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Democrats prescribe Obamacare on steroids

Sunday’s fourth Democratic presidential debate, from Charleston, S.C., gave voters a surprisingly clear look at what the candidates are itching to do in the White House. With Sen. Bernie Sanders surprisingly ahead of Hillary Clinton for both the Feb. 1 Iowa Caucuses and the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, according to several recent polls, the former first lady followed him to the left on policy issues.

The third candidate, Martin O’Malley, complained he was being ignored and stressed his record when he was governor of Maryland. But with the increased violence in Baltimore, where he also was mayor, his track record isn’t gaining traction, keeping the focus on the two top candidates.

Sanders called for a “single payer” national health system, meaning the government would replace private insurers. He promised, “I believe that a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program will substantially lower the cost of health care for middle-class families.”

That sounds like President Barack Obama’s pledge during the 2008 campaign that Obamacare would “cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.” In reality, coverage for most families is down even as costs have soared.

Clinton said she would “build on” Obamacare by “by putting a cap on prescription drug costs.” But that could destroy the profits of drug companies, making them reluctant to run the gauntlet of Food and Drug Administration regulations that have brought the cost of getting a new drug to market to $1.3 billion, according to Joseph Dimasi of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. A better idea would be to reform the FDA to reduce that cost.

The candidates promised both more gun control and higher taxes, the opposite of what Republican candidates advocate. And they supported Obama’s nuclear treaty with Iran, which all the Republicans opposed. Of course, few of these proposals could make it through Congress, even if Republicans lose control of both houses, which seems unlikely.

“Feel the Bern” is Sanders’ top campaign slogan. But for him and Clinton, a better theme would be: “Feel the tax bite.”​

The Orange County Register, Jan. 19

Obama’s gamble on immigration can still pay off

Two months ago, President Barack Obama gambled that his immigration policies had a better chance of winning a majority on the Supreme Court than in Congress. It’s a bet he never should have made. Now that the court has accepted it, however, he needs to win — not for his own sake but for that of future presidents and the millions of immigrants it would help.

The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear the Obama administration’s appeal of a case putting its immigration policy on hold. The policy allows immigrants who are in the country illegally but have children who are citizens or green card holders to remain in the country and apply for work permits — provided they have been in the country for five years and stayed out of trouble with the law. There are about 5 million such residents.

The policy was bound to end up before the court. Days after Republicans captured control of both houses in the 2014 elections, Obama announced that he would not wait for the new Congress to pass legislation fixing the nation’s long-broken immigration system. Instead, he acted unilaterally.

Now, if the Supreme Court finds that the attorneys general who brought the case have standing to sue, it will have two questions to answer. The first is whether the Obama administration should have undertaken a formal rule-making process, with a notice and comment period, before carrying out this change. The second is whether the president overstepped his authority by ignoring existing law.

The second question is more consequential. The Constitution requires the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” The trouble is, it would be impossible — and economically disastrous — to attempt to deport the 11 million people residing here illegally.

Furthermore, the courts have never curtailed the executive branch’s authority to manage immigration. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover stopped immigration of all people except those with the means to support themselves, even though he had no explicit legislative authority to do so. Since then, presidents of both parties have used their authority to allow immigration, and block deportation, outside of legislatively granted channels. The Supreme Court should not curtail the president’s authority to manage the country’s borders in the absence of enabling legislation.

Bloomberg View, Jan. 21

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