President’s retreat on Obamacare 
shows big government doesn’t work

The big and central deficiency of big and centralized government is that it just doesn’t work very well, even though government interventionists throughout history have been adept at making it seem otherwise.

More for the “community” and less for the individual, more from the rich on behalf of those who lack, more to protect people from the ill choices they might make, more from the collective for the good of the aggrieved — there is a certain simple elegance to the arguments for control by the collective.

It isn’t, after all, by anomally that a failed Obama presidency handily won four more years.

But the problem for statists — the real rub for those who argue for central planning over free markets, and heavy-government intervention over a sensibly regulated system of free enterprise — usually becomes evident right about the time that rubber meets the road.

And this week, rubber met road for the president’s signature legislative and political accomplishment — Obamacare.

How’s that old saying go? “The best laid plans of mice and men ...”

This week, amid cries of protest from business and whispers of warning from economists worried about impending damage to our wobbly recovery, the government announced that it was suspending until after the next election the requirement that businesses with more than 50 employees buy insurance for their employees, a central feature of the sprawling government healthcare law officially known as the Affordable Care Act.

The employer mandate has always been among the most contentious provisions in O-care. It requires large businesses to buy health insurance or else pay a tax. Throughout the trench warfare to enact the law, the White House insisted that the employer mandate was a necessary mechanism to ensure that business was paying its fair share of the health care tab.

Business has hammered the provision relentlessly from the first moments it made its way into the bill that Nancy Pelosi never read. They say the requirement further jeopardizes America’s competitiveness in a hotly competitive global economy at a time when EPA, OSHA, Commerce and every other instrumentality of the federal government are making it hard enough.

The most immediate consequence of the provision would be to give incentives to employers with marginally more than 50 employees to shed enough jobs so the provision doesn’t apply. Companies with far more than 50, too, would likely be induced to cut jobs to pay for the new costs.

The employer mandate, business has argued, is one more business tax, one more reason America’s now five-year-long economic malaise won’t loosen its grip.

And now, strangely, the president agrees.

The move to suspend the mandate was surprising and peculiar in ways big and small.

The delay was surprising because admitting he’s wrong is not this president’s strong suit. But, in effect, that’s what Obama did.

The administration’s press release didn’t say so, but the one-year waiver of the employer mandate was the operational equivalent of pleading nolo contendere to the charge that Obamacare would send shock-waves through the economy. “Obama admits he was wrong.” Newspaper editors, there’s your headline.

The move was peculiar because the president utterly lacks the authority to administratively delay the requirement. The Affordable Care Act couldn’t be more clear — on Jan. 1, 2014, employers with more than 50 employees must offer a qualifying health care package to their employees. Period. No ifs, ands or loopholes.

Those who have seen the cartoon, “I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill,” will recall that, once a bill becomes a law, the president doesn’t get to just ignore it or waive it or delay it. This isn’t Egypt, for cripes sake.

But apparently the president and his lawyers don’t watch cartoons, or for that matter, read the Constitution. A central feature of the law bearing his name will not be enforced, at least not for the next year.

The more important object lesson implicit in the president’s delay is that it affirms once more that big government, though soothing to the ears of many, just doesn’t work in practice.

As a practical matter, big government turns out not to be very practical. For more information, see all of human history — oh, and Obama’s retreat from Obamacare, too.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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Kudos to the Sentinel’s editors for preemptively debunking (“Temporary time-out for part of Obamacare”) the partisan poppycock of columnist Josh Penry (“President’s retreat on Obamacare shows big government doesn’t work”) and local lemming Dave Kearsley (“Dems want to celebrate only “Dependence Day’”).

As the Sentinel explained, explanations for delaying the “employer mandate” provision of ObamaCare range from the conspiratorial to the straightforward – encompassing both Penry’s and Kearsley’s prematurely expectant glee that a one-year delay in enforcing an administratively cumbersome provision presages the impending “train wreck” so eagerly sought by Republicans and promoted by their cynical attempts at repeal and/or sabotage. 

The “employer mandate” in Richard Nixon’s (1974) and Bill Clinton’s (1994) health care proposals compelled employers to pay for employee health insurance.  The “employer mandate” in “Romney-care” and now “ObamaCare” imposes a nominal “penalty” on some employers for not doing so ($2000 to $3000 per employee per year, versus annual insurance premiums averaging $16,000 per employee)..

Because all employers with 200+ employees already provide health insurance plans, only employers with 50 to 200 employees are subject to the “penalty”.  Because 95% of those employers currently provide health insurance plans (which may or may not comport with the minimum specifications of the Affordable Care Act), only some 5% of those “smaller businesses” would be affected by the “penalty”.

The administration’s decision to delay this provision in response to legitimate concerns “shows that [the Republican-controlled Congress] doesn’t work” – because it won’t even consider proposals intended to improve ObamaCare and/or facilitate its implementation.

Indeed, some Democrats would eliminate the “employer mandate” entirely—by allowing employers to convert health insurance premiums to commensurately increased wages and salaries, thereby freeing employers from those administrative and financial costs while enabling their newly “independent” employees to purchase their own personalized plans from ObamaCare’s health insurance exchanges.

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