By Dan Schneider

Don't undermine America's charitable, volunteer ethic

Who really cares?

When it comes to helping people in need, AEI president Arthur Brooks answers this question in his 2006 book of the same title, and it should be no surprise that the answer is: Americans.

Compared to other nations, Americans (and especially, conservative Americans) give more of their money, more of their time, and even more of their blood to help people in need. However, Brooks is not the first to note America’s altruistic tradition.

French diplomat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville educated the world about this uniquely American trait in his 1835 seminal work, “Democracy in America”. In it, Tocqueville writes:

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite … to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find (a voluntary) association.”

These private “associations” were later coined the “independent sector” by Richard Cornuelle in his 1965 book, “Reclaiming the American Dream”,in which he explains that “by assuming a major role in meeting public needs, thus leaving less to government, (voluntarism) made it possible for us to build a humane society and a free society together.”

As conservatives, we believe in limiting government to its essential role — defending life, liberty, property and the rights of people. But limiting the size of government is not the actual goal we are pursuing. Instead, we believe our ideas better enable people to live more dignified and fulfilled lives.

Conservatives thus believe that individuals are responsible for voluntarily aiding one another. In essence, we believe we are indeed our brother’s keeper. Liberals, on the other hand, generally seek to collectivize this responsibility, placing the onus for doing good on government. We conservatives find two faults in the liberal approach. First, government almost always provides inferior service to those who need help, and at a higher expense, compared to the private sector. Second, expanding the role of government necessarily limits the role of the individual and encroaches on the freedoms we are meant to enjoy.

The devolution of personal responsibility started during the Depression; the Great Society then made Washington, D.C., the dominant leader in caring for people in poverty. The battle between how to balance the role of private charity against the power of the state has persisted, and it reached its zenith during the Obama Administration.

From the onset of his presidency, Obama sought to reduce charitable deductions to fund the vast expansion of government (e.g. ObamaCare, stimulus programs, etc.). This would have further discouraged charitable giving and continued the forced transfer of responsibility from individuals to the state. While this tax hike failed, the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce charity extended into its waning hours.

Just one month before the inauguration of President Trump, the Obama administration triedbut failed, to promulgate a midnight rule to overturn “charitable premium assistance” (CPA), a policy which helps cover the cost of premiums for tens-of-thousands of the half-a-million Americans receiving dialysis for end-stage renal disease, an advanced state of kidney disease that disproportionately affects minority and low-income individuals.

Recently, several signatories like sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azarasking him to terminate this voluntary charity program. They singled out the American Kidney Fund (AKF) in their letter.

Some think that only ObamaCare and government-controlled insurance companies should be permitted to cover costly medical care. But it has been HHS policy for nearly 20 years that individuals and private charitable organizations, like the American Kidney Fund (AKF), should be allowed to ease financial burdens.

Because dialysis often involves more than a dozen hours of treatment per week, 70 percent of patients are not able to work full-time. Utilizing the charitable premium assistance provision, AKF assures that nearly 100,000 dialysis patients — most of them minorities — have access to health care. In fact, 1 in 5 dialysis patients receive treatment with assistance from AKF, according to that organization.

Voluntarism is truly a cornerstone of American culture, and private philanthropy is the foundation on which it stands. Tocqueville wrote, “the health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”

Liberals want government action to dominate the way we take care of people in need. But progressives should join conservatives in support of private initiatives that help those in need. We should all stand in favor of private philanthropy and encourage Secretary Azar to preserve our uniquely American culture of the independent sector.

Originally posted in The Hill.