Commentary Magazine


Topic: Xavier Becerra

The Opposition to Religious Liberty Is Partisan–And That’s What Is Dangerous

Anyone watching Congressman Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, on Fox News Sunday yesterday saw the one significant aspect of the Hobby Lobby case that the Supreme Court would not have solved no matter how it ruled today. Of course, it helped that the high court defended some space for religious freedom in its ruling. But Becerra’s talking points demonstrated just why religious protections must be in place and defended vigorously: religious freedom for its own sake is now a partisan issue.

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Anyone watching Congressman Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, on Fox News Sunday yesterday saw the one significant aspect of the Hobby Lobby case that the Supreme Court would not have solved no matter how it ruled today. Of course, it helped that the high court defended some space for religious freedom in its ruling. But Becerra’s talking points demonstrated just why religious protections must be in place and defended vigorously: religious freedom for its own sake is now a partisan issue.

Becerra was asked by host Chris Wallace whether business owners must violate their beliefs if the government mandates it. Here is the ensuing exchange (sic throughout; from the transcript):

BECERRA: The government will not violate anyone’s religious beliefs. But no one has the right to discriminate against a woman because of her own beliefs. I believe that the Supreme Court will find that no business —

WALLACE: She doesn’t have to work with the company.

BECERRA: — no business should be allowed to discrimination against women. And we’ve gone beyond that. We should also try to pay them equally for the work they do.

WALLACE: We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the birth control mandate.

BECERRA: Let’s protect the woman’s rights to be able to earn the same pay and live their lives —

WALLACE: What about the owner’s right to his religious freedom, his religious beliefs?

BECERRA: The owner has a right to his or her religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean you get to discriminate against women if a woman have different beliefs than what the owner has and the woman wants to exercise her rights under the Constitution.

Notice Becerra–twice–compares “religious beliefs” to any “beliefs.” The owner may hold religious beliefs that would be violated by the contraception mandate. But the employee believes the owner should provide her with any form of birth control she wants. Now we’re at an impasse, according to Becerra’s remarkably preposterous gibberish. According to Becerra’s mindset–and remember, he is offering the Democratic Party take on this case–religious beliefs are no different from political opinions. That is, for the purposes of constitutional law and practice, they don’t exist separate from any random employee demand.

Of course, the Supreme Court did not rule this way, because Becerra’s reasoning, such as it is, discounts the very first passage of the very First Amendment to the Constitution. But the violence Becerra wants to inflict on the Constitution should not be ignored even after the high court rejected it, because it reflects the reason we have this case to begin with: when forced to choose between religious freedom and government coercion, the left will choose government coercion. Combine that with the extent to which the left seeks to expand government power, and you have a troubling erosion of civil society and the private sphere.

That’s evident from this piece by Yishai Schwartz in the New Republic. Schwartz argues that the left is wrong to dismiss the religious freedom issues at play here. He knocks the deeply silly talking point so popular on the left that “corporations aren’t people” and “corporations don’t have beliefs.” He writes: “I certainly hope The New Republic has free-speech rights and the local church has free-exercise rights, even though they are corporations.”

Having acknowledged the legitimacy of the religious protections Hobby Lobby sought, Schwartz also praises the religious freedom “consensus” that has prevailed … until now. What happened? Here Schwartz makes a novel, though thoroughly noxious, attempt at misdirection: “the GOP’s scorched-earth attack of the Affordable Care Act has already claimed its primary victim: religious freedom.”

Schwartz then tries, in vain, to defend his assertion that the party fighting on behalf of religious freedom is really its enemy, and the party assaulting the religious freedom consensus is innocent:

But as conservative media seized on religious freedom suits like Hobby Lobby to bludgeon Obama, the left has increasingly abandoned RFRA. Where liberals once championed a law meant to protect small religious groups from callous majorities, they now see an endless slippery slope of religious conservatives obeying whatever laws they happen to find acceptable.  In religious freedom, the left now sees only a shield that will allow religious conservatives to discriminate against gays and harm women’s reproductive health. In the partisan rancor that has consumed today’s Washington, the consensus in favor of religious accommodations has been shattered.

ObamaCare’s HHS regulations infringed on the religious freedom of Christians. After that infringement, Americans fought for their previously recognized religious rights. According to Schwartz, conservatives should have silently accepted this abrogation of constitutional protections because if they made a scene, liberals would finally concede that they don’t really believe in those protections, and in a fit of rage revolt against the very idea of religious freedom–simply because conservatives are loudly defending it.

I don’t know the Democrats that Schwartz is talking about, but they seem consumed by anger and absolutism. And they–and their apologists like Schwartz–are living proof of just how important it is to fight for and codify these rights. Any political movement that hates conservatives enough to abandon the Constitution because conservatives support it, as does the version of American liberalism Schwartz profiles, is a perpetual argument in favor of conservatives’ effort to preserve religious liberty.

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LIVE BLOG: Great Moments in Wonkery

Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan: “You called into question the Congressional Budget Office! … We have to decide, do we agree with the Congressional Budget Office or not?”

Ryan: “I did not call into question the Congressional Budget Office!”

They actually have an interesting dispute about the way the CBO “scores” the effect of a health-care bill on the budget deficit long term. But it’s still funny.

UPDATE: Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley: “I see the CBO as God.”

Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan: “You called into question the Congressional Budget Office! … We have to decide, do we agree with the Congressional Budget Office or not?”

Ryan: “I did not call into question the Congressional Budget Office!”

They actually have an interesting dispute about the way the CBO “scores” the effect of a health-care bill on the budget deficit long term. But it’s still funny.

UPDATE: Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley: “I see the CBO as God.”

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The Opposition Coalition

Conservatives will most likely nod in agreement with this critique of the Senate’s health-care plan:

The last thing the American middle class needs right now is a big new tax on health insurance plans. … But the U.S. Senate wants to further impoverish the American middle class. As many as 30 million working people will pay a massive new tax in the first five years of the Senate health care reform plan. …

The tax would apply to one-fifth of all employers in 2013, the first year that health reform takes effect. More and more people would get hit each year after that. The threshold for taxable plans is indexed for inflation, which doesn’t rise as fast as health care costs.

Here’s an example of how it would work for federal workers covered by the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard plan. Single people in the plan will immediately pay an average of about $1,600 more per year for 10 years. Families will get hit in the third year, paying an average of about $2,000 more per year for 10 years.

By 2022, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard family plan will cost $5,500 in taxes per worker. Single people could pay as much as $3,500 per worker.

Middle-class families in private and public sector jobs, union and non-union alike, will be hit hard by this tax on health care benefits.

Yuval Levin? Sen. Jim DeMint? No, it’s Teamster president James Hoffa. Nevertheless, the President Obama is bent on adopting the Senate tax scheme. The result, as Hoffa and conservative critics of the plan have observed, will be a repudiation of the president’s pledge not to tax those making less than $200,ooo. Democrats, who fancy themselves as the protectors of “working” Americans, are understandably nervous about the president’s desire to impose a heavy tax on their constituents:

“We did in our house bill something that protects middle class Americans from having to pay more for health insurance and health insurance reform,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a member of the House leadership, said Wednesday. “So far we want to stay to that principle.” House members “have been very clear on that issue and working with the president to stick to what he said when he was campaigning for president, we’re trying to make sure this does not affect middle class Americans,” Becerra said.

So far they want to stay to that principle? Well that doesn’t sound like Hoffa’s members are going to be able to count on Becerra and his colleagues. And if the Democrats do follow the president’s lead, a political firestorm may well ensue.

What’s at risk here is an unraveling of the Democratic coalition that elected Obama and the Democratic majority. Union members, elite urbanites (who will get slammed with new taxes), high-tech entrepreneurs (who get a new employer mandate), young voters (who will have to buy insurance plans they don’t want), and older voters (whose Medicare benefits will be slashed) may find common cause with fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and, yes, those angry Tea Party protesters, who all find ObamaCare objectionable. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid seem determined to ignore all these groups. For the sake of passing a “historic” bill and out of fear of appearing inept, they seem bent on passing something their own core political supporters find highly objectionable. Do they really imagine they can do so with no adverse political consequences?

Conservatives will most likely nod in agreement with this critique of the Senate’s health-care plan:

The last thing the American middle class needs right now is a big new tax on health insurance plans. … But the U.S. Senate wants to further impoverish the American middle class. As many as 30 million working people will pay a massive new tax in the first five years of the Senate health care reform plan. …

The tax would apply to one-fifth of all employers in 2013, the first year that health reform takes effect. More and more people would get hit each year after that. The threshold for taxable plans is indexed for inflation, which doesn’t rise as fast as health care costs.

Here’s an example of how it would work for federal workers covered by the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard plan. Single people in the plan will immediately pay an average of about $1,600 more per year for 10 years. Families will get hit in the third year, paying an average of about $2,000 more per year for 10 years.

By 2022, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard family plan will cost $5,500 in taxes per worker. Single people could pay as much as $3,500 per worker.

Middle-class families in private and public sector jobs, union and non-union alike, will be hit hard by this tax on health care benefits.

Yuval Levin? Sen. Jim DeMint? No, it’s Teamster president James Hoffa. Nevertheless, the President Obama is bent on adopting the Senate tax scheme. The result, as Hoffa and conservative critics of the plan have observed, will be a repudiation of the president’s pledge not to tax those making less than $200,ooo. Democrats, who fancy themselves as the protectors of “working” Americans, are understandably nervous about the president’s desire to impose a heavy tax on their constituents:

“We did in our house bill something that protects middle class Americans from having to pay more for health insurance and health insurance reform,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a member of the House leadership, said Wednesday. “So far we want to stay to that principle.” House members “have been very clear on that issue and working with the president to stick to what he said when he was campaigning for president, we’re trying to make sure this does not affect middle class Americans,” Becerra said.

So far they want to stay to that principle? Well that doesn’t sound like Hoffa’s members are going to be able to count on Becerra and his colleagues. And if the Democrats do follow the president’s lead, a political firestorm may well ensue.

What’s at risk here is an unraveling of the Democratic coalition that elected Obama and the Democratic majority. Union members, elite urbanites (who will get slammed with new taxes), high-tech entrepreneurs (who get a new employer mandate), young voters (who will have to buy insurance plans they don’t want), and older voters (whose Medicare benefits will be slashed) may find common cause with fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and, yes, those angry Tea Party protesters, who all find ObamaCare objectionable. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid seem determined to ignore all these groups. For the sake of passing a “historic” bill and out of fear of appearing inept, they seem bent on passing something their own core political supporters find highly objectionable. Do they really imagine they can do so with no adverse political consequences?

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