It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic for our nation. No, not the government shutdown, but the relentless assault by President Obama — and his Senate sidekick Harry Reid — on fundamental constitutional procedures for making laws, applying them and enforcing them.
Without congressional action or concurrence, Mr. Obama has made 17 or more changes in the Obamacare law — unilaterally. Huge glitches in the system startup revealed that the law is far from ready for prime time. Yet in recent White House “negotiations” with House Speaker John A. Boehner and company, Mr. Obama has refused to change the health law he has repeatedly violated as though it has somehow reconstituted its virginity.
Meanwhile, the president has sought to inflict political pain on Republicans for the federal shutdown, going to the extent of barricading the World War II Memorial to prevent visiting veterans from visiting this Mall exhibit. Some park rangers were so embarrassed by this alien act that at one point, they helped the veterans remove the barriers.
The House has begun the process of restoring “regular order”; that is, funding the government with 13 separate appropriation bills instead of lumping everything in a continuing resolution. Already, they have approved the defense appropriations bill, and they should accelerate this process.
They can hold daily press conferences and list the government agencies and programs they have voted to fund. They can announce they are ready to go to conference committee on those funding bills whenever the Senate Democrats are ready to show up for work. In fact, they can inform Mr. Reid, the Senate majority leader, they will not fund Senate salaries until its members start showing up at conference committee meetings on the funding bills.
When they address Treasury appropriations, House Republicans can omit funding for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce and administer Obamacare. If Senate Democrats want to restore funding for the IRS’ role in Obamacare, they can pass their own IRS appropriations bill with it included and take it to the conference committee with House Republicans. This is the legal process for passing legislation.
House consideration of appropriations for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) can make clear that there shall be no special Obamacare exemption for Congress and its staff. If Senate Democrats want a special exemption for Congress, they can put that in their OPM appropriations and take that to conference with the Republicans as well.
When House Republicans consider the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill, they can fund all of the department except for money to enforce the individual or employer mandate for at least a year. This and other key delays are contained in Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s H.R. 2804, which has numerous co-sponsors. (Without congressional concurrence, Mr. Obama decreed that the employer mandate would be delayed for a year, along with numerous other Obamacare delays not legally authorized.)
If Senate Democrats want to enforce the individual mandate against working people, forcing them to pay penalties unless they buy the expensive health insurance the government orders them to buy while giving employers a free pass for their mandate, they should assert that in the conference committee with their own HHS appropriations bill that says so.
Mr. Obama says he will not negotiate over funding the government. That is all to the good, because he has no role in this appropriations process, until both houses of Congress pass an appropriations bill for his signature.
Then if the president favors the role of the Internal Revenue Service in Obamacare, a special exemption from Obamacare for Congress, or enforcing the individual mandate on working people, but not the employer mandate on big business, then he can say so in vetoing any of these bills and keeping the government shut down to that extent. However, there is no point in negotiating with him in advance. He thinks the shutdown works to his political advantage, so he will not show the leadership to compromise, as President Reagan did in working with congressional Democrats so successfully.
If Senate Democrats never get around to conference committee meetings on the appropriations bills, that would only reveal to everyone who is really responsible for the government shutdown after all. It would only mean that 800,000 nonessential federal employees out of 2.9 million would stay on furlough indefinitely. There’s little harm to the public in that. Besides, it would save a lot of money the government doesn’t have.
Lewis K. Uhler is president of the National Tax Limitation Committee. Peter J. Ferrara is a senior fellow at the National Center For Policy Analysis.