So Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is demanding that citizens justify their political speech under oath. Nervous Nellies doubtlessly will characterize this as an "overreach." Crybabies will grouse about the "chilling" effect or the "muzzling" of dissent.
Yet in these heady days of change, it's all about context. In this case, you'll be relieved to know, we're talking about CEOs. These people take home considerably more pay than I do. Accordingly, they deserve to sit through hours of absurd inquires from sanctimonious politicians as a matter of karmic justice.
What they don't deserve is free speech. The president ably expounded on the matter in the State of the Union address: Corporations should not be entitled to the same constitutional protections as the rest of us.
With this in mind, it should surprise no one that Waxman has requested the "personal testimony" of a few CEOs, who have reported billions of dollars in negative impact to their businesses -- per Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure requirements -- because of the passage of health care reform.
In the letter, Waxman asserts, "The new law is designed to expand coverage and bring down costs, so your assertions are a matter of concern." And everyone knows that it is impossible for legislation to have unintended consequences.
Whom are you going to believe, numbers or Joe Biden?
This cabal of profiteering is headed up by AT&T ($1 billion first-quarter charge), Boeing ($150 million), John Deere ($150 million), Caterpillar ($100 million), 3M, AK Steel, Verizon, Prudential, the lodging industry ... and so forth and so on, until we hit on every single company affected by the elimination of a tax break on retiree drug benefits. It likely will cost employees and thus consumers an estimated $14 billion -- not counting the new Medicare costs.
Boy, if only these corporations had something akin to a Congressional Budget Office. Bean counters could conceal costly programs on separate balance sheets and add bogus cost-saving measures to the ones they present to shareholders.
Then again, what works for Congress amounts to a prison term out in the corporate world. So for now, businesses rely on Arabic numerals (lest we need another reason to question their patriotism) and arithmetic (in this case, lots of subtraction).
Some may wonder whether Waxman has any lawful grounds to bully anyone into accepting his view of Obamacare. Even if corporations, typically snuggling up to Washington for crony capitalistic favors, had joined in a twisted political conspiracy to make Barack Obama's legislative masterpiece look as terrible as it is ... so what? Since when is making a law look bad a criminal act?
The ironic part of Waxman's abuse of power is that he also demands that CEOs show up with "any documents, including e-mail messages, sent to or prepared or reviewed by senior company officials related to the projected impact of health care reform."
Would it not be helpful for Congress to first provide taxpayers with any and all documents -- including e-mail messages sent to or prepared or reviewed by elected officials -- regarding this historic health care reform bill?
Maybe if Congress applied a fraction of the transparency it demands from corporate America to its own dealings, it wouldn't have to rely on pompous bullies like Waxman to stifle free speech.