Abuse of power. What else can we call the actions Republicans have taken in their drive to sabotage Obamacare? And let's be clear, sabotaging Obamacare means keeping as many people as possible uninsured. The Republicans intend -- to paraphrase a quotation from the Vietnam War -- to destroy this village in order to save it. The White House has options, however, if it is willing to contemplate them. But that means taking the advice Chicago beat cop Jimmy Malone gave to federal Treasury officer Eliot Ness in The Untouchables (see above), as it applies (non-violently of course) to the political arena. In other words, it's time to go nuclear.
Let's step back for a minute and examine just what Republicans have been doing. We can start with the lies. The claims that Obamacare will drive up premiums were recently debunked by a new Kaiser study, which found they are coming in even lower than expected. We do have to remember of course that reality has a well-known liberal bias. In any case, the Grand Ole' Party doesn't stop at lying. That's kid stuff.
Republicans have obstructed Obamacare at the state level wherever they've been able to. In one of the most egregious examples, we have Georgia State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, who bragged about his own efforts:
"Let me tell you what we're doing [about Obamacare.] Everything in our power to be an obstructionist."
"We have passed a law that says that a navigator, which is a position in that exchange, has to be licensed by our Department of Insurance. The ObamaCare law says that we cannot require them to be an insurance agent, so we said fine, we'll just require them to be a licensed navigator. So we're going to make up the test, and basically you take the insurance agent test, you erase the name, you write 'navigator test' on it."
And it's not just Georgia. A whole gaggle of Republican-controlled states are coming up with all kinds of ways to sabotage Obamacare's rollout. There is no doubt whatsoever about what Republicans, personified by Ralph Hudgens, are doing here. They are using and abusing the powers they possess in order to sabotage this law.
We can compare their behavior to that of Democrats after the passage of Medicare Part D -- championed by George W. Bush. Democrats, although most of them opposed the law, engaged in no such attempts to sabotage its rollout. They fought on the floor of the House and Senate, but once they lost, they accepted that the law is the law in a democracy. But that's not how Republicans operate.
Perhaps the most egregious and potentially effective measure in the effort to obstruct Obamacare comes out of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. The House Energy and Commerce Committee last week submitted a request for a huge amount of irrelevant information from navigators -- the people whose job it is to guide and educate citizens about how Obamacare can work for them. The fact that Republicans at the state and federal level have focused on throwing up roadblocks in the way of the navigators shows just how important they will be to the success of Obamacare.
The request from the Energy and Commerce Committee came in less than a month before the new Obamacare health insurance exchanges go live on Oct. 1, and serves no purpose other than to drain time, energy and resources away from navigators in the run-up to that date. Of course, the Committee has largely targeted states where the highest percentage of the population lacks insurance. In case you were wondering, yes, Texas is the worst offender. Go conservatism!
Law professor and health reform advocate Timothy Jost had this to say about the House's efforts:
"Look at item 6 and the accompanying sheet defining documents subject to the request. This could include hundreds of documents and emails and could take days to locate and compile. It might have been reasonable to ask them to describe what they do and how they intend to do it. This is a much more intrusive and extensive request. It is also important to note that most of these organizations are doing this on a comparative shoestring, and this is the busiest time in their existence. They just got their grants, they are concluding cooperative agreements with HHS, they are hiring, training their employees, getting them certified, setting up security systems, making contacts, and even to have to take a day off to respond to this is too much. And the committee knows this. This is not about gathering information. It is about trying to stop a program. (Emphasis mine)
The time has come to put a stop to these kinds of actions. The Republicans have taken a power that is designed to be applied reasonably and judiciously, namely Congress' authority to oversee the executive branch, and abused it beyond recognition. They have twisted that authority into an instrument to defy democracy, to render null the laws passed by the people's elected representatives.
This abuse cannot be allowed to stand. It is a perversion of democracy. The time has come to fight back. What can we do about it? If I were the president, I'd want to do whatever was in my power to fight back. And here's my idea:
Yes, Congress has the power to issue these demands for information. There is no limit on their oversight power, other than that they cannot violate a citizen's civil liberties. In fact, if the navigators do not comply, they can be held in contempt of Congress, a federal charge. Fine. But the president can checkmate this move with one of his own.
The Constitution, in Article II, Section 2, describes the president's power to pardon, according to which he or she: "shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment."
There is no other limit on that power. The president can issue a pardon as soon as a crime has been committed, there is no need to wait for any charges to be brought.
President Obama should announce that:
1) The request from the House Energy and Commerce Committee to the Obamacare navigators is nothing more than a blatant attempt to prevent Americans from obtaining health insurance.
2) The request is part of a broader Republican scheme to sabotage Obamacare -- which is the law of the land.
3) The request is an abuse of power, plain and simple. Our government cannot function properly if one side is allowed to abuse its power in order to prevent duly enacted laws from functioning properly.
The president should declare that, for these reasons, he authorizes all the targeted parties to ignore the request from the House of Representatives. Furthermore, he will issue immediate, full, and complete pardons to anyone that the House attempts to prosecute for ignoring their request, or any other similar requests that the president deems equally abusive and designed to sabotage duly passed laws.
This would be a serious step, and it is not one I advocate lightly. Of course, Barack Obama wouldn"t be the first president to try and get around a congressional subpoena. We are talking about something different here, however, than what George W. Bush did. Congressional oversight is about checks and balances, making sure that no branch of government gains too much power. The request from the House Energy and Commerce Committee is part of an attempt by one party to undo legislation even though it lacks the votes to do so. If they succeed, there will be no point to even having elections. What I have proposed is a defensive measure, one that fights fire with fire rather than something designed to cover up misdeeds.
When one side keeps punching below the belt, the other side eventually has no choice but to do whatever it can to defend itself. In this case, the White House would be defending its signature law, which really means defending the people who wouldn't be able to get health insurance without it. Furthermore, the president would be defending democracy against an opponent that has shown time and again that it does not care how it obtains power.
The Marquess of Queensbury and his rules ain't welcome at this contest. It's a street fight. It's time for the White House to get ugly. Long past time.
The question for President Obama is the same one the Chicago beat cop put to the G-Man in The Untouchables: What are you prepared to do?