Bill Murchison
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"Compromise," in President Obama's lexicon, has a funny meaning. It means -- with respect to the row over forcing religious employers to provide health insurance for contraception -- "Oh, all right, if you're going to be that way about it, we'll make the insurance companies provide the coverage. Will that make you shut up now?"

It won't, I trust. It manifestly shouldn't.

Shall we try to embarrass the president by examining the principle actually at stake here? The principle Obama wishes Americans to understand is that he cares; specifically, he cares about women who regard access to contraception and abortion as fundamental American rights.

This thing isn't about contraception, nonetheless. It's about federal power and how much of it, under the Constitution, a president can legitimately wield. When it comes to health care -- the umbrella policy area for contraception - it's increasingly clear that Obama thinks he can pretty much act as he wants.

The federal mandate to buy health insurance -- awaiting some kind of judgment sometime this year by the U. S. Supreme Court -- is the key factor in the health care equation. Because the government best understands our needs, or so administration officials helpfully suggest, it can oblige the purchase of a product many may not desire to purchase.

The contraception "compromise" is very much a spoonful of that unpromising brew. The same old principle -- government coercion -- still obtains. That is, maybe this time the administration won't insist that religious institutions opposed to contraception pay from their own pockets for insurance to cover what they oppose. The insurance companies, it seems, will provide the coverage themselves.

They will? With whose money? Presumably all policyholders will pay, never mind their individual convictions regarding services not readily equated, due to the moral questions at stake, with tuberculosis and irritable bowel syndrome.

Under the Obama "compromise" women (read: "women voters") demanding the services promised in the original order still get them; the identity of the payer stays under wraps. And a species of behavior at the center of a great moral debate wins a hearty, federal back-pat. Whatever the government decrees, enforcing payment for it one way or another, must no longer be construed as morally dubious.

End of debate. See Swami Obama: Great Moral Questions Resolved; Doubts Instantly Swept Away. What objections would remain to the principle of taxpayer-funded abortions under the great health care apparatus now abuilding? None.

Not one, either, concerning other sudden discoveries of New Federal Rights. While the mainstream media gorge on commentary about contraception ("... birth control is not a frill that can be lightly dropped to avoid offending bishops" -- Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times), the underlying issue strains for attention. Where does the power to decree contraceptive coverage reside in the Constitution? Are there still limits to government power? Where? What are they? Hadn't we better find out pronto?

The pending Supreme Court case over the health care mandate is a facet of the federal power question. Just because somebody wants something and Congress is delighted to say yes, does that mean Congress has the power to say it? Such is the question at stake with regard to health care.

American liberalism's quest for new rights and privileges to offer voters is straining already the system's capacity to comply, and not just economically, though that's obviously a major question for a country whose president this week introduced a budget that happens to be a trifling $1.3 trillion in the red.

The second question is larger still: How do we endure as a land of liberty if the national government and its leaders can get by with doing as they like, when they like, for whom they like, never looking for justification apart from the nebulous desire to do good; never giving ground when blocked temporarily; ever finding new streams for their compassion and love of humanity?

In Obama's "contraception" game the stakes just keep growing -- power or liberty. Give the president some credit, even so. The cards he has heretofore been holding now lie on the table, face up for all to see.

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Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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