- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

It has famously been said that America is a nation of laws not people. That is not the case when it comes to applying the laws of this country to its elected leaders. Amazingly, members of Congress are not covered by many of the statutes that they apply to the rest of the country.

Exhibit A: Health care reform. Saturday night the House voted to enact President Obamas health care proposal. The administration hailed the passage as the first step toward ensuring that the public receives the same health care benefits provided to members of Congress. This means that the public would enjoy a wide selection of consumer-driven options and lower fee-for-service plans.

Notably, Mr. Obama explicitly campaigned on the idea of providing the American public with the same health care options available to members of Congress. “Youll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves,” promised Mr. Obama during his election campaign.

With the House vote, it is worth noting that the administrations government-run health care experiment will NOT actually provide the public with the same health care benefits provided to members of Congress. The administrations current health care proposal specifically exempts members of Congress from participation. Despite the rousing rhetoric to the contrary, congressional health plans, with their wide choice of provider options, will not be available to the general public.

If the bill passes in the Senate, the public would receive a watered-down version of the benefits available to members of Congress — and at a cost that would dramatically increase the deficit and ultimately lead to a tax hike on the middle class.

Congress needs to man up and provide the public with the same health care benefits that it receives. If Congress thinks that having limited choices for health care providers is tolerable, then its members should accept those same limited options for themselves. Instead, they offer rousing rhetoric about giving the American populace the same health care options that are available to Congress, then, in almost the same breath, they turn around and exempt themselves from the plan.

The only way that we will achieve workable health care is if our leaders have a stake in the game. If the laws passed by Congress actually applied to Congress, true universal health care with an expansive choice of provider options would be a civil right. Instead, Congress continues its disturbing trend of exempting itself from the laws that it foists on the rest of the country. Members of Congress should not be allowed to live by a separate set of laws from the rest of the country.

Sadly, members of Congress routinely exempt themselves from the laws they impose on the rest of the country.

For example, Congress is exempted from the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which sets minimum standards for workplace safety. One of the most sweeping employee-based protections in this countrys history, OSHAs professed mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and occupational fatality. Compliance is monitored by the Department of Labor. All employers must comply with the act — except members of Congress.

Similarly, members of Congress are exempted from strictures of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA provides the public with a statutory right to a wide range of federal agency records. The disclosure requirements of FOIA is a safeguard against government tyranny by ensuring an informed citizenry. The act expressly recognizes that the free flow of information is essential to the functioning of a democratic society, except when it comes to members of Congress.

And heaven forbid that congressional staff members were allowed to unionize. Although the National Labor Relations Act ensures that federal and private-sector employees can organize and collectively bargain, congressional employees are exempted from the act. Get it? Congress thinks that unionization is appropriate — just so long it doesn’t have to deal with the associated headaches.

Most shockingly, several basic anti-discrimination laws may not apply to Congress. Though the Congressional Accountability Act, passed in 1995 shortly after the Republican takeover of Congress, explicitly sought to hold congresspersons to the same anti-discrimination laws that apply to the private sector, it remains uncertain whether these laws apply equally to Congress.

For example, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in “any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Similarly, the Age Discrimination Act bans age-based discrimination in the operation of federally assisted programs. However, courts have been reluctant to view congresspersons as the “recipients” of federal financial assistance. Consequently, even at this late date, members of Congress are likely free from several of this countrys most stringent anti-discrimination laws.

Increasingly, Congress has become unresponsive to the electorate. It engages in massive discretionary spending that is bought and paid for by special interests. It takes advantage of tax loopholes that are not available to middle class. And along the way, it is threatening to bankrupt this country. It is time that the people restore accountability to Congress by demanding that its members abide by the same laws that they foist on the rest of the country.

Can you imagine how the landscape of this country would change if Congress was forced to live under the same laws that it foists on the rest of the country? It is obscene that our so-called leaders can pass laws that apply to the rest of the country, but not to themselves. People of all political backgrounds need to take back our Congress by demanding that our elected leaders live by the laws that they deign to pass for the rest of the country. Perhaps then we will see true health care reform.

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