Limits on federal spending

Michael J. New offers common sense on federal spending:

The recent budget deal that was agreed to by President Trump and Congressional leaders has fiscal conservatives livid. This deal raises discretionary spending caps by over $300 billion over two years and effectively repeals the budget caps that were established as part of the Budget Control Act in 2011. The frustration of budget hawks is certainly understandable. While the rest of the budget has grown in recent years, non-defense discretionary spending has actually fallen in constant dollars since 2011. However, seasoned observers of fiscal policy knew it was unlikely to last. After all, there is plenty of evidence that legislatures, including Congress, have been unable to place effective long term limits on the growth of spending.

Indeed, after triple digit budget deficits became commonplace in the 1980s, Congress adopted the Gramm Rudman Hollings Act in 1985. This piece of legislation established declining deficit targets every year and triggered automatic spending cuts if those targets were not met. Half the cuts were to come from defense spending, and half the cuts were to come from domestic programs. While Gramm Rudman Hollings did result in some short term spending cuts, its main outcome was creative accounting. Congress often pushed spending into future fiscal years to create phantom spending cuts to stay within the deficit targets. When the economy slowed down, the deficit targets became too difficult to reach, and the legislation was scrapped in 1990. …

Fiscal conservatives should revisit pursuing a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Regardless of the results of elections, Congress has shown no ability to place effective long term limits on spending. A balanced budget amendment or another constitutional fiscal limit might be the only effective long-term strategy to limit the growth of government. America’s long term fiscal outlook looks especially bleak due to rapidly growing entitlement programs. Indeed, a balanced budget amendment might as well be the only strategy to get Congress to seriously discuss reforming rapidly expanding programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and shore up America’s fiscal future.

We are acting as if there will be no consequence for our bipartisan monetary policies. Kicking the can down the road…

On Leana Wen’s ouster

Dr. Leana Wen was forced out as Planned Parenthood leader this week, as a result of their board determining that Dr. Wen’s vision of Planned Parenthood as a comprehensive healthcare provider risked compromising their commitment to abortion. Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, issued this statement:

“Planned Parenthood has long claimed that healthcare encompasses the intentional killing of unwanted human persons, and Dr. Leana Wen—despite her brief eight-month tenure—has consistently traded on her training as a physician to perpetuate Planned Parenthood’s falsehood that ‘abortion is healthcare’. The pro-life movement is continuing to rack up legal victories at the state and federal levels, and we have every intention of building on those victories until we reach a post-Roe v. Wade era, and we will do that no matter who is leading America’s deadliest non-profit.”

And I offered the following thoughts on Dr. Wen’s departure, which still strikes me as a strange strategic decision in advance of an election year:

“What Planned Parenthood’s board leadership has done,” stated Tom Shakely, Chief Engagement Officer at Americans United for Life, “is simply to confirm that Planned Parenthood is solely and ideologically committed to abortion—not comprehensive care, not patient outcomes, and certainly not authentic medicine. Planned Parenthood is a single-issue organization whose most desired outcome is the ending of the lives of their most vulnerable patients—developing members of the human family.”

“We earnestly hope that Leana Wen herself is led to a conversion of heart on the fundamental human right to life. She would be a powerful witness for the capacity of all persons to recognize the truth of a difficult issue, and serve as advocates and protectors of vulnerable human persons.”

 

Constitutional persons

Calvin Freiburger writes on Joshua Craddock’s 2017 piece in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, “Protecting Prenatal Persons: Does the Fourteenth Amendment Prohibit Abortion?”:

Pro-lifers and honest pro-abortion legal scholars agree that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. But just how wrong is it? Is it bad law solely because it declares a right to something the Constitution is silent about, or does its judicial malpractice run deeper? …

The first key point of Craddock’s work, critiquing the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia from the right, is an audacious undertaking, but here it’s warranted. You see, while Scalia was a committed originalist and clear opponent of Roe, he was also of the opinion that the Constitution is neutral toward abortion – that its use of the word “persons” “clearly means walking-around persons,” and therefore, states should be left free to set whatever abortion laws they want. Craddock notes several other pro-life judicial originalists who hold (or held) this view, though Scalia is the most recent and most revered modernly.

Craddock concedes that there is some basis for this thinking because “natural rights were not exhaustively enshrined in the federal Constitution” and “states have traditionally decided the question of personhood.” However, he rightfully maintains that a truly originalist answer to the question has to consider what the word “persons” was understood to mean when the Fourteenth Amendment was written and ratified.

He proceeds to explain that layman’s dictionaries treated the concepts of humanity and personhood interchangeably, and so did legal terminology – more explicitly so, in fact. As we’ve discussed in the past, Craddock notes that Blackstone expressly recognized that personhood and the right to life existed before birth with a simple and clear legal standard: “where life can be shown to exist, legal personhood exists”…

‘It’s probably not replicable’

I remember heading to the polls in Philadelphia on Election Day in November 2016 and being surprised by the fact that there was simply no line at the Center City polling station. I had been there in 2012 when Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney, and there was a line out of the door. If there wasn’t high turnout for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia, I thought, she might not have a certain victory in Pennsylvania.

What I witnessed that Election Day was a case of a depressed and unmotivated Democratic voter base handing the vote to its opponent in a critical state. And that happened in every state it needed to happen in for Donald Trump to win the presidency. And so it’s always been doubtful that he could be keep office, in the fact of a highly energized opposition:

A university election model that predicted the blue wave in the House in 2018 almost to the seat is predicting a big loss by President Trump next year due to an explosion of bitter partisanship and Trump hate.

An election forecast model designed by Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, predicted that Trump will lose the Electoral College 297-197, with 270 of 538 needed to win.

Three key states that helped push Trump over Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016, despite her winning the popular vote, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, will turn back to the Democrats, she said.

“Trump’s 2016 path to the White House was the political equivalent of getting dealt a Royal Flush in poker,” said Bitecofer. “It’s probably not replicable in 2020 with an agitated Democratic electorate.”

That partisanship, added to the spark in anti-Trump protests by liberals and even left-leaning independents, is likely to overwhelm the increase in GOP voters, she said.

“The country’s hyperpartisan and polarized environment has largely set the conditions of the 2020 election in stone,” Bitecofer said in a release. “The complacent electorate of 2016, who were convinced Trump would never be president, has been replaced with the terrified electorate of 2020. Under my model, that distinction is not only important, it is everything,” she added.

Her model in 2018 predicted a 42 seat House Democratic pickup, and the Democrats won 40. Most models did not predict such a big victory.

Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing, what remains true is that your own life, your own family, and your own community all matter a thousand times more. It’s worth staying focused on what matters most over the 18 months to come, and as much as possible mentally bracketing the noise of the campaigns.

Hospitals as places for charity

April Munday writes on Medieval hospitals:

Hospitals might not be something that you associate with the fourteenth century, but most towns had one, if not two. Many were founded in the twelfth century and were the result of both the First Crusade and what might be considered a spiritual revival at that time.

Hospitals were religious institutions. Monasteries and convents had always had infirmaries where sick and elderly members of the community were cared for. From the twelfth century that care was extended formally to the community beyond the walls of the abbeys. Hospitals were usually staffed by monks and nuns, but sometimes a physician was employed as well.

Medieval hospitals took many forms. They could be hostels for pilgrims, hospices for the dying, almshouses for the aged poor, or a hospital for the sick poor. They were founded as acts of charity. …

Hospitals were mainly for providing hospitality, which is where the name comes from. They were often called a Maison Dieu or Domus Dei. In English they were called God’s House. The hospital was a house because it was always part of a religious community, a household with God at the head. There are the remains of one near where I live dating back to the twelfth century. A God’s House was essentially a large hall where people could lie along the walls in beds. It had a chapel for prayers and mass.

In a hospital there would probably be a fire. Patients might have to share a bed, so the chances were good that you would catch something worse than the reason you were there in the first place. On the plus side, the floor and the sheets would be washed often, and mutton was prescribed, regardless of the illness. The inmates would probably be bathed as well as having their hair washed and their beards trimmed regularly.

I read someplace recently that it was only something like 70 years ago that it became more likely that a patient entering a hospital would leave the hospital restored to health—and that a major reason why so many are still so wary of receiving medical care likely has to do with a lingering cultural memory of hospitals as places not of life, but of death.

Whatever the case, the role of hospitals as places for charity is something lost in the present debates over the costs of healthcare delivery and one’s ability or right to medical treatments.

Two patients, or one?

Dr. Darrell Cass recently led a successful pre-birth surgery on a child at 23 weeks:

Cleveland Clinic has successfully performed its first in utero fetal surgery to repair a spina bifida birth defect in a nearly 23-week-old fetus.

A multispecialty team of clinicians performed the surgery in February, and the baby, a girl, was later delivered by caesarean section near full term June 3, making it northern Ohio’s first surgery of its kind. Mother and daughter are doing well. …

Spina bifida is a birth defect that is most often discovered during the routine anatomy scan typically performed when a fetus is around 18 weeks old. The condition affects the lowest part of the spine and occurs when the neural tube does not fully close, causing the backbone that protects the spinal cord not to form as it should. This often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves and can even lead to brain damage.

Spina bifida can affect a child’s lower leg strength and their ability to walk and run, as well as their ability to go to the bathroom and urinate adequately. According to the CDC, approximately 1,645 babies are born with spina bifida each year in the United States.

During the fetal repair surgery, a caesarean section-like incision is made and the mother’s uterus is exposed. An ultrasound is then used to locate the placenta and fetus. The uterus is opened 4.5 cm and the back of the fetus is exposed, showing the spina bifida lesion. The surgeons then carefully suture several individual layers of tissue (myofascia, dura and skin) in order to cover the defect. After the uterus is closed back up, the fetus remains in the womb for the remainder of the pregnancy and is ultimately born by caesarean section.

“By successfully repairing the defect before birth, we’re allowing this child to have the best possible outcome and significantly improve her quality of life,” said Dr. Cass.

When a member of the human family, like this child, is wanted by her mother, we call this child a patient—and our physicians care for the child as a patient whose worth is equal to mother and father. But when a member of the human family is unwelcome, we call that child a fetus—and sometimes even a parasite—and our physicians do not care for the child as a patient, but instead intentionally kill in order to enforce the demands of the comparatively powerful over the comparatively weak. This describes not a humane or compassionate society, but rather one wherein violence has come to be seen as acceptance and even ethical.

If we only have worth because we are wanted, then none of us possess any inherent value. And if this is true, there is no coherent basis for such a thing as human rights.

There are always two patients in the case of a mother pregnant with her child. What varies is not the reality or unreality of the second patient; what varies is our interest in acting as if human rights were either real, on the one hand, or merely a sometimes convenient fiction, on the other.

Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund

Knights of Columbus has announced the launch of the Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund, which is modeled on community foundations like The Cleveland Foundation or Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund will serve as a way for Catholics to create charitable funds and direct charitable giving on an individual, family, or community level. There’s nothing quite like this, and I expect it will become a major part of the culture of Knights of Columbus:

Knights of Columbus, one of the largest Catholic philanthropic organizations in the world, today announced a new affiliated vehicle for donors called “Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund” (KCCF). KCCF allows donors to open donor-driven accounts, recommend charities to which donations can be sent through a safe, secure and confidential portal.

Carl Anderson, CEO of Knights of Columbus, said, “Catholics today are looking for opportunities to demonstrate their faith and to support organizations that reflect their values. They want to direct their charity to organizations easily and efficiently.”

The addition of a donor-advised fund option satisfies a unique customer and market niche that is a powerful tool for maximizing philanthropic impact on organizations that align with Catholic values and teachings. Donor-advised funds have become the fastest-growing segment of charitable-giving vehicles due to their flexibility and simplicity. Assets in the donor-advised fund are invested tax-free with no distribution requirements, excise taxes, or other reporting requirements for the individual donor. Donors can make a current charitable contribution, receive an immediate potential tax benefit, and then recommend grants from the fund over time. And tax-free investing over time can result in larger ultimate gifts for charities.

Noa Pothoven’s suicide

Ross Douthat writes on the suicide of 17 year-old Noa Pothoven:

In the Netherlands, a depressed teenager … committed suicide at home, starving herself while parents and doctors offered palliative care. …

It remains shocking that a young woman’s parents and doctors would give up on treating her at seventeen and let her kill herself. And it remains shocking that Western nations are normalizing euthanasia for mental illness among otherwise healthy adults. …

When such a system emerges as a seemingly organic feature of the liberal order, what then should be your attitude toward liberalism itself? …

Liberalism has never done as well as it thinks at resolving its own crises. America’s gravest moral evil, chattel slavery, was defeated by an authoritarian president in a religious civil war, not by proceduralism or constitutional debate. The crisis of the 1930s ended happily for liberalism because a reactionary imperialist withstood Adolf Hitler and a revolutionary Bolshevik crushed him. The liberal peace that followed may depend on fear of the atomic bomb.

All of which hints that a genuinely post-liberal politics might, indeed, someday be required — to save liberal civilization from dystopia or disaster. The post-liberalisms presently on offer are not as serious as either their advocates hope or their critics fear. But if you cannot imagine ever being a post-liberal, left or right, you are not being serious either.

It couldn’t be clearer to me that the logic behind pro-suicide laws in the United States, which claim to be interested only in permitting suicide for those near death and with a terminal illness, will in time result in lawful suicide for practically anyone, in any condition. When a teenager’s suicide is affirmed and facilitated by both her family and the state, that’s a good indicator that the society has lost its ability to distinguish justice from injustice.

‘Incompatible with life’

Pope Francis recently witnessed to the importance of a humane attitude toward human life:

No human being can ever be incompatible with life, not due to his age, his health conditions, or the quality of his existence. Every child that enters a woman’s womb is a gift, which changes the story of a family: of a father and a mother, of grandparents and siblings. And this baby is in need of being received, loved and taken care of….

Yet, there is something that medicine knows well: children, who from the maternal womb show pathological conditions, are little patientswho not rarely can be cured with pharmacologic, surgical and extraordinary care interventions, now capable of reducing that terrible gap between diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities, which for years constituted one of the causes of voluntary abortion and abandonment of care at birth of so many children with serious pathologies. Fetal therapies on one hand and perinatal hospices on the other obtain surprising results in terms of clinical-assistance and provide essential support to families that accept the birth of a sick child….

Therefore, it’s indispensable that doctors have very clear not only the objective of the cure but the sacred value of human life, whose protection, in the end, rests on medical practice….

At the social level, the fear and hostility in meeting disabilities often induce to the choice of abortion, configuring it as a practice of “prevention.” However, the teaching of the Church on this point is clear: human life is sacred and inviolable and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective ends is energetically discouraged, as an expression of an inhuman eugenic mentality, which removes from the family the possibility to receive, embrace and love their weakest children. Sometimes we hear it said: “You, Catholics, don’t accept abortion, it’s the problem of your faith.” No, it’s a pre-religious problem. Let us not charge faith with something that has not been its responsibility since the beginning.  It’s a human problem….

Abortion is never the answer that women and families seek. Rather, it’s fear of the sickness and loneliness that makes parents hesitate. The difficulties of a practical order, both human and spiritual are undeniable, but precisely because of this the most incisive pastoral actions are urgent and necessary to support those that accept their sick children.

“No human being can ever be incompatible with life, not due to his age, his health conditions, or the quality of his existence.”

Human remains, abortion, and eugenics

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Box v. Planned Parenthood, ruling 7-2 that Indiana’s human fetal remains law is constitutional. Americans United for Life had filed a brief in support of Indiana’s law, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court because the Seventh Circuit had struck it down as unconstitutional:

Americans United for Life filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of Indiana on behalf of AUL and the Charlotte Lozier Institute, asking the Supreme Court to take the case to address this nationally important question. The brief explains that human fetuses are human beings, and as such, it was constitutional for Indiana to require the humane and dignified disposition of human fetal remains—especially in light of reports of an Indiana waste company dumping human fetal remains in landfills. 

“AUL is delighted that the Court agreed to address this important issue,” said AUL’s Litigation Counsel Rachel Morrison. “Without laws like Indiana’s fetal remains law, medical providers are free to dispose of human fetal remains by incineration with medical waste, by dumping in landfills, and even by burning the remains to generate energy. Indiana’s law recognizes the simple biological fact that human fetuses are human beings and, as such, should be treated with humanity and dignity whether in life or in death.”

Box v. Planned Parenthood is a major victory for life-affirming law and policy, because it is a de facto acknowledgement by the U.S. Supreme Court of the basic humanity of those once-living human beings whose lives were terminated through abortion. Where do human fetal remains comes from, but from human beings?

Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence is highly significant, because he uses Box v. Planned Parenthood to speak authoritatively on an aspect of the case that the Supreme Court has punted on, namely whether eugenic abortions (abortions for reasons of race, gender, disability, etc.) are permissible. Thomas writes powerfully on the history of eugenics and abortion, and concludes by getting to the heart of the matter, which is that abortion will continue to haunt the Supreme Court because it is the Supreme Court itself created the right to abortion and therefore will need to continue to legislate its boundaries so long as it continues to promote abortion as a legitimate human practice:

“This case highlights the fact that abortion is an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation. From the beginning, birth control and abortion were promoted as means of effectuating eugenics. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was particularly open about the fact that birth control could be used for eugenic purposes. These arguments about the eugenic potential for birth control apply with even greater force to abortion, which can be used to target specific children with unwanted characteristics. …

Today, nonwithstanding Sanger’s views on abortion, respondent Planned Parenthood promotes both birth control and abortion as ‘reproductive health services’ that can be used for family planning. And with today’s prenatal screening tests and other technologies, abortion can easily be used to eliminate children with unwanted characteristics.

“Indiana’s Legislature, on the 100th anniversary of its 1907 sterilization law, adopted a concurrent resolution formally ‘express[ing] its regret over Indiana’s role in the eugenics movement in this country and the injustices done under eugenic laws.’ Recognizing that laws implementing eugenic goals ‘targeted the most vulnerable among us, including the poor and racial minorities, … for the claimed purpose of public health and the good of the people,’ the General Assembly ‘urge[d] the citizens of Indiana to become familiar with the history of the eugenics movement’ and ‘repudiate the many laws passed in the name of eugenics and reject any such laws in the future.’

“In March 2016, the Indiana Legislature passed by wide margins the Sex-Selective and Disability Abortion Ban at issue here. Respondent Planned Parenthood promptly filed a lawsuit to block the law from going into effect, arguing that the Constitution categorically protects a woman’s right to abort her child based solely on the child’s race, sex, or disability. The District Court agreed, granting a preliminary injunction on the eve of the law’s effective date, followed by a permanent injunction. A panel of the Seventh Circuit affirmed. …

“Enshrining a constitutional right to an abortion based solely on race, sex, or disability of an unborn child, as Planned Parenthood advocates, would constitutionalize the vies of the 20th-century eugenics movement. In other contexts, the [U.S. Supreme] Court has been zealous in vindicating the rights of people even potentially subjected to race, sex, and disability discrimination. … Although the Court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever. Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this Court is dutybound to address its scope. In that regard, it is easy to understand why the District Court and the Seventh Circuit looked to Casey to resolve a question it did not address. Where else could they turn? The Constitution itself is silent on abortion.”

I want to highlight something from a footnote from Justice Ginsburg in Box v. Planned Parenthood, because it’s something that will only look worse with time. In responding to Justice Thomas’s concurrence, Justice Ginsburg asserts that pregnant women who choose to abort their children are not mothers: “a woman who exercises her constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy is not a ‘mother’”. While this might be causally accurate—in the sense that women whose children have died are no longer mothers—it’s neither intellectually nor scientifically coherent. Despite his rejection of her, Steve Jobs was the father of his daughter Lisa from the very first moment of her existence—and it’s no different for mothers, despite Justice Ginsburg’s tortured philosophy.