With one sneaky agreement, the president and Senate leaders on August 7 undid a crucial reform, 18 years old, which had served as one of the few rules promoting the public’s trust in our own government. If anyone wonders why so many Americans have grown cynical about Washington, D.C., Wednesday’s action shows exactly why the cynicism has at least some merit.
The “dastardly deed” was that Congress would now be at least partially exempt from the normal rules governing the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
So now, by again treating the “ruling class” differently (and more leniently) than the general public, lawmakers have turned government officials into a class above the public rather than being the public’s servants. In doing so, they have broken a trust established in 1995 - one too little remembered or credited, but still an important safeguard against government abuse.
The crucial 1995 reform actually was part of the famous 1994 “Contract with America” that helped sweep Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich into the House Speakership. In fact, it was the very first item of the Contract. For decades, Congress had exempted itself in myriad ways from laws or rules applying to the rest of the country. The Contract vowed to change that - and on the very first day of the new Congress in 1995, it did. Here was the language: “First, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress.”
How simple. How straightforward. And how important!
And for the next 18½ years, until this past week - and despite frequent rumors to the contrary - that’s exactly what Congress did. For all its faults, Congress actually abided by the Contract’s rule.
But now that’s gone. Now, via a ruling worked out between certain congressional leaders and the White House, federal subsidies for health insurance - of a sort available to no private-sector workers - will continue to be provided for congressmen and their staffs.
This sort of special exemption for government workers is not a merely symbolic annoyance; instead, it feeds a perception that soon becomes an attitude that soon makes itself manifest in various actions. The perception is that government workers are above the law; the attitude that can grow among the federal workforce is that those workers are our masters rather than our servants; and the actions that flow from that attitude can include many abuses, small and large, of privacy or liberty.
It is the “ruler mentality” that leads itself to the abuses we have seen recently by the Internal Revenue Service, discriminating against organizations of a particular philosophy. It is the ruler mentality that leads itself to armed agents -- of federal agencies that really shouldn’t have armed agents in the first place - abusing citizens or small businesses with what amounts to administrative terrorism. (Read about it here and here, among many other places.)
Granted, this is a bit of a “slippery slope” argument: Not all privileges lead to abuses. But with so many abuses taking place, it certainly makes no sense to provide any more special privileges that often at least can lead to abusive attitudes, and thence to abusive actions.
If there is a public backlash against Congress and the White House for their special deal, the ruling class will deserve the hearty “petition of grievances” that occurs. The 1995 reform should have been sacrosanct, not sacrificed. In the name of health care, lawmakers have done something to the body politic that is decidedly unhealthy.
About the Contributor
Quin Hillyer is a Senior Fellow for The Center for Individual Freedom, a Senior Editor for the American Spectator magazine, and a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mobile. He has won mainstream awards for journalistic excellence at the local, state, regional and national levels. He has been published professionally in well over 50 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, Investors Business Daily, National Review, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, and The New Republic Online. He is a former editorial writer and columnist for the Washington Times, the Washington Examiner, the Mobile Register, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a former Managing Editor of Gambit Weekly in New Orleans. He has appeared dozens of times as a television analyst in Washington DC, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and as a guest many hundreds of times on national and local radio shows.
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