Health-care arguments boil over outside court

Think you’ve already heard every possible argument against the health-insurance reform now known as Obamacare? Then I’m going to guess you weren’t there when conservative Iowa congressman Steve King stepped to the portable lectern in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning and, repeating the words scribbled on a handmade sign being waved around over his head by a man in a cowboy hat, warned the government to “Keep your law off my BODY!!’’

There was a kind of “Freaky Friday”-meets-the-county-fair vibe outside the high court as King and other tea-partying speakers not only appropriated the lingo of abortion rights but at one point chanted, “We! Are! The 99 percent!’’

Inside the building, robed justices were hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the health-care law’s “individual mandate.” Originally a conservative concept, it would impose a modest fine on those who won’t buy insurance, even with the help of subsidies, instead of allowing them to continue passing the cost of their “liberty” on to those of us who are insured.

And outside the court, conservatives unexpectedly enlivened the day by talking like liberals. In the fieriest conservative speech of the morning — outside the court, anyway — 32-year-old Keli Carender, a math teacher turned full-time tea party employee from Seattle, even inveighed against patriarchy.

“I’m the breadwinner in my family, my mother was the breadwinner in our family, and I don’t need anyone to take care of me!’’ she told cheering fellow conservatives. Which is not a message I ever recall reading in the Schlafly Report. “Real women buy their own birth control,’’ she said in conclusion, as her cohorts chanted, “Obamacare is doom,” and held aloft the likeness of the late provocateur Andrew Breitbart.

Speaker after anti-Obamacare speaker ridiculed Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker who pushed through the historic health-care bill. “I don’t want Nancy Pelosi to force me to buy insurance to find out what’s in it,’’ said Hadley Heath of the Independent Women’s Forum, paraphrasing Pelosi’s now-famous line. But two years later, it’s the bill’s chief critics who still don’t know what’s in it. Or if they do, they’re not letting on.

One of their major knocks on the bill Tuesday was that it would ration diagnostic tests and treatment for women with breast cancer. “If you want to protect women’s health, knock down this law,’’ said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), citing a constituent who he said had told him that the United Kingdom’s nationalized health-care system was responsible for her mother’s death of breast cancer.

As has been pointed out thousands of times, “Obamacare” mostly regulates private insurance companies and nationalizes nothing, though it does expand Medicaid. But when I had breast cancer 10 and again nine years ago, the “bureaucrats” employed by my private insurance company definitely did ration my care — and made me pay out of pocket for $26,000 of it, not that that figure is forever burned in my brain or anything.

Another conservative speaker referred to the bill as the “abortion pill mandate.”

Some who disagreed with that characterization were marching around in a circle shouting, “Protect health care, protect the law” — and were noticeably less energetic than the tea party crowd.

But not all of the pro-reform marchers looked like they were on the union clock; in fact, I couldn’t hear everything Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was saying thanks to the vocal stylings of a woman yelling, “We love Obamacare,” in my ear.

“Socialism . . . socialism . . . socialism,’’ Bachmann seemed to be saying. And this: “We were told health-care costs would drop dramatically under Obamacare, but just the opposite has happened.” Could that be because most of the law hasn’t yet taken effect and won’t for another two years?

The most surprising part of the pushback against the law for me, as the daughter of intense Republicans, is the part where conservatives hold high the banner of freeloader rights, claiming each American’s God-given and constitutionally guaranteed ability to fob our health-care costs off onto others.

But if the law is allowed to stand, Bachmann maintains, then the next thing we know, the government will be claiming that it also has “the right to tell you you have to buy vegetables” — oh snap, Michelle Obama — “or a gym membership.”

Okay, now she’s scaring me.

And it wouldn’t stop there. “If they can tell you you have to buy insurance, they can tell you you have to buy health food,’’ the Republican Rep. King said ominously. “Or that you can’t eat a nice, juicy, Grade A steak.”

The Iowan even argued against what you might call the ultimate mandate — the fact that, being mortal, we will all get sick and need medical care at some point. “There have always been, in every state,’’ he insisted, “people who have lived long, healthy lives and never participated in health care.”

For the record, I’m all for repealing mortality, too. And now that I think of it, for warding off that eventuality with nice, juicy steaks. But if that doesn’t work, conservatives are counting on activist judges to save their bacon.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors She the People. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.
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