The Daily Debate - 7/8/2013

By Robert Tracinski

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July 8, 2013

1. HumptyDumptyCare

2. What If Tahrir Were Times Square?

3. Dispatches


1. HumptyDumptyCare

Remember when Nancy Pelosi said that we had to pass ObamaCare so we could find out what's in it? Well, it turns out she was over-optimistic, because three years after its passage, what's in it is still changing day by day as its provisions are dropped, ignored, or "delayed." The administration seems to be making up what's in the law as they go.

First they delayed the employer mandate in response to warnings from employers that it would cause them to reduce the number of their full-time employees. But the delay doesn't change much, because employers are already anticipating the new system.

"Delaying the Obamacare employer mandate has simply put off rules business had already started adjusting to.

"Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with 50-plus full-time employees must start offering them health insurance or face stiff penalties. The employer mandate had been set to kick in January 2014, but was pushed back a year.

"Because a 30-hour work week counts as full-time under Obamacare, Fatburger fast-food restaurants had started cutting worker hours below that threshold, CEO Andy Wiederhorn said.

"Some Fatburger owners even began 'job sharing' with other businesses, teaming up to share a higher number of employees all working fewer hours. Someone could work 25 hours at one Fatburger, 25 at another one with a different franchise owner, and still not be a full-time worker under Obamacare rules.

"Many companies at the International Franchise Expo in New York City last month acknowledged they've been adopting that slash-and-share method, cutting hours and splitting workers.

"For them, the White House decision to delay implementation doesn't change much: Small business owners who undo those changes will simply have to redo them next year.

"'All it's doing is causing confusion, anxiety and the workers are paying the price,' Wiederhorn said. 'Now, the mandate's a moving target. It's very, very challenging.'"

Then the administration announced that it is delaying systems for verifying whether someone who asks for subsidized health insurance is accurately reporting his income or is eligible for employer-provided health insurance. Avik Roy calls it the "honor system."

Now let's imagine how all of this would be interpreted if a Republican were in office. Let's say Mitt Romney had been elected in 2012, but without enough votes in the Senate to repeal ObamaCare. Then let's say that his administration announced that the health insurance exchanges weren't ready and that they had decided unilaterally to delay the employer mandate. Democrats would accuse them of deliberately sabotaging the law in order to thwart the will of Congress.

Or let's say that the Democrats had passed their gun control measure demanding stricter background checks for gun purchases—and a Republican administration announced that the system wasn't ready, they were delaying it for another year, and in the meantime they were just going to allow gun buyers to give their word that they are legally entitled to buy a firearm.

I don't think I need to spell out what the reaction would be. So why is all of this OK when the Obama administration does it?

Republicans are challenging the legality of these changes to ObamaCare.

"A Treasury official told that the move was 'an exercise of the administrative authority' under the IRS code. The official said the department has 'longstanding' authority to 'grant transition relief when implementing new legislation' like the health care law.

"A number of Republicans pointed to the sudden change as a sign of problems to come with the massive health care law. But, as lawmakers return on Monday from the holiday break, they're also challenging whether the tweak was an abuse of power.

"'This action raises a lot of questions about whether the Obama administration can simply ignore the law when it's convenient for them,' Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said in a statement.

"He said he's asked the Congressional Research Service to 'investigate' that issue—'because I don't think any president has the authority to pick and choose what parts of law to follow.'"

But I can see why the administration thought they had this power. Much of the Affordable Care Act concerns itself with creating a giant new health care bureaucracy, to which it gives sweeping powers to make decisions and set rules. In effect, ObamaCare is not really a law. It is an open-ended grant of power and a set of vague guidelines and aspirations, with all of the details to be filled in by the executive branch. So while it's questionable if the administration is complying with the letter of the law, they sure are adhering to its spirit.

John Fund points out the unanticipated casualty of this lawless approach: immigration reform.

"There are many reasons why immigration reform is in trouble, ranging from the fact that immigration is not currently a burning political issue to the inherent complexity and internal contradictions of a 1,200-page bill.

"But there is another less-discussed reason. The Obama administration's instinctive dishonesty and contempt for the rule of law are finally catching up with it. Few Republicans in the House—even those who devoutly want immigration reform—trust the Obama administration to enforce with consistency and integrity anything that passes Congress."

The Senate bill's enforcement provisions are basically a request for Congress to trust the executive branch to implement new border security measures. But the administration's evisceration of its own signature legislation indicates a willingness to interpret any law according to the principle of Humpty Dumpty: the law means just what they choose it to mean—neither more nor less.

The result is quite a crack-up, and I'm not sure whether all the president's horses and all the president's men can ever put it back together again.


2. What If Tahrir Were Times Square?

Bret Baier shares a letter from an Egyptian in Alexandria who does the best job of explaining the crisis there, by translating it into American terms, including multiplying all the numbers to account for our larger population. Here's the meat of the argument.

"Suddenly, on November 21st 2012, president Obama issues a presidential decree giving himself sweeping powers, to the extent that his future decrees become un-contestable in any court, in effect his decisions henceforth are akin to the word of God....

"Nationwide protests erupt as a result of this decree and 1.5 million people organize a sit-in at the White House to peacefully request he rescind it.

"Some of Obama's democratic party supporters attack the peaceful sit-in outside the White House with guns & shoot 5 peaceful protesters dead

"A few weeks later president Obama dissolves the US Supreme Court and labels them all 'traitors to America.'...

"One short week later, he fires the United States District Attorney and personally appoints a Democrat to replace him.

"A month later he annuls the US Constitution and forms a 'constitutional committee' to draft a new constitution (committee includes no Republicans or Independents, no Moslems or Jews, and only a handful of women. And is composed primarily of Democrats & religious preachers)....

"Who would you say had 'legitimacy' in this case if it had been America?"

So is this basically an Egyptian version of the Tea Party? It certainly answer the hand-wringers who worry that Morsi's removal from office threatens "democracy" in Egypt, because it's clear that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were the bigger threat to representative government.

That said, the cases are not quite parallel, because events in Egypt are not happening in an American context. They're happening in an Egyptian context. So when Morsi threw out the constitution, he wasn't throwing out the equivalent of the U.S. Constitution. He was throwing out the constitution left over from an old authoritarian regime. (I've been told that the old constitution wasn't all that bad—if the Mubarak regime had ever bothered to abide by it.)

You have to understand that difference in context to understand the great challenge in Egypt. They are attempting to build up the legitimacy of a new system, while building on the remains of a system that lacked legitimacy. Having been forced to rely on a military coup to remove Morsi—a means that doesn't exactly scream "legitimacy," either—they haven't gotten much closer to a solution.

What Egypt really needs is a George Washington, or at least a Nelson Mandela. Mohamed Morsi was pretty much the opposite, and that's why he had to go.


3. Dispatches

While the second revolution in Egypt's Tahrir Square has captured all of the headlines, things are still simmering in Turkey's Taksim Square, where protesters are trying to unseat another democratically elected authoritarian.

ABC News reports that George Zimmerman probably won't be convicted of murder. Now they tell us.

Client #9—excuse me, Eliot Spitzer—tries to revive his political career by relying on voters' forgiveness, or on the fact that nobody outside City Hall really cares who the comptroller is.

The appeal of soccer as a sport has always eluded me, so I am even more mystified that people are willing to kill over it—particularly in such a flamboyantly Medieval fashion.


—Robert Tracinski

The Daily Debate

edited by Robert Tracinski

Brought to you by RealClearPolitics.

Robert Tracinski is also editor of The Tracinski Letter.

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