- - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

June is shaping up to be a pivotal month for American liberty. On one front, the Supreme Court is expected in June to hand down its decision on the constitutionality of Obamacare, specifically, the individual mandate provision of President Obama’s signature health care law, which requires Americans to purchase health insurance or face government sanction.

The stakes could not be higher: Should the court uphold the individual mandate, it effectively will have abolished the limited, constitutional republic the Founding Fathers created more than two centuries ago. The government of the United States will have undergone a paradigm shift. With no legal constraints on its power over the lives of its citizens, Obamacare will serve as precedent for an ever-expanding, ever-ravenous federal bureaucracy with license to dictate anything that may impact your health - in other words, everything. As Justice Antonin Scalia asked administration lawyers in March, “If the government can do this, what else can it not do?”

Indeed, a government that can force citizens to purchase a private product is a government that no longer distinguishes between public and private.

On another front, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is facing a union-driven recall election on June 5, the repercussions of which could reverberate around the country and perhaps the world.

For decades, public-sector unions have gained access to government treasuries via a singular, corrupt process: Unions spend millions to elect politicians who then repay their union masters with ever-larger and more generous salary and benefit packages. The tab for this largesse, of course, is picked up by the taxpayer, driving the budget crises that are afflicting municipalities and states across the country.

Now some mayors and governors are fighting back. Shortly after taking office as Wisconsin’s new governor in early 2011, Mr. Walker pushed a series of collective-bargaining reforms as part of a comprehensive effort to grapple with the state’s gargantuan deficit, a fiscal hole driven in large part by the high costs of the Badger State’s public-sector workforce. Mr. Walker’s law, among other things, requires state workers to contribute more toward their health plans and limits collective bargaining for most public workers to wages.

Unions went ballistic over these very reasonable - and eminently necessary - limits to their power and immediately instigated a recall election that, were Mr. Walker to lose, would put the survival of his reforms in jeopardy. This would have a chilling effect on any future politicians contemplating wresting power from labor bosses to save their books. As Iain Murray, author of “Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You,” put it, “The long-term consequence of a Walker defeat would be the message that taking on public-sector labor unions is political suicide. That would be disaster for any hope of significant public-sector reform. Big government would be here to stay.”

Fortunately, signs are that both in Wisconsin and in the Supreme Court, liberty may yet prevail. Justices shredded the ridiculous arguments made by administration lawyers during oral arguments on the individual mandate, perhaps portending Obamacare’s demise. In Wisconsin, Mr. Walker’s reforms are providing a shot in the arm to the state economy. Once faced with a $3.6 billion deficit, Wisconsin is projecting a surplus for the first time in more than 15 years.

So successful have the collective-bargaining reforms been, in fact, that even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, generally no friend of the governor (or any Republican) was forced to admit: “The governor did balance the budget … he did reduce the structural deficit significantly; he did put a lid on property tax increases; he did give schools and municipalities more control over their budgets than they’ve had in years.” And the public has noticed these successes: One recent poll found Mr. Walker leading his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, 50 percent to 42 percent.

Mr. Walker’s reforms may survive, and Obamacare may perish. That would make June a great month for both fiscal sanity and personal liberty.

Matt Patterson was a contributor to “Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation” (HarperCollins, 2010).

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