A National Emergency

October 25th, 2009

obama_sebeliusIn a surprise move to all (except maybe Glenn Beck), President Obama declared the swine flu a national emergency yesterday.

The move was “not in response to any single development,” officials said.  Rather, it was a “pre-emptive move designed to make decisions easier when they need to be made.”  It was also the second of two steps needed to give Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius extraordinary powers during a crisis.

Obama, too, could potentially start exercising extraordinary powers.  Harold Relyea, a specialist in national government with the Congressional Research Service, wrote,

When the President formally declares a national emergency, he may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.

Now, do I think it likely that Obama would actually declare martial law or seize all the broadcasting stations?  No.  On the other hand, having him declare a state of national emergency over what is really a rather mild health concern, especially one that grants extraordinary powers to a health official in favor of a government-run, single-payer health care system is not exactly the type of change I was hoping to see in this country when the man was elected.  And the “pre-emptive” nature of the declaration isn’t very comforting either.

As for the outbreak itself, according to the CDC there have been 411 confirmed deaths and approximately 8,000 hospitalizations due to swine flu so far.  Other reports have cited approximately 1,000 dead and 20,000 hospitalized.  But why either of these data sets make swine flu particularly dangerous is difficult to determine, as the national average for the flu is approximately 36,000 deaths per year and 200,000 hospitalizations.  Granted, swine flu’s not over yet, but you’d think we’d at least wait until death and hospitalization rates were above average before we started yelling that the sky was falling.

In short, Obama’s declaration is at best a bit of foolish political posturing.  At worst, it could be the first move in an attempt to speed through his pet 1,000 page health care monstrosity in best approved “Shock Doctrine” fashion.

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6 Responses to “A National Emergency”

  1. larry |

    Very insightful
    I tend to, because of my suspicious nature, view Obama’s motives as always self serving. I find much wisdom in your thoughts. To bad so many are still waiting for him to learn about what he is doing. Believe me when I say he already knows what he’s doing.

  2. Tom |

    I agree that this is strange. Everything I’m reading about the H1N1 epidemic leads me to believe that it’s been somewhat exaggerated — not that it isn’t serious — and that it certainly doesn’t justify a declaration of a national emergency. However, it may be helpful to local health officials.

    I also agree that at least to some extent it’s a political move to shift the national focus onto something more comfortable for the White House, where they can be seen to be doing something worthwhile.

    Here’s Mr. Relyea’s CRS Report for Congress on national emergency powers. It’s interesting.

    Larry, you wrote, “To bad so many are still waiting for him to learn about what he is doing. Believe me when I say he already knows what he’s doing.” Why?

  3. larry |

    It’s about power
    He has promoted the government into increased control of the the banks and financial system.
    He has managed to gain control of major corporations such as GM.
    Remember that GM and Chrysler support hundreds of smaller suppliers and their employee’s not to mention the employee’s of these two major auto builders.
    He pushed though cap and trade even though it was very unpopular.
    Only a fool would not see that he intends to control health care.
    If he could “parlay” this flu thing into a national emergency which he has, he can do all those nasty things Brianna mentioned including suspending the Constitution.
    Think about it. You on occasion question some of my more open ended pieces. They are that way on purpose, I’m attempting to get you to ask what if. Far to many Americans are comfortable in the assumption that such a thing could never happen here.

  4. Tom |

    Larry, these are issues of both what the facts really are and the relationship between facts and opinions. You may look at a certain set of facts and draw very specific opinions from those facts. I, or anyone else, may look at the same facts and interpret them very differently, arriving at very different opinions.

    A couple of things: Do you think Obama would have “promoted” control over a few major corporations if we hadn’t been in severe economic difficulty the day he took office? Why would you think that? Why didn’t he go after Ford the same way? And remember that if he had tried, absent the economic emergency, he couldn’t have done it.

    He hasn’t pushed through cap-and-trade, in fact. It’s still in Congress and can’t be expected to be passed before next year at the earliest. If it’s ever passed, it will be very different from what it is now.

    Do you really think he’ll push this national emergency declaration to do all sorts of draconian things? I don’t think so. If for no other reason, he couldn’t get away with it because of all the checks and balances in place. Read at least the beginning of the Relyea CRS report that I linked to.

  5. Brianna |

    I’d like to make an observation that I didn’t include in the article for the sake of brevity and b/c I was trying to stay on topic. When I was reading about the “national emergency” it rather astonished me just how many times the articles mentioned that the declaration would allow the government to either relax or temporarily lift this or that governmental regulation. It really makes one wonder just how pervasive government regulation already is in health care, and just who (government or the private sector) is responsible for what when it comes to our “broken system”.

  6. Brian Bagent |

    Brianna, no question that the bulk of the problems stem from government involvement. The only two areas of medicine that I can think of that are relatively unaffected by government money are LASER eye surgery and plastic surgery, both of which are very competitive markets for customers. LASER eye surgery, which requires expensive equipment to perform, has remained stable or gotten cheaper since it was first introduced. Contrast that with the expense a radiologist incurs for buying and running an MRI or Computerized Tomography equipment.

    My CT this summer, which took all of about 10 minutes to do, cost $7000, give or take a little. LASER eye surgery takes 30 minutes to an hour, and is a little bit more than half the price of having a CT done. While the MRI for my knee is “only” $850 (which all came out of my pocket – my deductible is about $1200), I had to pay for it. The indigent don’t pay anything or very little (maybe $5 or $10).

    When the end user of a thing has to cut a check, he is much more cognizant of the price, and will generally look for the best product he can get at the lowest price. When a 3rd party cuts the check, those constraints are gone, as I am certain you are aware.

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