Editorial roundup

Posted: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Through a gauntlet of lawyers

Senate Democrats, flexing their brand-new muscle as the body's majority party, are ready to make a run at a "patients bill of rights." They're banking on a momentum-generating victory that will help them tighten their grip on power in the Senate and propel their party back into the White House. They want to wrest the American health care system away from those flinty-eyed bean-counters at health maintenance organizations, and hand it over to ... lawyers.

The rhetoric, of course, is that the legislation - sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy and Arizona Republican John McCain - would put the health care system back into the hands of doctors. That sounds good. But as long as the legislation includes the right to sue for punitive damages, the only path to the doctors runs right through a gauntlet of plaintiff's attorneys. ...

Critics of the Kennedy-McCain plan, the loudest of whom represent the HMO industry, argue that a wave of lawsuits will raise the cost of medical care for everyone. Those critics may be both unpopular and self-serving, but they also happen to be correct. ...

HMOs have to do what's right for their patients. Congress has to do what's right for all Americans. Neither should be looking for ways to cut services or push costs higher.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 19

Tax cut consequences

In its haste to pass a big tax cut this year, Congress dashed through the normal budget-writing process, skipped formal budget hearings in the Senate and simply ignored the spending forecasts of its own professional staff. Never mind, the GOP leadership said, there will be plenty of money to cut taxes and fund government operations.

Oops. Last week Congress' appropriations committees began work on the spending side of the federal budget and quickly found that they don't have enough money. On Wednesday, for example, the House Appropriations Committee passed an agriculture bill that overshoots its target by $2 billion. Committee staffers expect to come up hundreds of millions of dollars short when they get to the Pentagon. ...

By passing a lean budget and putting most of their money into tax cuts, GOP leaders argued that they were reining in wasteful government. But what's wasteful about Pell Grants, which enable middle-and lower-income students to attend college? Or Head Start, which allows disadvantaged youngsters to succeed in school? Or Environmental Protection Agency grants for clean air and water? Or highway grants that relieve Minnesota's congested roads?

Lawmakers never answered those questions in their rush to pass the tax cut. But as it phases in during the next 10 years, and as lawmakers see its impact, perhaps they'll have time to consider it more carefully than they did before enacting it.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 18

Privacy and police technology

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently that the government cannot use technology to circumvent its citizens' constitutional rights.

The court ruled specifically that police cannot use thermal imaging technology to examine private homes and determine what is going on within those homes without a warrant.

The ruling written by Justice Antonin Scalia for the court's majority is a marvelous defense of constitutional rights in the face of developing technology. ...

Scalia pointed out that if the government uses technology to gain information it previously could have gained only by entering a home, it is conducting a search and must have a warrant. ...

Government lawyers had contended that the use of the imager did not amount to a search because it merely measured the heat coming from the outside of the house.

But Scalia correctly argued that as technology improves, police would be able to perform more and more intrusive examinations of private homes. ...

The Fourth Amendment's guarantee of privacy within our own homes is one of our most sacred freedoms. The court's decision upholds the quality of that protection into the future and prevents it from being eroded by ever-improving technology. It will be a critically beneficial ruling for future generations.

Spartanburg, S.C. Herald-Journal, June 13

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