Implementation of a key provision of Obamacare, the federal health reform law, is being delayed until 2015. Employers of more than 50 will not be required next year to provide health insurance or pay a fine, as Congress mandated.
If you missed the news, it’s no surprise. It wasn’t the result of a drawn-out debate in Congress. President Obama took it upon himself to decide that this portion of the law didn’t need to be implemented as intended.
Instead of outrage, the only interruption in the sounds of silence from conservatives and liberals in response to the Obamacare delay are the voices seeking to leverage the decision for political gain. Republicans, who have made opposition to Obamacare an article of ideological purity, hardly want to be seen as encouraging implementation of the law. And Democrats seem fearful that any criticism of the president or his health reform legislation will somehow undermine the expansion of the federal role in health care they have long advocated.
Obama’s decision itself is rooted in politics. It’s almost certainly no coincidence that the president unilaterally delayed implementation of the controversial provision until after next year’s all-important midterm congressional elections.
Beyond the substance of the issue and politics of the day, though, are broader questions. The president’s action may well be at odds with the U.S. Constitution, which calls on the president to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Lawyers and constitutional scholars will have to sort out the legal issues.
What we the people are left to decide is how much we can trust government and those we elect to lead us. The answer seems to be “not much.” According to a Pew Research Center survey from earlier this year, only 26 percent of Americans trust government always or most of the time.
Our country faces enormous challenges, from gaining control over runaway budgets to building an economy that supports good jobs. Yet Washington today is consumed by partisan impulses that sometimes assert a scandal when none is there and other times ignore an abuse of power when a president takes it upon himself to decide which laws he will uphold and which ones he will disregard.
Politics and policy today suffer from an arrogance of leadership. The Obama decision — not the first time he has decided on his own which laws he will enforce and which he will ignore — reflects the conceit of the elected. Increasingly, they believe they can design their own rules, that their petty partisan posturing is an appropriate response to the need for statesmanship and that political payback is a legitimate prerogative of elected office.
Case in point: Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s response to the Republican call for a special session to repeal a new tax on warehouse services.
The tax is scheduled to take effect in April 2014. The businesses directly and negatively affected say they can’t wait for next year’s legislative session to know whether the tax will be repealed. With the economy recovering and interest rates still low, these businesses see a window of opportunity to expand and create new jobs right now. Dayton, though, seems oblivious to what a year’s worth of uncertainty means to a business that runs on the narrowest of margins. To him, it’s a “grandstanding stunt” for Republicans to seek a special session.
Political rhetoric aside, most experts agree that the tax will eliminate well-paying Minnesota jobs and cause some warehouse businesses to expand in other states. In addition to being an anticompetitive tax, the state’s improving revenue picture makes it unnecessary to impose this tax for budget purposes.
What matters most to the governor, though, seems to be the opportunity to take a swipe at his political opponents. “[Republicans] put us into this [budget] hole,” said Dayton explaining his refusal to call a special session. What the governor didn’t explain is why it makes sense to punish businesses, their workers and communities.
Certainly, Obama and Dayton aren’t alone in this behavior. On more than one occasion, Republicans in Washington and St. Paul have been willing to risk financial default. Rather than find honest solutions to limiting the nation’s debt or balancing the state’s budget, too many Republicans have acted with the smugness of those who believe it is appropriate to jeopardize the people’s well-being to score their small political points.
When have we had enough? The bottom line: If we want better leadership in our public offices, it’s time we the people do a better job of demanding more from those we elect.
Tom Horner is a public-affairs consultant and was chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn. Tim Penny is president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and is a former Democratic member of Congress. Both are former Independence Party candidates for governor.