the law’s many stipulated actions; how much resistance the law will meet, both in the courts and among the public, and how these conflicts will be resolved; and countless other matters of critical importance to those directly and indirectly affected by the massive statute — which is to say, virtually everybody in the United States and a considerable number of people elsewhere, as well.

Already, however, we can say a few things with certainty. One is that this statute, like any other of comparable size, amounts to a Christmas tree for politically favored interests. For months, maybe for years, people will be discovering little provisions tucked into the bill, each of which provides some sort of privilege, protection, subsidy, or other benefit to a particular firm, industry, profession, or other beneficiary. Anyone who has ever toiled through the pages of statutes of comparable length and complexity, as I have for a number of defense authorization and appropriation acts, knows that each such law comprises a host of special-interest provisions. If you would care to see some appalling examples laid bare, read chapters 7 and 8 of my book Depression, War, and Cold War or, if you cannot gain access to this book, see the original version of chapter 7, which was published in the Cato Journal in 1988.

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Robert Higgs [send him mail] is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute and editor of The Independent Review. He is also a columnist for LewRockwell.com. His most recent book is Neither Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government. He is also the author of Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy, Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 and Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society.

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