Democracy Debate Around Senate President David Long
For release Feb. 20 and thereafter (660 words)
by Andrea Neal
Senate President David Long says he’s trying to be a leader, not a dictator. That’s why he assigned Senate Bill 230 to the Rules Committee, where it won’t see the light of day.
The bill to invalidate ObamaCare is unconstitutional, Long said, and to spend precious legislative time debating it would be counterproductive.
His action has ignited a debate over democracy in Indiana, with some accusing the Fort Wayne Republican of stifling opinions. His critics say it’s always productive to discuss important ideas, even if they don’t advance through the legislative process. To deem a bill unconstitutional before a hearing is to deprive the people of a voice in setting policy.
Long’s taking more heat than usual because he’s a conservative standing in the way of a conservative, Tea Party-backed initiative to invalidate the national health-care law.
Introduced by Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, the measure has a legitimate chance of passage, its backers say, because there’s a Republican in the governor’s office and Republican super majorities in both houses.
The Tenth Amendment Center, a national think tank devoted to limited government and states’ rights, has appealed to Long to change his mind, citing “strong support for the bill in both legislative chambers and a public outcry in favor of the legislation.”
Reality check: Long’s action is not unusual, SB 230 is quite radical, and there’s been very little public outcry in favor of it.
The bill would not only invalidate ObamaCare in Indiana – most of which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June — it would void “any federal act, order, law, rule, regulation or statute found by the general assembly to be inconsistent with the power granted to the federal government in the Constitution of the United States.” In other words, the bill would give the Indiana General Assembly veto power over anything the federal government does – in contradiction of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.
Long’s critics are right about this: The more hearings the better, so the public can have open and honest discussion about public concerns. Nobody favors a return to decision making in smoke-filled rooms. SB 230 has 10 co-authors, itself an indication of substantial support in the upper chamber.
But Long has history on his side. A hearing on SB 230 would be an exercise in futility because there are more viable channels for challenging the health-care law. As Long points out, the Supreme Court ruled in 1958 in Cooper v. Aaron that states are bound by high-court decisions regarding the constitutionality of federal laws and must enforce them, even if they disagree with them. Yes, Indiana must obey the holding in National Federation of Independent Businesses vs. Sibelius.
In a ridiculous exaggeration, Tenth Amendment Center executive director Michael Boldin accused Long of protecting the Obama administration and suggested he consider switching parties.
Long is anything but liberal. He’s even called for a constitutional convention of states to limit Congress’ powers over taxation and interstate commerce.
Legislative leaders have always had the power to decide whether a bill lives or dies. Recent comparisons include Democratic Speaker Pat Bauer, who staved off Daylight Savings Time in 2003 and 2004, and Republican J. Roberts Dailey of Muncie, who used his powers as speaker in the 1980s to singlehandedly block state-supported gambling (both of which we now have). There are scores of examples of this throughout Indiana history.
Perhaps the real issue here isn’t the Supremacy Clause or federal health-care mandates but setting priorities at the Indiana General Assembly.
Long has sent more bills than usual to the Rules Committee – the legislative equivalent of a dungeon — because so many were filed: 621, the second highest total on record. Boots, as just one example, wrote 24.
In contrast, the House caps members at five bills per session, which forces them to prioritize. Not every good idea deserves a law or a hearing. That’s another distinguishing feature of limited government.
Andrea Neal is adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.