The President must go to Congress to change the health care law

Yesterday President Obama decreed yet another “tweak” to key provisions of Obamacare and provided a “transitional policy” to allow for the continuation of the millions of health insurance policies that are in the process of being cancelled to comply with the president’s signature health care law. 

The cancellations revealed there was never any truth to the president’s claim, “If you like your health plan, you can keep it. Period.”  This is something policy experts always knew, but it took the reality of cancellation notices for the rest of America and the mainstream media to finally get the point. 

Understandably, folks are upset over all these cancellations and Obama clearly felt he must act.  Even former President Bill Clinton, perhaps for his own political reasons, called on Obama to honor his promise.  And so Obama acted. 

But there is a big problem with Obama’s short-term political solution: He has no authority to unilaterally decree a fix to a law that Congress passed and he signed. 

The much, much bigger problem is that this is just the latest in a long line of presidential actions flouting a duly passed law.   On just the health care law, the stroke of the administration’s pen delayed the employer mandate, allowed members of Congress and their staff to opt out of the exchanges, abandoned income verification requirements for tax credits, and issued a number of delays to new programs, such as the small business exchanges and the low-income basic health plan.

But it’s not just the health care law.  Commentary after commentary by a who’s who of columnists—George WillCharles KrauthammerPeter WehnerRamesh Ponnuru, and the Investor’s Business Daily for a sampling—lists example after example of Obama ignoring federal law and making his own law. 

A recent Wall Street Journal column by Daniel Henninger points out the obvious problem with these presidential decrees:

The political left, historically inclined by ideological belief to public policy that is imposed rather than legislated, will support Mr. Obama’s expansion of authority. The rest of us should not.

The U.S. has a system of checks and balances. Mr. Obama is rebalancing the system toward a national-leader model that is alien to the American tradition.

A republic, as John Adams famously wrote is “a government of laws, and not of men.”  America’s Constitution, the supreme law of the land, requires the president to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” 

The faithful execution of the law is a cornerstone of the Rule of Law that protects our liberty.  Under a Rule of Law, liberty thrives, because individuals can predict with great certainty the consequences of their actions, and are therefore free to act as they choose, fully knowledgeable of the consequences of their actions. 

Recent polling suggests a majority of Americans now view the government as a threat to their personal rights and liberties.  In June, Rasmussen found 56 percent of likely U.S. voters “consider the federal government a threat to individual rights rather than a protector of those rights,” up from 46 percent in December 2012.  Similarly, a January Pew Research poll found “53% think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms,” the first time the poll registered above 50 percent.

No doubt these polls are much more driven by the IRS targeting of conservatives and the NSA surveillance revelations, but the litany of other unilateral actions by the Obama administration certainly contributes to a growing sense of lawlessness.

If making the connection between individual liberty and Obama unilaterally changing the health care law seems a little too abstract, Charles Krauthammer points out the more immediate problem with the president’s actions, noting that this is what we expect from banana republics, not the United States.

The problem is not just uncertain enforcement but the undermining of the very creation of new law. What’s the point of the whole legislative process — of crafting various provisions through give-and-take negotiation — if you cannot rely on the fixity of the final product, on the assurance that the provisions bargained for by both sides will be carried out?

Consider immigration reform, now in gestation. The essence of any deal would be legalization in return for strict border enforcement. If some such legislative compromise is struck, what confidence can anyone have in it — if the president can unilaterally alter whatever (enforcement) provisions he never liked in the first place?

So as hard as it has always been for Congress and the president to agree to anything under our system of checks and balances, passing future laws will be even more difficult if Congress cannot depend on the president to faithfully execute the deal.  In short, President Obama has just added to the pandemonium that is Obamacare and undermined the ability of our federal government to solve real problems.

The House took steps today to recapture their constitutional role and passed legislation, as the Constitution requires, to amend the law to allow insurers to continue selling health plans that do not currently comply with the law.  With the support of 39 Democrats, the passage could mark the beginning of a bipartisan movement to address Obamacare’s most serious flaws in the midst of the laws very troubled rollout.

Conservatives in Congress, however, need to break through the noise to offer a viable, comprehensive health care solution.  This is a tremendous challenge because even if they can overcome their normal lack of political discipline, they first have to fix the mess created by Obamacare while offering a plan—such as plans offered by the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation—that addresses the problems we faced before Obamacare was foisted upon the nation in 2010. All of this must be done while reaching across the aisle. Perhaps former fans of Obamacare will reach back and lend a hand as they did today.