I love the idea of an OPT-OUT option proposed in the health insurance legislation pending in Congress. In fact, I want to congratulate Harry Reid and the rest of our Representatives and Senators for devising this concept. To completely embrace the idea, I have one small caveat: the OPT-OUT concept must apply to all federal programs. It must further apply to virtually everything and anything the federal government involves itself in. The OPT-OUT option overcomes issues regarding the constitutionality of these programs. Quite simply, it won't matter if social security, health care, cap and trade, or any other federal program is constitutional or not; the individual can choose to fund or not fund a program for whatever reason. If you believe, as I do, the role of government is truly limited to the powers delegated in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, then by all means, do not fund programs that exceed those constitutional powers. Likewise, if you believe the general welfare clause of the Constitution is a broad grant of powers authorizing the federal government to fund and implement virtually any program Congress deems necessary, then by all means, fund the program. An OPT-OUT option for Social Security would allow the individual to choose whether he wants to be responsible for his own retirement or let the government take care of it. Those choosing to OPT-OUT would receive a lump-sum distribution of all payments they and their employers have made on their behalf (currently 12.4% of all earnings capped at a specified level each year), and would not be allowed to collect any social security benefits. An OPT-OUT option for Medicare would allow the individual to choose whether she wants to be responsible for her health insurance coverage or she wants to enroll in the federally run Medicare program. Those choosing to OPT-OUT would receive a lump-sum distribution of all payments they and their employers have made on their behalf (currently 2.9% of all earnings), and would not be allowed to enroll in Medicare. An OPT-OUT option on a federal program-by-program basis allows the individual to determine where he want his tax money spent. Simply add a new Internal Revenue Service tax form itemizing the programs and allow the individual to determine which programs his taxes can be applied to. This places responsibility firmly upon the individual, as he can determine which programs he wants to fund and which programs not to fund. Citizens no longer need to rely upon Congress to make these decisions for them; they basically direct the money to the appropriate programs and the programs either fund themselves or they do not. This eliminates the arbitrary process of Congress, federal government agencies, or bureaucrats deciding where and how to spend your hard-earned money. Those who oppose programs such as the Central Intelligence Agency would simply indicate that they don't want their tax money allocated for that purpose. For those who oppose programs that allocate block grant funds to states, you would simply indicate you don't want your tax money allocated for that purpose.
Furthermore, I'd suggest an OPT-IN option for those that believe in more taxation. They can voluntarily contribute additional monies to the federal government and direct those funds to programs they support.
Essentially, the OPT-OUT concept is a referendum on responsibility. The OPT-OUT option allows the individual to claim responsibility for her decisions, her actions, and the subsequent outcomes. Consequently, the individual choosing to OPT-OUT prefers liberty and property rights. Alternatively, the OPT-OUT option allows an individual to forgo personal responsibility, grants authority to the federal government to make decisions on her behalf, and subsequent outcomes are determined by agencies and bureaucrats in a faraway city. The individual choosing not to OPT-OUT prefers big government, minimal liberty (if any) and forgoes most property rights (if not all of them).
The choice to OPT-OUT or OPT-IN represents a dichotomy on the current state of affairs. On one hand, we have those choosing to retain liberty, property rights, and personal responsibility of their lives. The more responsibility one takes for himself and his family, the more liberty and property rights he retains. Conversely, those relinquishing their liberty and property rights take less responsibility for their lives, therefore voluntarily handing over personal responsibility to the federal government. The level of personal responsibility one chooses directly relates to the level of liberty and property rights he retains.
To those pundits who declare that liberals and progressives are compassionate while conservatives are not, I counter that compassion is individual, not collective. It is virtuous only when voluntary. People possess the capacity for compassion; governments do not. Confiscating one's liberty and property against her will through coercion so that some bureaucrat can arbitrarily decide how to spend her money isn't compassion; rather, it is a form of thievery and a violation of property rights. To imply a bureaucrat in some faraway federal agency knows better than you how to allocate your money is absurd.
Liberals and progressives strive for a participatory democracy. Conservatives strive for personal responsibility, liberty, and property rights. I do believe that an across-the-board OPT-OUT choice is a viable solution for both sides.