The House Democrats' Torquemada got cold feet. Self-styled "chief inquisitor" Henry Waxman announced this week that he's canceling a planned show trial of corporate executives who called public attention to the financial hit they're taking as a result of President Obama's health care mandate. Business owners can breathe a small sigh of relief. But the witch hunt isn't over.
You'll recall that Waxman fired off nasty-grams to the heads of Deere, Caterpillar, Verizon and AT&T last month, demanding their presence at a congressional auto de fé. Their sin? Publicly reporting the costs and consequences of federal health care taxes on their firms' bottom lines. A vindictive Waxman sought internal documents and e-mails from the CEOs about the profit charges. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke took to the White House blog and TV airwaves to condemn the "premature" and "irresponsible" disclosures.
In the immortal words of the late comedian Gilda Radner's goof-prone "Saturday Night Live" character Emily Litella, the finger-waggers and gavel-wielders are now muttering: "Never mind."
An April 14 memorandum from the Committee on Energy and Commerce Majority Staff informed the Democratic hounds that the "companies acted properly and in accordance with accounting standards in submitting filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission in March and April." Indeed, after haggling about the overall impact of the health care mandate on firms' annual company cash flows, the staff memo acknowledged that notifying shareholders of these big one-time company write-downs was "required" by law.
No apology from Locke, Waxman or his Democratic co-bully on the committee Rep. Bart Stupak has been forthcoming. Instead, the ruling majority seems bent on pressuring private companies to peddle the "beneficial" impacts of the law. The committee staff extracted statements from the targeted companies that "if" implemented "right" and "correct(ly)," Obamacare "could" achieve "long term savings for the country" and their businesses. And "if" donkeys were elephants, they "could" spray water from their trunks.
As Elizabeth MacDonald of Fox Business Network points out, the Democrats continue to distort a Business Roundtable study -- cited in Waxman's threat letters to Deere, Caterpillar, Verizon and AT&T -- in order to bolster their claims that Obamacare will create cost-savings of $3,000 on average per worker over 10 years. But "the study is not based on the new bill," she reports, and is premised on Congress adopting free-market changes and malpractice reform abandoned by the Democrats.
In fact, some of those free-market solutions, such as health care savings accounts, are endangered by Obamacare. As Indiana GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels pointed out in The Wall Street Journal last week, the state will likely be forced to shift low-income residents into the federal Medicaid program and out of an innovative Hoosier State insurance program that includes health savings accounts.
While Obamacare benefits remain as distant from reality as Elin is from Tiger, the damage has already arrived. Side effects are manifesting themselves in private medical practices from Arizona to Florida -- where doctors are closing up shop in anticipation of the law's impact. Those cost-benefit decisions will only exacerbate existing shortages. Moreover, at academic health centers such as the University of Texas Medical Branch, officials there expect patient "crowd out" in their medical homes, "with longer wait times for appointments and/or physicians capping the number of patients they see."
Waxman may have given a few companies a temporary reprieve for shedding light on Obamacare's consequences. But medical professionals are already on notice that informing their patients that unwelcome change is coming will carry considerable risk. Dr. Jack Cassell, the urologist who posted a protest sign against the law at his office, still faces ethics probes at the behest of Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson.
And as Waxman himself vowed in his hearing cancellation letter to company heads, "the Subcommittee will closely monitor the implementation of the new law and will schedule hearings on the impact of the law as appropriate." Torquemada is waiting for a second wind.