Commentary Magazine


Topic: Christmas Eve

Call It Cynicism Squared

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

Peter Wehner referred earlier this week to President Obama’s “cynical maneuvering” in arguing, prior to the passage of ObamaCare, that the penalty to enforce the individual mandate was not a “tax” — only to have his lawyers argue, after passage, that it was constitutional precisely because it was a “tax.”

There was another bit of cynical maneuvering regarding another ObamaCare provision, also relating to its characterization as a “tax.” Judge Hudson’s opinion in Virginia v. Sebelius sheds light on the common denominator of both maneuvers.

In ruling that the individual-mandate penalty is not a “tax,” Judge Hudson noted the “unequivocal denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that the [legislation] was a tax.” He referenced the Christmas Eve maneuver in the Senate:

Earlier versions of the bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the more politically toxic term “tax” … Each of these earlier versions specifically employed the word “tax” as opposed to “penalty” for the sanction for noncompliance.

In the final version of the [bill] enacted by the Senate on December 24, 2009, the term “penalty” was substituted for “tax” … This shift in terminology during the final hours preceding an extremely close floor vote undermines the contention that the terms “penalty” and “tax” are synonymous.” [Opinion at pp. 33-34]

As I have previously noted, the day before the House vote on ObamaCare, the name of the new “Medicare Tax” on investment income was changed to a “Medicare Contribution.” But the “contribution” had nothing to do with Medicare, since none of the revenue went to the Medicare Trust Fund but instead was designated for the general fund, to be spent for non-Medicare purposes. Like the Christmas Eve maneuver, however, the change avoided the politically toxic term “tax.”

The common goal of these maneuvers was to avoid a political problem for President Obama. He had rejected, in absolute terms, on national television, the idea that the enforcement mechanism for the individual mandate was a tax; when its name was changed to a “penalty,” it was neither an inadvertent nor insignificant change. Likewise, changing the “Medicare Tax” to a “contribution” solved the problem of imposing a substantial new tax on investment income when there was already a plan to increase the tax substantially later by having the Bush tax rates expire.

The solution in both situations was to change the name so that neither the “penalty” nor the “contribution” was a “tax.” The “Medicare Contribution” label reached a new high in legislative cynicism. Is there a name for passing a “Medicare Contribution” in which both words in the name are disingenuous?

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RE: Obama’s Lousy Record on Religious Freedom

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

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Did Democrats Get the Message?

The Wall Street Journal editors note:

In their seven stages of national health-care grief, Democrats are still hovering somewhere between shock and denial. The strategy seems to be to hold off for a bit and then continue the same march—or as Mr. Obama put it in Nashua, New Hampshire earlier this week, “We’ve got to punch it through.”

The White House and Congressional leadership doesn’t seem to have learned anything substantive from an historic electoral rebuke, and even its political lessons are badly amiss. If they thought ObamaCare was controversial before, they haven’t seen anything yet.

The main liberal coping mechanism is to blame the grubby political process. Sure, 54% of the public may oppose ObamaCare, according to the latest polling average at Real Clear Politics, with only 37% in favor. But what Democrats claim really cost them was buying Ben Nelson’s vote with special Medicaid dispensations for Nebraska.

There are several problems with this. For starters, the Democrats are calling voters dopes, which is never a good idea. And second, they are highlighting their own lack of basic political skills (i.e., the inability to explain their policy ideas to the public) and confessing to their own corruption. But all this is preferable in their own minds, I suppose, to confessing that their policy judgment was flawed. Because to do that would be to acknowledge that the cornerstone of their ultra-liberal agenda is not politically viable, that the country really doesn’t want to be herded into the offices of Big Insurance, and that a jumbo tax-and-spend scheme is freaking out independent voters, who now regard the Democrats as fiscally irresponsible. Better, then, to insult the voters and cop a plea to imagined failings.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary gimmickery isn’t quite over. As the editors explain:

While Mr. Obama hasn’t taken a public position on the political way forward, we hear the White House is privately urging Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to “punch it through” with the budget reconciliation process. The House would pass the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill, then “fix” it with amendments that would require a bare partisan majority of 50 Senators (plus the Vice President) after only 20 hours of debate. Never before has this process been used for social and economic legislation of this magnitude.

This is where we left off in the Christmas-time scramble to pass ObamaCare, isn’t it? Procedural tricks, rushed votes, and no input from the minority. It doesn’t seem that the Scott Brown epic upset has really sunk in if they’re serious. But perhaps this is part of a grand show to keep the netroot base from going bonkers and to bide time. After all, who thinks the votes are still there to pass the same monstrous bill that helped vault Brown into the Senate? Not even the Pelosi-Reid-Obama triumvirate could be that daft, could it? I suppose we’ll find out if months more of pushing a grossly unpopular bill while unemployment remains sky high is really the way for Democrats to get back in the voters’ good graces.

The Wall Street Journal editors note:

In their seven stages of national health-care grief, Democrats are still hovering somewhere between shock and denial. The strategy seems to be to hold off for a bit and then continue the same march—or as Mr. Obama put it in Nashua, New Hampshire earlier this week, “We’ve got to punch it through.”

The White House and Congressional leadership doesn’t seem to have learned anything substantive from an historic electoral rebuke, and even its political lessons are badly amiss. If they thought ObamaCare was controversial before, they haven’t seen anything yet.

The main liberal coping mechanism is to blame the grubby political process. Sure, 54% of the public may oppose ObamaCare, according to the latest polling average at Real Clear Politics, with only 37% in favor. But what Democrats claim really cost them was buying Ben Nelson’s vote with special Medicaid dispensations for Nebraska.

There are several problems with this. For starters, the Democrats are calling voters dopes, which is never a good idea. And second, they are highlighting their own lack of basic political skills (i.e., the inability to explain their policy ideas to the public) and confessing to their own corruption. But all this is preferable in their own minds, I suppose, to confessing that their policy judgment was flawed. Because to do that would be to acknowledge that the cornerstone of their ultra-liberal agenda is not politically viable, that the country really doesn’t want to be herded into the offices of Big Insurance, and that a jumbo tax-and-spend scheme is freaking out independent voters, who now regard the Democrats as fiscally irresponsible. Better, then, to insult the voters and cop a plea to imagined failings.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary gimmickery isn’t quite over. As the editors explain:

While Mr. Obama hasn’t taken a public position on the political way forward, we hear the White House is privately urging Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to “punch it through” with the budget reconciliation process. The House would pass the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill, then “fix” it with amendments that would require a bare partisan majority of 50 Senators (plus the Vice President) after only 20 hours of debate. Never before has this process been used for social and economic legislation of this magnitude.

This is where we left off in the Christmas-time scramble to pass ObamaCare, isn’t it? Procedural tricks, rushed votes, and no input from the minority. It doesn’t seem that the Scott Brown epic upset has really sunk in if they’re serious. But perhaps this is part of a grand show to keep the netroot base from going bonkers and to bide time. After all, who thinks the votes are still there to pass the same monstrous bill that helped vault Brown into the Senate? Not even the Pelosi-Reid-Obama triumvirate could be that daft, could it? I suppose we’ll find out if months more of pushing a grossly unpopular bill while unemployment remains sky high is really the way for Democrats to get back in the voters’ good graces.

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Moving on from ObamaCare

The Wall Street Journal editors crack: “Progressives of the world are demanding that the House stage a Pickett’s charge and pass the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill, as if it were all merely a matter of political will.” But alas, there is the matter of the votes. And there is no majority in or out of Congress for a massive health-care bill of the type Obama spent a year pushing. The editors dryly observe, “The real problem is that ObamaCare is a deeply unpopular bill—even in Massachusetts.”

So what’s next? Some Democrats actually would rather do nothing. Move on to jobs. Let the public cool down. Don’t remind the voters of why they hate closed-door deal makers. You can see their point. But it is not as if something couldn’t be done. And now, with ObamaCare finally at death’s door, alternative proposals could actually get some consideration:

An incremental reform could use targeted individual tax credits to help the uninsured buy coverage immediately—while gradually shifting the tax code away from its current bias for workplace insurance only, without cannibalizing people’s current coverage. States could be encouraged to experiment with Medicaid block grants, or to set up “exchanges” in which insurers would be held accountable but also compete to offer the benefit mix that consumers find most valuable.

And then there is tort reform, which to everyone — other than trial lawyers — makes eminent sense and can eliminate excess cost without adversely affecting care.

Republicans who have circulated numerous market-oriented proposals might actually get a hearing now. Reps. Paul Ryan and Tom Price and Sen. Jim DeMint, among others, had conservative plans that never got consideration as long as the Congress was fixated on an uber scheme with government in command of the health-care system. Ironically, it may be the Republicans who now want to let the public hear their ideas and the Democrats who’d rather lick their wounds and change the topic.

Whether an alternative, focused set of proposals emerge or not, remains to be seen. The Washington establishment is stunned and it will take some time, I suspect, for everyone to recover their bearings. However things progress from here, we should keep one thing in mind: As in medicine, the first rule of legislation should be “do no harm.” A great deal of harm has been averted and for that we should all be very grateful.

The Wall Street Journal editors crack: “Progressives of the world are demanding that the House stage a Pickett’s charge and pass the Senate’s Christmas Eve bill, as if it were all merely a matter of political will.” But alas, there is the matter of the votes. And there is no majority in or out of Congress for a massive health-care bill of the type Obama spent a year pushing. The editors dryly observe, “The real problem is that ObamaCare is a deeply unpopular bill—even in Massachusetts.”

So what’s next? Some Democrats actually would rather do nothing. Move on to jobs. Let the public cool down. Don’t remind the voters of why they hate closed-door deal makers. You can see their point. But it is not as if something couldn’t be done. And now, with ObamaCare finally at death’s door, alternative proposals could actually get some consideration:

An incremental reform could use targeted individual tax credits to help the uninsured buy coverage immediately—while gradually shifting the tax code away from its current bias for workplace insurance only, without cannibalizing people’s current coverage. States could be encouraged to experiment with Medicaid block grants, or to set up “exchanges” in which insurers would be held accountable but also compete to offer the benefit mix that consumers find most valuable.

And then there is tort reform, which to everyone — other than trial lawyers — makes eminent sense and can eliminate excess cost without adversely affecting care.

Republicans who have circulated numerous market-oriented proposals might actually get a hearing now. Reps. Paul Ryan and Tom Price and Sen. Jim DeMint, among others, had conservative plans that never got consideration as long as the Congress was fixated on an uber scheme with government in command of the health-care system. Ironically, it may be the Republicans who now want to let the public hear their ideas and the Democrats who’d rather lick their wounds and change the topic.

Whether an alternative, focused set of proposals emerge or not, remains to be seen. The Washington establishment is stunned and it will take some time, I suspect, for everyone to recover their bearings. However things progress from here, we should keep one thing in mind: As in medicine, the first rule of legislation should be “do no harm.” A great deal of harm has been averted and for that we should all be very grateful.

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ObamaCare and Scott Brown

Right now, we hear talk that Democrats are coming up with plans to push through health care even if Scott Brown wins the Senate race in Massachusetts tomorrow. According to the New York Times, “Plan B would be to try to persuade House Democrats to approve the health care bill that the Senate adopted on Christmas Eve, obviating the need for an additional Senate vote and sending the measure directly to President Obama for his signature.” Or they will try passing the bill before Brown is seated, it is said, or they will try passing health care through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 Senate votes.

Democrats, I think, are deluding themselves.

All this talk fails to account for the magnitude of a Democratic loss in Massachusetts. That would, by itself, set off a terrifically powerful political chain reaction. The notion that Democrats would simply need a new tactic, as if the only thing to have changed were a single seat in the U.S. Senate, is silly.

Why? Because we will wake up to an entirely different political world on Wednesday if Scott Brown defeats Martha Coakley tomorrow. It is hard to overstate the panic (and recriminations) that will ensue among Democrats. It will be massive. The entire political and legislative dynamic will change. And the warning many of us have long been sending to Democrats will finally have broken through: passing ObamaCare is worse than passing nothing at all.

If the current polls hold up, and Scott Brown wins — which is likely at this point — ObamaCare may well die as a result of the massive wound inflicted by voters in the Bay State. Now wouldn’t that be an irony?

Right now, we hear talk that Democrats are coming up with plans to push through health care even if Scott Brown wins the Senate race in Massachusetts tomorrow. According to the New York Times, “Plan B would be to try to persuade House Democrats to approve the health care bill that the Senate adopted on Christmas Eve, obviating the need for an additional Senate vote and sending the measure directly to President Obama for his signature.” Or they will try passing the bill before Brown is seated, it is said, or they will try passing health care through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 Senate votes.

Democrats, I think, are deluding themselves.

All this talk fails to account for the magnitude of a Democratic loss in Massachusetts. That would, by itself, set off a terrifically powerful political chain reaction. The notion that Democrats would simply need a new tactic, as if the only thing to have changed were a single seat in the U.S. Senate, is silly.

Why? Because we will wake up to an entirely different political world on Wednesday if Scott Brown defeats Martha Coakley tomorrow. It is hard to overstate the panic (and recriminations) that will ensue among Democrats. It will be massive. The entire political and legislative dynamic will change. And the warning many of us have long been sending to Democrats will finally have broken through: passing ObamaCare is worse than passing nothing at all.

If the current polls hold up, and Scott Brown wins — which is likely at this point — ObamaCare may well die as a result of the massive wound inflicted by voters in the Bay State. Now wouldn’t that be an irony?

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Justice Brandeis, Call Your Office

The Times this morning ran a story on yet another fiddle that has been uncovered from the depths of the health-reform bill that passed in the Senate on Christmas Eve. This one favors construction unions. While, under the act, most companies with fewer than 50 employees would not have to provide government-mandated health insurance or pay a tax, those in the construction business would be exempt only if they have fewer than five employees. At least the Times notes that:

The construction industry provision is receiving a second look as work begins in earnest this week to resolve differences in bills passed by the Senate and the House to remake the nation’s health care system. Other provisions sure to be scrutinized include a tax break for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan in Nebraska; Medicare coverage for residents of Libby, Mont., sickened by a mineral mine; extra Medicaid money for Massachusetts, Nebraska and Vermont; and a special dispensation for a handful of doctor-owned hospitals.

One would hope that the endless number of constitutionally dubious provisions, including such lulus as requiring a supermajority in the Senate to repeal certain portions of the act, will also get a second look.

Of course, it may be that these provisions end up rescuing the country from this dreadful legislation. In 1933, at the very end of his 100 days, Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the National Industrial Recovery Act. Title II of that act established one of the New Deal’s most famous agencies, the Public Works Administration (PWA), which would build across the country post offices, highways, dams, etc. But Title I of the NIRA established the National Recovery Administration (NRA). It authorized the president to regulate industry, including the establishment of cartels and monopolies, to set prices, and, in effect, oversee the entire American economy, much as today’s health bill would regulate the health-care industry.

It was a breathtaking expansion of federal power and, for a while, the NRA’s symbol — a blue eagle with a gear wheel in one claw and lightning bolts in the other — and its slogan, “We Do Our Part,” were everywhere. But two years later, the Supreme Court ruled in a famous case, Schechter Poultry  Corp v. United States, that the bill violated both the separation of powers doctrine by delegating legislative authority to the president and the commerce clause.

While the court at that point had a majority of conservative justices (two years later FDR would try to pack the court to get rid of it), the decision was unanimous. Justice Louis Brandeis, no conservative, told aides of the president, “This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.”

Where is Justice Brandeis now that we really need him?

The Times this morning ran a story on yet another fiddle that has been uncovered from the depths of the health-reform bill that passed in the Senate on Christmas Eve. This one favors construction unions. While, under the act, most companies with fewer than 50 employees would not have to provide government-mandated health insurance or pay a tax, those in the construction business would be exempt only if they have fewer than five employees. At least the Times notes that:

The construction industry provision is receiving a second look as work begins in earnest this week to resolve differences in bills passed by the Senate and the House to remake the nation’s health care system. Other provisions sure to be scrutinized include a tax break for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan in Nebraska; Medicare coverage for residents of Libby, Mont., sickened by a mineral mine; extra Medicaid money for Massachusetts, Nebraska and Vermont; and a special dispensation for a handful of doctor-owned hospitals.

One would hope that the endless number of constitutionally dubious provisions, including such lulus as requiring a supermajority in the Senate to repeal certain portions of the act, will also get a second look.

Of course, it may be that these provisions end up rescuing the country from this dreadful legislation. In 1933, at the very end of his 100 days, Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the National Industrial Recovery Act. Title II of that act established one of the New Deal’s most famous agencies, the Public Works Administration (PWA), which would build across the country post offices, highways, dams, etc. But Title I of the NIRA established the National Recovery Administration (NRA). It authorized the president to regulate industry, including the establishment of cartels and monopolies, to set prices, and, in effect, oversee the entire American economy, much as today’s health bill would regulate the health-care industry.

It was a breathtaking expansion of federal power and, for a while, the NRA’s symbol — a blue eagle with a gear wheel in one claw and lightning bolts in the other — and its slogan, “We Do Our Part,” were everywhere. But two years later, the Supreme Court ruled in a famous case, Schechter Poultry  Corp v. United States, that the bill violated both the separation of powers doctrine by delegating legislative authority to the president and the commerce clause.

While the court at that point had a majority of conservative justices (two years later FDR would try to pack the court to get rid of it), the decision was unanimous. Justice Louis Brandeis, no conservative, told aides of the president, “This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.”

Where is Justice Brandeis now that we really need him?

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Liberals Wake Up: ObamaCare Stinks

Bob Herbert has discovered an unpleasant fact about the Senate’s “historic” health-care legislation:

There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate’s version of President Obama’s effort to reform health care. The bill that passed the Senate with such fanfare on Christmas Eve would impose a confiscatory 40 percent excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, which are popularly viewed as over-the-top plans held only by the very wealthy. In fact, it’s a tax that in a few years will hammer millions of middle-class policyholders, forcing them to scale back their access to medical care. . . In the first year it would affect relatively few people in the middle class. But because of the steadily rising costs of health care in the U.S., more and more plans would reach the taxation threshold each year.

How could Democrats come up with such a scheme? Well, as Herbert points out, the idea is that those “Cadillac” plans will get slashed and changed, thereby avoiding the excise tax. But alas, “it makes a mockery of President Obama’s repeated pledge that if you like the health coverage you have now, you can keep it.” And if the the “Cadillac” plans become Kia plans after they’ve been cut down to size, what happens to the planned $150B in revenue the excise tax was supposed to generate? It gets fuzzy at that point. Herbert suggests that most of that revenue was supposed to come “from the income taxes paid by workers who have been given pay raises by employers who will have voluntarily handed over the money they saved by offering their employees less valuable health insurance plans. Can you believe it?” In a word, no.

But once again we see that the wonders of ObamaCare seem not so wonderful to liberals. They don’t like the idea of consumers being forced to buy health-insurance policies from big, bad insurance companies. They don’t like the idea of smacking middle-class employees who managed to obtain generous health-care plans from their employers. And you don’t hear too many of them cheering for the massive cuts in Medicare. (Liberals always told us our society was to be judged by how generously we treat the old and sick.)  So why did all those Democrats vote for this thing? Ah, it was historic!

Only rare pieces of legislation attract opponents as diverse as does ObamaCare. But this is what comes from passing something, anything, in a mad holiday rush with the purpose of delivering a political “win” for the White House and avoiding a humiliating failure for the Democratic congressional leadership. But as the Left and Right discover what’s in that legislation, there may in fact be a broad consensus building over the need to just start over. There has got to be something that makes more sense than this.

Bob Herbert has discovered an unpleasant fact about the Senate’s “historic” health-care legislation:

There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate’s version of President Obama’s effort to reform health care. The bill that passed the Senate with such fanfare on Christmas Eve would impose a confiscatory 40 percent excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, which are popularly viewed as over-the-top plans held only by the very wealthy. In fact, it’s a tax that in a few years will hammer millions of middle-class policyholders, forcing them to scale back their access to medical care. . . In the first year it would affect relatively few people in the middle class. But because of the steadily rising costs of health care in the U.S., more and more plans would reach the taxation threshold each year.

How could Democrats come up with such a scheme? Well, as Herbert points out, the idea is that those “Cadillac” plans will get slashed and changed, thereby avoiding the excise tax. But alas, “it makes a mockery of President Obama’s repeated pledge that if you like the health coverage you have now, you can keep it.” And if the the “Cadillac” plans become Kia plans after they’ve been cut down to size, what happens to the planned $150B in revenue the excise tax was supposed to generate? It gets fuzzy at that point. Herbert suggests that most of that revenue was supposed to come “from the income taxes paid by workers who have been given pay raises by employers who will have voluntarily handed over the money they saved by offering their employees less valuable health insurance plans. Can you believe it?” In a word, no.

But once again we see that the wonders of ObamaCare seem not so wonderful to liberals. They don’t like the idea of consumers being forced to buy health-insurance policies from big, bad insurance companies. They don’t like the idea of smacking middle-class employees who managed to obtain generous health-care plans from their employers. And you don’t hear too many of them cheering for the massive cuts in Medicare. (Liberals always told us our society was to be judged by how generously we treat the old and sick.)  So why did all those Democrats vote for this thing? Ah, it was historic!

Only rare pieces of legislation attract opponents as diverse as does ObamaCare. But this is what comes from passing something, anything, in a mad holiday rush with the purpose of delivering a political “win” for the White House and avoiding a humiliating failure for the Democratic congressional leadership. But as the Left and Right discover what’s in that legislation, there may in fact be a broad consensus building over the need to just start over. There has got to be something that makes more sense than this.

Read Less

After Inevitability Goes, What Then?

It seems that things are not exactly on track with the Obama health-care-gotta-get-it-done-before-Christmas express train. Politico notes:

With the clock ticking down on health care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has until Saturday to strike a 60-vote compromise if Democrats hope to meet a Christmas Eve deadline — but the obstacles kept piling up Thursday.

Reid still had no legislative text and no cost analysis to release. One of the final moderate holdouts, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), rejected compromise language on abortion funding and said he’s doubtful a bill can pass by Christmas. Two powerful unions blasted the bill. House Democrats threatened to undo the Senate bill during a conference committee. And a Democratic war over the bill raged on the Internet and cable news.

The stampede mentality has been momentarily disrupted by the resistance of Ben Nelson. Time, of course, is the kryptonite of health-care reform, the one phenomenon that disrupts the hype and pressure on lawmakers to vote on something, anything, and do it right now. It forces lawmakers to reflect and to worry (Sixty percent of the voters in my state oppose this?), and it reveals that the only thing ReidCare has going for it is an illusion of urgency.

Sen. Robert Casey confirmed the degree to which Democrats are dependent on a Cinderella-like haste to get it done before the clock strikes. Otherwise, everyone might realize what’s in the bill and that the Democratic leaders have little more than artificially induced fear on their side (“We’ll lose if we do nothing!”), as well as their members’ longing to get home for the holidays. As Casey remarked, “If we are going to get a bill out of the Senate, which will be very close to getting a bill enacted, we have to do it in 2009. … Some might not think so, but what I would worry about is losing momentum.” Because all they have is momentum, and once it’s gone, so too might be an ill-conceived and hugely unpopular bill.

Part of the danger here for ObamaCare supporters is that once the inevitability is gone, the senators will start to examine what’s in the bill. Then they might start pulling on the loose thread, the increasingly obvious irritant to both the Right and Left: the individual mandate. Rich Lowry explains the mutual disdain for this provision:

The right hates the governmental fiat and thinks — given the regulations and taxes that add to the cost of insurance — the mandate’s a bad deal. As one wag said of the bill, “First, it transforms insurance into a product that few rational people would buy. Second, it forces them to buy it.” The left hates that the insurance companies get the proceeds.

The Left thinks it makes Obama the “tax collector for the insurance-industrial complex”; the Right thinks it shreds the Constitution. How long before someone on either side can resist the urge to pull on this string, thereby unraveling the deal? With the Daily Kos and Rich Lowry cheering them on, some senators might actually bring an amendment to take it out.

So as Reid loses inevitability, and gives the Left and the Right time to think about their newfound mutual interests, some clever lawmaker might force the Senate to consider a key question: why are we forcing people to buy something they don’t want from companies they don’t like?

It seems that things are not exactly on track with the Obama health-care-gotta-get-it-done-before-Christmas express train. Politico notes:

With the clock ticking down on health care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has until Saturday to strike a 60-vote compromise if Democrats hope to meet a Christmas Eve deadline — but the obstacles kept piling up Thursday.

Reid still had no legislative text and no cost analysis to release. One of the final moderate holdouts, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), rejected compromise language on abortion funding and said he’s doubtful a bill can pass by Christmas. Two powerful unions blasted the bill. House Democrats threatened to undo the Senate bill during a conference committee. And a Democratic war over the bill raged on the Internet and cable news.

The stampede mentality has been momentarily disrupted by the resistance of Ben Nelson. Time, of course, is the kryptonite of health-care reform, the one phenomenon that disrupts the hype and pressure on lawmakers to vote on something, anything, and do it right now. It forces lawmakers to reflect and to worry (Sixty percent of the voters in my state oppose this?), and it reveals that the only thing ReidCare has going for it is an illusion of urgency.

Sen. Robert Casey confirmed the degree to which Democrats are dependent on a Cinderella-like haste to get it done before the clock strikes. Otherwise, everyone might realize what’s in the bill and that the Democratic leaders have little more than artificially induced fear on their side (“We’ll lose if we do nothing!”), as well as their members’ longing to get home for the holidays. As Casey remarked, “If we are going to get a bill out of the Senate, which will be very close to getting a bill enacted, we have to do it in 2009. … Some might not think so, but what I would worry about is losing momentum.” Because all they have is momentum, and once it’s gone, so too might be an ill-conceived and hugely unpopular bill.

Part of the danger here for ObamaCare supporters is that once the inevitability is gone, the senators will start to examine what’s in the bill. Then they might start pulling on the loose thread, the increasingly obvious irritant to both the Right and Left: the individual mandate. Rich Lowry explains the mutual disdain for this provision:

The right hates the governmental fiat and thinks — given the regulations and taxes that add to the cost of insurance — the mandate’s a bad deal. As one wag said of the bill, “First, it transforms insurance into a product that few rational people would buy. Second, it forces them to buy it.” The left hates that the insurance companies get the proceeds.

The Left thinks it makes Obama the “tax collector for the insurance-industrial complex”; the Right thinks it shreds the Constitution. How long before someone on either side can resist the urge to pull on this string, thereby unraveling the deal? With the Daily Kos and Rich Lowry cheering them on, some senators might actually bring an amendment to take it out.

So as Reid loses inevitability, and gives the Left and the Right time to think about their newfound mutual interests, some clever lawmaker might force the Senate to consider a key question: why are we forcing people to buy something they don’t want from companies they don’t like?

Read Less

But What About the Voters?

It seems as though the gap between liberal elites and American voters has never been so great. The Left’s two top-agenda items are climate control and health-care reform. The electorate has other ideas. On global warming, the latest poll from Rasmussen tells us:

Public skepticism about the officially promoted cause of global warming has reached an all-time high among Americans. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 50% of adults now believe that global warming is caused primarily by long-term planetary trends. Just 34% say climate change is due primarily to human activity, even as President Obama and other world leaders gather at a UN summit to limit the human activity they blame for global warming.

Americans are increasingly skeptical of the hype and even more so of the “cure” — massive taxes and regulation.

The plunge in support for health-care “reform” is now becoming another inconvenient truth for the Democrats. Whichever survey you look at, the conclusion is the same: the public doesn’t want this monstrosity. The solution to this unfortunate lack of public support? Rush it through so voters don’t get the chance they had in August to impress upon their elected leaders how angry they are. Sen. Mitch McConnell took to the floor today to explain:

They know Americans overwhelmingly oppose it, so they want to get it over with. Americans are already outraged at the fact that Democrat leaders took their eyes off the ball. Rushing the process on a partisan line makes the situation even worse. Americans were told the purpose of reform was to reduce the cost of health care. Instead, Democrat leaders produced a $2.5 trillion, 2,074-page monstrosity that vastly expands government, raises taxes, raises premiums, and wrecks Medicare. And they want to rush this bill through by Christmas — one of the most significant, far-reaching pieces of legislation in U.S. history. They want to rush it.

It takes a remarkable degree of hubris to insist on pushing a radical agenda without popular support. The Obami have resorted to bureaucratic fiat (e.g., the EPA carbon-emission edit) and the Senate is hiding the bill until it can be sprung and sped to a vote on Christmas Eve. Democrats seem to believe they operate in a world devoid of accountability. But we have elections to sort this out. In eleven months the 60 percent or so of voters who don’t want ObamaCare and the millions who want jobs, not energy taxes, can express their views. Democrats may not believe it now, but the voters always get the last say.

It seems as though the gap between liberal elites and American voters has never been so great. The Left’s two top-agenda items are climate control and health-care reform. The electorate has other ideas. On global warming, the latest poll from Rasmussen tells us:

Public skepticism about the officially promoted cause of global warming has reached an all-time high among Americans. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 50% of adults now believe that global warming is caused primarily by long-term planetary trends. Just 34% say climate change is due primarily to human activity, even as President Obama and other world leaders gather at a UN summit to limit the human activity they blame for global warming.

Americans are increasingly skeptical of the hype and even more so of the “cure” — massive taxes and regulation.

The plunge in support for health-care “reform” is now becoming another inconvenient truth for the Democrats. Whichever survey you look at, the conclusion is the same: the public doesn’t want this monstrosity. The solution to this unfortunate lack of public support? Rush it through so voters don’t get the chance they had in August to impress upon their elected leaders how angry they are. Sen. Mitch McConnell took to the floor today to explain:

They know Americans overwhelmingly oppose it, so they want to get it over with. Americans are already outraged at the fact that Democrat leaders took their eyes off the ball. Rushing the process on a partisan line makes the situation even worse. Americans were told the purpose of reform was to reduce the cost of health care. Instead, Democrat leaders produced a $2.5 trillion, 2,074-page monstrosity that vastly expands government, raises taxes, raises premiums, and wrecks Medicare. And they want to rush this bill through by Christmas — one of the most significant, far-reaching pieces of legislation in U.S. history. They want to rush it.

It takes a remarkable degree of hubris to insist on pushing a radical agenda without popular support. The Obami have resorted to bureaucratic fiat (e.g., the EPA carbon-emission edit) and the Senate is hiding the bill until it can be sprung and sped to a vote on Christmas Eve. Democrats seem to believe they operate in a world devoid of accountability. But we have elections to sort this out. In eleven months the 60 percent or so of voters who don’t want ObamaCare and the millions who want jobs, not energy taxes, can express their views. Democrats may not believe it now, but the voters always get the last say.

Read Less




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