Hank  Adler

Nancy Pelosi made her most famous (infamous) quote immediately before Congress voted on Obamacare:

You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other. But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket. Prevention, prevention, prevention—it’s about diet, not diabetes. It’s going to be very, very exciting.

But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.

Within the past few weeks, the President orchestrated an arrangement with Treasury wherein Congress and its employees will now be permitted to have a subsidy (paid for by the taxpayers) for the purchase of their healthcare on the Obamacare exchanges. This has been explained as placing the Members of Congress and their employees in the same financial position with respect to their healthcare costs as they were before Obamacare. This explanation is generally accurate.

The irony of the necessity of Congress needing a backdoor correction (done by presidential action, not through Congressional action) to legislation passed by this same Congress should not be lost. This backdoor correction was required with respect to their own law.

The underlying and serious questions about the revised arrangement for Congress are far deeper than whether Congress needs to be financially protected from Obamacare or whether the change made to their program is a reasonable one. These deeper questions revolve around whether Congress is a responsible body. Is Congress focusing on the reason they were elected to office, namely governing?

Are individual Members of Congress spending sufficient amounts of time legislating (which we will define as studying, considering and understanding the legislative proposals presented to them?) Does the evidence support the argument that Congress was insufficiently informed or knowledgeable when the final Obamacare votes were taken?

Arguably, Obamacare is the most meaningful and historic legislation passed since social security. Yet, since its passage only three years ago, the President has unilaterally and perhaps without legal authority deferred the employer mandate, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued many hundreds of exemptions without any specific guidelines and perhaps without legal authority, and the initial state of the required individual mandate sign up process could only be called shambolic.

The interesting point is that as a body, Congress did not understand how their own legislation impacted themselves. The message is daunting because if they gave no thought as to how it impacted them, one must logically conclude that there was no higher level of due diligence with respect to the rest of the bill or perhaps, all bills presented to Congress for approval.

Consider how we react to any rules changes that impact our lives. If our company changes the dress code in the office or the plant, our first thought is how this will impact us. Perhaps, after considering how the change impacts us, we then consider how the change impacts our employer. It is no different in any element of our lives, be it rules at the local gym or park, speed limits on local streets or Obamacare, there is initially the WIFM question. What’s in it for me?

It is likely a safe bet that not a single Member of Congress was sufficiently interested in anything except the overall national politics of Obamacare to carefully consider the impacts to themselves of the inclusion of a Congressional mandate.

On this subject of due diligence, we, the citizens, should understand whether anyone in Congress realized (regardless of legality) that the President could defer specific crucial dates in the legislation without Congressional approval or whether the Department of Health and Human Services could, without guidelines or specificity of law, approve waivers and exemptions to Obamacare. If the answer is no, we need to understand why this should be acceptable to us.

Congressional favorability is in single figures and the President’s favorability appears to be in freefall. Regardless of the political falderal that is accompanying the discussions about the budget / debt limit and whether the Republicans can or should tie these issues to changes to Obamacare, there is an issue in the current Obamacare debate that the citizens need to fully understand. That issue is that our elected Congress is not doing a competent job of legislating. Obamacare merely highlights this failure.

The primary issue for our next election is not Obamacare or some international issue. The issue is whether our elected members of Congress are doing their jobs or whether, to be kind, they are just phoning it in.


Hank Adler

Hank Adler is an Assistant Professor at Chapman University.

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