When crunch time comes, when the chips are down, when the rubber meets the road — employ the cliché of your choice — Americans can put away their selfish concerns and come together in common cause. Even Congress, our only native criminal class.
Deep in the bowels of the Senate and House Office Buildings, secreted away where there will be no distractions, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, have put aside partisan differences to work for the common weal. This particular weal has never had it so good.
The issue at hand transcends taxes, immigration reform, the war on terrorism, even war and peace (if any). The hush-hush conversations, involving House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are about how to exempt Congress and all the little grunions who attend every need of the congresspersons from ... Obamacare, the health care monstrosity that we were told would be so good for us.
Discussions started months ago, when it suddenly dawned on these worthies that the Affordable Health Care Act would not be affordable for these highly paid daytime residents of Capitol Hill, and they must be exempt from the requirements that will bankrupt everybody else. Democrats and Republicans alike are aware of the "acute sensitivity" of embracing public hypocrisy with such enthusiasm, and the sticking point is whether Democrats can persuade Speaker Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, to commit hari-kari with them. A source close to the talks tells Politico, the Capitol Hill political daily, "everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done."
The alternative is to reach deep into savings or borrow the cash to pay for Obamacare in the insurance exchanges, just like everyone else, as mandated by the president's health-care scheme, and joined with such glee by congressional Democrats, and sanctified by Chief Justice John Roberts. If Congress and its go-fers, the aides who pamper, coddle and on occasion even go to the bathroom for the members, are to be treated like the rest of us, a lot of them will have to retire to K Street's lobbying shops or go home to find honest work as florists, dog walkers, bicycle mechanics — or rest on the kindness of indulgent kin.
"This could lead to a real brain drain," says one congressional aide, "with the nation losing the counsel and wisdom of many of the best and brightest." (Brains on the Hill. Who knew?)
These worthies are shameless, as we all know, and they're all hiding in fear in broom closets, little-used toilets or whatever they can find in the shadows under the elms. Harry Reid's office won't talk about it. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, sent out an aide to say that he was looking for a way to implement Obamacare in a way that's workable for everyone, "including members and staff." John Boehner's mouthpiece said his boss wants to spare everyone pain. "If the speaker has the opportunity to save anyone from Obamacare, he will." First the speaker and his aides, of course.
Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who led the Republican opposition to Obamacare in the Senate, thinks exempting anyone, even a member of Congress, is a bad idea. "I think if this is going to be a disaster, which I think it's going to be, we ought to enjoy it together with our constituents." Perhaps Congress could hire out-of-work musicians to play "Nearer My God to Thee" on election eve next November, like the violinists who bucked up the spirits of the doomed on the deck of the unsinkable Titanic as the great ship sank.
Obamacare could be the gift to the Republicans that keeps on giving, as President Obama himself knew it would be when he arranged to have it become effective only after he was safely re-elected to a second term. Democrats are terrified that the full reality of the disaster will become apparent to all just in time for the 2014 congressional elections. They're being particularly nice to their Republican colleagues, because they must have bipartisan cover.
Republicans, being Republicans, are likely to give it to them. The health-care "reform" is tailor-made as a Republican talking point — no need to shout — and nobody knows this better than a Democratic congressman. The prospect of hanging, as Dr. Johnson famously said, "focuses the mind wonderfully." So, too, the delicious prospect of a congressman having to endure the punishment he devised for someone else.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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