Overhauling the nation's dysfunctional health care system has become an issue that has divided the country and sparked intense debates in town hall meetings from coast to coast.
South Carolina's junior senator, Republican Jim DeMint, has been at the center of the storm on several occasions for his fiery comments on the Democrats' controversial health care reform plan and its potential effects on President Obama's political future.
DeMint generated further debate this week when he told The Post and Courier he considered health care to be a privilege for Americans rather than a right.
"I do think in our country and in any civil society there should be a safety net for basic health and food and shelter, but that doesn't mean that the whole system should be designed around the belief that people can't make their own decisions, can't be responsible for themselves," he said.
Some pundits thought DeMint was way off base. Others thought he was right on the money.
The Post and Courier asked other members of South Carolina's congressional delegation to weigh in on the same question: Do people have a right to health care, and what obligation does government have to provide a safety net for those who cannot afford coverage?
All responded, with the exception of Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was traveling outside the country. But in late June he told ABC News corrsepondent George Stephanopoulos a government-run health care plan "would be devastating for this country." He added, "The last thing in the world I think Democrats and Republicans are going to do at the end of the day is create a government-run health care system where you've got a bureaucrat standing in between the patient and the doctor."
U.S. Rep. John Spratt, who is recovering from foot surgery, did not address the question directly, but his staff provided a prior written statement that summed up his views on the health care debate.
Not surprisingly, most of their views closely followed partisan lines. Below are excerpts from the lawmakers' statements:
Rep. Bob Inglis, Republican from the 4th District:
"Health care is not a right. I have no right to health care, to food or to shelter. I do have a right to work, though. And I have an obligation as a member of Judeo-Christian society to make provision for these things, for 'the least of these,' in the things of food, shelter and health care. One of the best ways to be my brother's keeper is to keep free enterprise flourishing so that he has a job."
Rep. Jim Clyburn, House majority whip and Democrat from the 6th District:
"I, for one, believe that quality, affordable health care should be just as much a right as an education. The vitality and viability of our country depends on the vitality and viability of our citizens. Providing health care to only those who can afford the privilege is against our moral and ethical foundation as a nation, and will ultimately undermine our long-term success."
Rep. Henry Brown, Republican from the 1st District:
"Individuals have a right to purchase health care (or not to), just as they have a right to pursue happiness, and that right makes the individual free to choose. But when Democrats say that health care is a 'right,' they are both taking away our right to action by obligating us to provide to others, and being disingenuous. In countries where there is a "right to health care," i.e., where there is a nationalized health care system, that right is being violated all the time whenever citizens seeking care cannot receive it in proper or timely fashion -- if at all.
"We should certainly have a safety net for people who aren't able to get care, or who can't afford the insurance to pay for their care, but we should do it in a way that preserves their right to choice. ... To improve our current safety net, Medicaid and SCHIP beneficiaries would be given the option of a voucher to purchase private insurance, so they could take control of their health decisions. These reforms would make good health insurance more affordable for all Americans, while also empowering them with the freedom to makes their health care decisions themselves."
Re. Gresham Barrett, Republican from the 3rd District:
"While I do not believe health care is a right, I feel strongly that coverage is a need best met through the private sector. Certainly our system needs reform. Patients should have greater access to more affordable care, but giving the government a monopoly on health care would hold tremendously negative consequences for our families and for our economy. The American people have made it clear; they do not want government run health care."
Rep. Joe Wilson, Republican from the 2nd District:
"Health care is a privilege but one that should be affordable and accessible to all Americans. To declare health care as a right, the government would be empowered and obligated to insure its citizens. I'm not comfortable giving the government power over an individual's health care decisions. A government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take it away."
Rep. John Spratt, Democrat from the 5th District:
"I understand the sentiment of those who are calling us to say that they do not want their medical care delivered from Washington. But I also understand that 50 percent of all health care in this country is either paid for or provided through the federal government. ... Our health care system is in need of reform, but we need to be wary of the cost and complexity, and we should choose among the best proposals in the House, Senate, and White House. ... We have the best health care in the world, bar none, but it is also the most costly, and access is not assured to the 46 million who lack insurance coverage."
Schuyler Kropf and Robert Behre contributed to this report.