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When the Law Isn’t the Law

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The law is the law, according to an old saying frequently used to hector people into obeying the damned things, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Obamacare.
Yet another White House edict has delayed for yet another year enforcement of the law’s clearly stated requirement that all businesses with at least 50 employees but fewer than 100 provide health care coverage or pay a hefty fine, and after all the other delays of troublesome portions and the waivers to the friendlier constituencies and the assorted regulatory re-interpretations of other clearly stated requirements one can only conclude that the law is whatever the president says it is on a given day. This isn’t a law at all, at least in the sense the term has been understood since Hammurabi had the bright idea of writing laws down so that everyone could discern their meanings and act accordingly, but we expect that anyone other than the president and his more well-heeled campaign contributors will nonetheless be expected to obey whatever the president says it is on a given day.
Putting aside questions of constitutional propriety, as Americans are increasingly wont to do, the administration has practical political reasons for the delay. The White House’s stated reason is that businesses “need a little more time to adjust to providing coverage,” and there probably are a few companies that could use another year or so to figure out what might be expected of them. Judging by the botched computer system that the government unveiled after three years and hundreds of millions of dollars the government could likely use a little more time to adjust as well, however, and those Democrats running in the upcoming mid-term elections will also be grateful for the opportunity to make some adjustments of their own. The employer mandate provides a powerful disincentive for any company with 49 employees to hire another one, and even if the government has persuaded enough people to stop seeking work to push the unemployment rate down to 6.6 percent the economy is still enough of an election issue that the Democratic Party doesn’t need the headache. After the Congressional Budget Office predicted 2.5 million Americans will stop working rather than relinquish their Obamacare subsidies the Democrats have recently been forced to make the argument that those dole-dependent non-workers will be “free to pursue their dreams,” and mounting a defense of socking a rare start-up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for hiring a fiftieth employee is a chore that is best put off another year.
Although it’s not so politically damaging as enforcing the employer mandate, not enforcing the employer mandate still provides the Republicans with some plausible arguments. The move bolsters the Republicans’ oft-repeated claim of a “lawless president,” and with the widely-hated individual mandate still in place they can also gripe that the president is giving breaks to businesses but not individuals. The latter point is hard to argue with but unlikely to be effective, as Republicans have been permanently stereotyped as lackeys of big business, but it’s still good to see them making it. Those “big” businesses with 100 or more employees have also been granted a sort of exemption, although it’s too convoluted to explain here, and with loud repetition of the point the Republicans might succeed in depressing the vote among those corporation-hating Occupy types who are forced to pony up for policies that don’t want or need. The former point might be more saleable, and will also be of use in explaining why the Republicans don’t trust the president to enforce any sort of immigration reform law they might otherwise agree to, but it remains to be seen how many Americans still expect the president to abide by even his own laws.
The president is apparently convinced that only the most hidebound traditionalists still care about such niceties as constitutional checks and balances, and on Monday he even boasted to the France’s admittedly socialist leader Francois Hollande that “the good thing about being president (is) I can do whatever I want.” Older readers might recall a post-resignation Richard Nixon explaining to a dumbstruck David Frost that “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” but it’s hard to think of any presidential utterances since that have been quite so brazen. Nixon was almost universally derided for his comments, while Obama’s will be almost universally unreported, but one can hope that Americans will take notice that the law is the law for them but not for the president.
On the other hand, perhaps the precedent will allow some future president to waive the stupid Obamacare law altogether. Should that happen, however, we expect that the Democrats will once again become sticklers for the law.

— Bud Norman

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