RSS

The worst idea EVER

April 25, 2013, at 2:01 AM
 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in November 2012.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in November 2012. Photo: Roger Wollenberg/Getty Images

So, either someone pulled a fast one on POLITICO — or else the story you're about to read reflects political and moral misjudgment on an epochal scale. 

Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.

The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said.

A source close to the talks says: “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done.”

Everyone may have to hold hands to get it done, but its premature leaking is going to kill it, thankfully. I bet that's why someone tattled to the two reporters anyway. The idea is so bad that it has to be crushed before it can hatch. 

First, and I am trying to maintain my wits here, forget about the hypocrisy angle. That's easy outrage. What's atrocious about this story, if true, is the feeble rationale. To wit:

There is concern in some quarters that the provision requiring lawmakers and staffers to join the exchanges, if it isn’t revised, could lead to a “brain drain” on Capitol Hill, as several sources close to the talks put it.

Which is absolute, pure, undistilled bullshit. How banal political hedonism can be!

The concern that some people may wind up paying more for their health care is not unique to members of Congress. Most of the staff members who are involved in these negotiations probably make more than $100,000 a year, and they can afford it.

The idea that Congressional staff members are special — so special as to warrant an exemption from a law that literally affects everyone else in the country — is delusional. Expertise is important; if pay is a problem for staff members, and it is for professional staff members on committees requiring expertise, then raise their goddamn pay to keep them in their jobs. Act like every other company would. Be competitive. Spend less money on flags and drapery and candy. You can do it. I've been in your offices. The money you spend on picture frames alone could fund a small army.

The most offensive notion is that Congress and its staff members can decide IF they want to follow the laws they pass as a constitutional actor, which ought to be just as anger-inducing as the idea of an executive branch that refuses to share anything about its secret body of law.  

The saddest part of this is that because ObamaCare ties us all together in the health care system and does indeed, at least on the margins, encourage us to think of health care as a universal right and not an optional good. Congress and its staff want to evade the basic responsibility that everyone else has to contend with.

I don't know how well ObamaCare will work. I worry that it will not contain health care costs, that the bureaucracy will make it more confusing than it needs to be, that it will be gamed, and that people will fall through the cracks. I think people who are currently satisfied with their health care WILL have to make decisions down the road that they might not have faced had ObamaCare not passed. 

But the great thing about living in a democracy is that, quite often, the material burdens of the future can be shared by everyone and assumed by no one. Our progressive tax system, for all its flaws, is based on the same principle. 

One of the reasons I wanted to leave Washington last year was because I found it hard to compartmentalize. I realize: No big loss. But I really liked it there. I kinda liked helping young people just out of college get jobs, or help them figure out how to get through their first ones on Capitol Hill. One of the things I would say, and I still believe it, is that most people who work in the city are noble and decent and, certainly, flawed, but who would never, ever actually even think that they were special enough to allow them to opt out of the rule of law. 

And then one day, I'd read a story about how high-level staff were conspiring to exempt themselves from insider trading laws, or had done so. Then the next day, covering a story about some minor outrage or some political tactic, I'd have to treat these same people with respect — the same level of respect, the same type of respect, that I had acquired for the majority of people I met. Dealing with "House of Cards" Washington was not easy for me. (Cue the tiny violin).

But forget about me: If you're a young staffer on the Hill, and an article like this corrupts whatever innocence you had, I have no words of comfort for you other than the fact that this particular piece of craptological thinking is dead for now, thanks to the leaker. 

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Facebook

Twitter

RSS

Subscribe to the Week