For Whom Does the USCCB Speak in the Health Care Reform Debate?
By Robert J. Schiavoni
Samuel delivered the message of the Lord to those who asked him to appoint a king over them. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horseman, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take your menservants and maid servants, and the best of your cattle and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 1 Samuel 8:10-18
When Israel rejected God’s most fundamental gift to us, the gift of freedom, and denied our greatest gift to God in return, obedience to His will, in favor of an earthly kingship presiding over false hope and promises of security and prosperity, it rejected not just the gift but God Himself, for “the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
“Health care reform,” Obama-style, is not about health or care, but it is about reform in a most drastic and comprehensive way. Even the word reform is understatement, for if we yield control of our health in a literal sense to the designs of any government, even one perceived as benevolent, we like the Israelites are rejecting the gift of freedom. It is our age-old story and struggle; indeed, it is the explanation of our fall described in Genesis; that man perceives himself as master of his own destiny, consuming the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order to be like God.
In many ways health care reform is our “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” The Obama styled progressive reformation of our medical care delivery system, given the Orwellian label of “health care reform,” is a seduction, as the campaign slogan of “hope and change” was a seduction. To see this reform effort for what it is, look at it in the context of whether our medical care delivery system is in need of a comprehensive and total reformation, who is behind this reform effort, and what is the USCCB doing to aid and abet this reform effort. What makes us so vulnerable to the promise of health care reform is simply understood: we will all be in need of medical care; most will suffer in some form from injury, chronic disease or failing health; and we worry about what lies ahead and how we will pay for our yet unknown but inevitably-needed medical care.
Before we as a free people choose to reform our medical system, we should take time to reflect on a medical care delivery system which by any standard has vastly improved our lives and the lives of many throughout the world. Market and economic incentives have produced magnificently trained doctors and health care professionals, miracle drugs and treatment regimens, and evolving and ever improving technologies. Perhaps we are taking these things for granted which in turn means that we also fail to appreciate how the tools and talents of modern medicine even come to exist. Consequently, through acquiescence, acceptance or imposition of Obama-style reform, we will institutionalize damage to our system of medical care delivery which quite literally will be to our peril. The irony of the “reform now” movement evidenced in our politics and by the community organizing of the USCCB and its affiliates is that much of the infrastructure for medical care delivery was developed, and continues today through the pastoral care and charity of religious organizations, especially the Catholic Church.
The debate at various times focuses on accessibility, costs and quality.
The system for medical care delivery is stressed and in need of improvements. Health care consumption has risen to near 17% of GDP, and demand for medical care will continue to increase with an aging population. However, on a comparative level that demand still reflects a largely free choice on the part of consumers in the consumption of health care service when compared to the socialized and rationed health care of other countries. The funding demands of government programs, Medicaid and Medicare most prominently, are insatiable and unsustainable. While we hear of the 46 million uninsured (a number which seems to fluctuate considerably even within the administration but is used for purposes of discussion) that often-cited statistic as presented by the USCCB in its action alert bulletins and by reform proponents misstates the transient nature of coverage. Long term, more than 18 months, uninsured status represents a small portion of the total uninsured as many individuals are uninsured for less than four months. Some of the uninsured choose to be so despite income levels suggesting the ability to procure some level of insurance. Federal tax and benefit legislation has tended to discourage a key concern regarding access to medical care, portability, by enshrining health insurance as a benefit of employment.
An impressive body of work has amassed over the years by professionals and organizations dedicating serious effort to recommend improvements without undermining the fundamental recognition that free enterprise and free associations offer the best way to expand the delivery of medical services making them portable and accessible and more affordable. The sobering and very real concern is that policy makers disregard the deliberate and steady approach required in making improvements versus the emotionally appealing “reform now” approach of the administration and of the USCCB and its affiliates.
As a legislator from Illinois, President Obama stridently and repeatedly opposed legislation protecting the personhood of an abortion survivor, the Born Alive Act. In a decent society this should have been a disqualifying moment of shame, not a resumé- builder for the election of the President of the United States. As a candidate for president, Obama infamously informed us that the question of when babies are worthy of the protection of basic human rights, presumably including health care, “was above his pay grade.” Presumably, now as president, his pay grade allows him to inform us when and under what circumstances we are to be provided medical services.
Across the board and at every level, this president has nominated and appointed people radically and openly hostile to Church teachings on family and life issues. Van Jones is only the most recent reminder of why we should be concerned, not only with health care, but with an entire spectrum of our all too often taken-for-granted freedoms. The likes of John Holdren, James Steinberg, Cass Sunstein, Mark Lloyd and Harry Knox offer the faces of the all-out attack on fundamental institutions and cultural mores which serve as the glue for a decent and civil society. More insidious and under the radar screen of most Catholics and their shepherds are the appointments and nominations of those seeking to deconstruct the institutions of process and ordered liberty by consolidating and centralizing power. The various administrators, the “czars,” will be the process unto themselves, and “health care reform” is another means of acquiring and centralizing that power. The administration has been aided by a dissolute group in Congress whose spending profligacy has provided the administration with a perpetual crisis which will predictably demand more and bigger government. Neither reason nor economic principles can justify spending trillions of dollars in bailouts and “stimulus” and government “services,” but acquisition of power and the ruination of constitutional processes do offer an explanation for such policies.
The “admiration for absolute government” is the backdrop for “health care reform” and is, parroting deTocqueville, proportionate to the contempt for life and liberty and authentic social justice. The “reform now” on its face makes little sense addressing none of the issues of portability, accessibility or costs. Fairly characterized, the “reform now” argument is incoherent. “Reformers”, who include the Catholic Health Association and more surreptitiously the USCCB through its actions and ‘progressive’ actors, argue for affordable (a completely relative term) health care while the current version of HB 3200 will cost close to a trillion understated dollars, and historically, centrally planned “universal” solutions lead to greater inefficiencies and costs, corruption and ultimately failure. They argue for accessibility, but the bill offers the instrumentalities for what the Bioethics Defense Fund appropriately described as “coercive self-rationing.” As for ultimately deciding who gets what and when and under what circumstances, HB 3200 will grant abortion advocate Kathleen Sebelius unaccountable authority for promulgating the regulations which will control our very physical being. The bill, containing notions of Obama’s regulation czar Cass Sunstien as articulated in his book “Nudge,” will cause the elimination of consumer choice and restrict access to services through the ‘nudge’ of taxes and fines. The “reformers” demand aggressive government takeover “now” of the medical care delivery system modeled after the same failed centralized social policies of our own American experience and the experience of socialized medical systems in England and elsewhere. One size will fit all by expanding the misery of socialized medical care.
Ezekiel Emanuel, the President’s health adviser, argues for the vulgarity of redefining the doctor-patient relationship from the timeless wisdom found in the Hippocratic Oath, the very basis for our trust in our physician to do all he can to heal and aid, into the socialist utilitarian life view of rationing care based on resource allocation. Rest assured, the “rationing standards” will be left to the discretion of Sebellius, Emmanuel, et al. The “reformers” call for universal and affordable care, the type of care which will stifle and control you with utilitarian socialist not doctrinal Catholic social justice.
Chesterton reveled at disputations with “progressives” because they were teaching moments. His ultimate rhetorical point about progressives, aside from a recognition that we should all be progressing to the absolute Truth which was the only “superlative” by which he measured the “comparative,” was to ask to where they were progressing. The “progressive” cause is manifest in the “health care reform” debate. That the USCCB’s domestic policy agenda is progressive and supportive of a magnified and expansive role of centralized government is becoming increasingly apparent, wherein true progressive form the means is the end.
There appears to be a lack of accountability for the policies advanced and legislation supported and the groups funded by the USCCB domestic policy staff. Little has changed since the USCCB through its funding apparatus the CCHD was for many years the benefactor of ACORN and several other Alinsky-type organizations all in the cause of “progress.” While the CCHD ended its long-term funding of ACORN, having misused millions of parishioners’ dollars for radical political organizing, it did so not out of a sense of shame for what it was funding, but rather because it was concerned with the revelations surrounding embezzlement of funds.
The USCCB continues with its funding of “community organizers.” John Carr remains employed as the USCCB’s Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, despite his participation in the funding of ACORN and other Alinsky-type groups. His Director of Domestic Social Development, Kathy Sailes, assures continuity of the ideologically “progressive” agenda, which is in most ways quite different than the evangelium or pastoral agenda. To be fair, here is Sailes in her own words commenting on using some Latin prayers during the Ordinary Rite: “We’ve begun to regress to some pre-Vatican II activities, like singing Latin responses. I don’t understand any of it!” Or, in an ideologically revealing moment of candor, Ms. Sailes captures the heart of the religious left dogma that the political is the spiritual: “And I have felt the sacredness of life at those moments, those sacred moments, when the political was transcended into the spiritual.” When introduced to Catholics in a news release after it was revealed that Ms. Sailes attended a dinner for WIN, a group “dedicated to empowering pro-choice women,” Ms. Sailes informed us that “the issue of abortion was raised [at the WIN dinner], and I challenged people that it was not mutually exclusive to be socially progressive on issues like health care, poverty and housing and to be pro-life.” Many Catholics, whose hard-earned money supports the domestic policy efforts of the USCCB, stand rebuked not only for their liturgical practices, but also for their lack of enthusiasm in viewing progressivism as the spiritual.
The USCCB’s domestic policy is a virtual tour of a statist agenda. The USCCB through progressive ‘charity’ as distinguished from authentic charity has advanced over the years through its lobbyists, its action alerts, and its trusted surrogates, the vaunted consortium of “community organizers,” such legislation as the cap and trade bill, the various stimulus bills, the public housing “trust fund,” and of course the infamous and discredited policies which have given us now a perpetual legacy of debt originating in the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debacle. The USCCB’s shameless funding of ACORN has now produced an administration hostile to the issues of life, family and self- governance. That USCCB funding segued into the funding of the inherently corrupt and incorrigible ACORN with a multiplier of billions of taxpayers dollars.
The record and contextual backdrop of USCCB “social justice” activities rightly invites skepticism as to its agenda on health care. After all, the “progressive” formula for health care reform is consistent with the USCCB’s preferred solution on an entire array of challenging domestic social issues.
The USCCB assures all that any “reform” must contain protections for the unborn. Beyond that important assurance, the USCCB and its ally the CHA are demanding “reform now.” The “reform now” refers to only one possible option and that is HB3200. If you have doubts about that take a tour of the USCCB website. There you can link to the action alerts. Again, the recent alerts all state the uncompromising position on abortion but not much else. No concerns are expressed about the many deeply flawed provisions of HB3200 or the radical Obama agenda for health care which are at odds with other Church doctrinal teachings on family, end of life issues, and subsidiarity. The USCCB asks you to “partner with a local group funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a Catholic Charities affiliate, or a local Catholic Health Association (CHA) member that is working on health care reform.”
The CCHD is once again funding “community organizers” which are secular proponents for “reform”, or radicalized “progressive” faith-based groups espousing the discredited nostrums of liberation theology, including PICO, THCC, Gamaliel and DART. These groups do not, and need not, adhere to Catholic teachings. Gamaliel, which admits to its Saul Alinsky heritage and to being a self described “strategic partner” with the CCHD, touts the President as a “former Gamaliel organizer.” So while the USCCB issues alerts about the abortion issue, in a stealth and covert way, it speaks with Catholic money to fund a “reform” of our health care “now” using surrogates of community organizers to push a radical and statist agenda based on class envy, not charity.
From the USCCB website you can link to the CHA. There you will find a pictorial account featuring Sister Carol Keehan, its president, at the side of Joe Biden and Kathleen Sebelius advocating “reform.” As a participant in the show forum sponsored by the White House this past spring, Sister Keehan is enlisted in the effort to pass Obama-style reform, of course with a caveat for the protections of the unborn. Also you can view CHA’s new video demanding reform now, “I Can’t Wait for Health Care Reform.”
Finally, with HB3200 facing stiff resistance from “we the people,” USCCB spokesman Richard Doerflinger who has capably in the past spoken for the Bishops on the abortion and conscience clause issues assures Catholics that despite the President’s past advocacy for infanticide, despite his success at funding worldwide abortion using taxpayer money, despite the radical ‘culture of death’ appointments, some of whom will be granted extensive regulatory powers in the health care legislation, he welcomes the President’s recent and newfound commitment to exclude federal funding of abortion and to now protect conscience rights. Mr. Doerflinger must be intentionally ignoring the evidence in his zeal to advance the ‘progressive’ version of health care reform because the current bill clearly subsidizes premiums for health benefits which include unlimited abortions, leaving Mr. Doerflinger susceptible to charges of word games about funding, mandates, subsidies, etc. Of course, in a July interview by Raymond Arroyo featured on the World Over, Mr. Doerflinger downplayed many of the serious problems being raised about the compulsory aspects of HB 3200 and appeared to be an advocate of the legislation with the exception of the abortion issue. The USCCB is losing credibility as on one hand it remains shamefully silent about those who are backing this plan and on the many deficiencies and thuggish aspects of “health care reform,” and on the other tacitly funding “community organizers” whose emotional demand for “reform now” is intended to pass Obama-styled health care legislation.
Little seems to have changed since the ACORN scandal. The “progressives” at the USCCB choose to ignore the subsidiary institutions of family, civic and charitable institutions, and ironically Church in framing and shaping improvements to the medical care delivery system in favor of comprehensive “reform.” In doing so the USCCB will repeat its shameful support of “community organizing” which has given us “hope and change” and once again be an accomplice in foisting upon us and our children and grandchildren an unsustainable burden of debt and regulation, together with the institutionalized framework for statist control of our very being.
Freedom is messy and sometimes unpredictable. Nonetheless, a continuum of Church teachings from Rerrum Novarum to Deus Caritas Est establishes that true, salvific charity is not something which can be farmed out to government agencies because of our impatience with the adventure of God’s greatest gift to us, freedom. George Weigal summed it up best in his brilliant lecture From Centesimus Annus to Deus Caritas Est,The Free and Virtuous Society of the 21st Century: “The principle of susidiarity teaches us that decision-making in society should be left at the lowest possible level (i.e., the level closest to those most effected by the decision), commensurate with the common good. American ‘federalism’ is one empirical example of the principle of subsidiarity at work in actual political life. Articulated under the lengthening shadow of the totalitarian project in the first third of the twentieth century, the principle of subsidiarity remains today as a counter-statist principle in Catholic social thinking. It directs us to look first to private sector solutions, or to a private sector/public sector mix of solutions rather than to the state in dealing with urgent social issues such as education, health care, and social welfare.” America’s constitutional federalism offers us the template for the reality of subsidiarity. Catholics should cherish our heritage.
The disturbing characteristic of the domestic policy staff of the USCCB is that they project the “progressive” ideology which advances, as progress unto itself, the relentless and insatiable appetite of the state to be all things to all people. Health care reform represents opportunity for the imposition of statist ideology. The USCCB domestic policy department is not a think tank but rather an ideological and funding resource for ‘progressive’ causes. Those who offer a viewpoint about domestic policy solutions based on principles of subsidiarity as the empirical example of our American federalism seems non-existent for no alternative voice can be heard at the USCCB.
Catholics are entitled to answers. By what authority does the USCCB domestic policy staff fund causes or lobby for legislation which is adverse to many Catholics, ideologically, morally, and politically? By what authority does the USCCB domestic policy staff fund emotional “activism” using the vulnerabilities of less fortunate people to stoke claims and demands on government bypassing the disciplines of process and ordered liberty? By what authority does the USCCB domestic policy staff mask political ideology as a theology and then represent it as authentically Catholic? By what authority does the USCCB domestic policy staff claim as its sovereign and theological position “sacred moments, when the political was transcended into the spiritual” such that “faith becomes the servant of power?”
Robert J. Schiavoni
Bob Schiavoni, a guest author for The Defenders of The Faith, received his undergraduate degree from Villanova University, a graduate degree from Penn State University. He is also a graduate of the Ohio Northern University College of Law where he served as editor-in-chief of the law review. He is a founding partner of a law firm located in Martinsburg, WV where, since 1992, he has maintained a trial advocacy practice in the areas of employment, and wage and hour law, class action litigation, and complex fraud cases.