New game plan: Punish Obamacare critics
Shooting the messenger is a metaphor most Americans are familiar with, and it describes the act of lashing out at the blameless bearer of bad news. Washington Democrats, led by Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, are gearing up to shoot any messenger who dares speaks ill of Obamacare — and the first target is American business. Washington Democrats want the nation’s employers to stop alerting their workers, customers, shareholders and the public at large to the financial impact of President Obama’s new health care law — AT&T ($1 billion), Deere & Co. ($150 million), Caterpillar ($100 million), 3M ($90 million), AK Steel ($31 million) or Valero Energy (up to $20 million) — because the truth is politically inconvenient to Democratic incumbents and candidates trying to convince a skeptical American public that Obamacare is right for them. But make no mistake, these hearings are nothing more than a political witch hunt designed to cover up the damage the Democrats’ takeover of health care will render upon the American economy.
Trying to intimidate and silence opponents of their flawed health care “reform” is not a new tactic, either. On Sept. 21, 2009, the Obama administration’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) imposed a gag order on all Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans, prohibiting them from communicating with seniors about the proposed Medicare cuts in health care reform. The order was in response to a mailer sent out by Medicare Advantage provider Humana Inc. It seems the company had the audacity to tell its customers that the $123 billion in proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage contained in the Senate Finance Committee’s version of health care re- form would likely result in lower benefits and about 2.7 million people losing their Medicare Advantage coverage — for the record, the actual cuts made to Medicare Advantage by Obamacare came in closer to $205 billion. CMS deemed the information to be “misleading” and “inaccurate.” However, after an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the independent Medicare Payment Advisory Committee confirmed Humana’s facts, CMS was forced to rescind its inappropriate and unconstitutional gag order. Inexplicably, Mr. Waxman has never seen fit to haul anyone from the administration before his committee to answer for what happened.
The whole purpose, of course, of using the “kill the messenger” strategy — in the 1990s, the tactic was known as the politics of personal destruction — is to send a message of your own, namely, to speak the truth at your own peril. The American people should not be intimidated. To paraphrase Justice William Blackstone, the liberty of speech is essential to the nature of a free state. In fact, James Madison’s original version of the Speech and Press clauses in the First Amendment, introduced in the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789, was very clear; it said: “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments.” The exercise of this right is never more important than at times when the government proposes profound changes to our society, and I cannot think of a more profound change than placing one-sixth of our economy and the health care decisions of every American in the hands of the federal government.
The American people — and that includes America’s business leaders — have a right, an obligation, to speak their minds on the health care “reform” law, to speak the truth. My Democratic colleagues in the House swore an oath to protect and defend this right, not to stifle it through threats and intimidation. They should adhere to that oath. As important, as duly elected representatives of the people, they should listen to what Americans have been shouting for months — they do not want Obamacare! Unfortunately, I do not hold out much hope. Listening to the American people is not something the Obama administration and congressional Democrats have shown much interest in doing. That doesn’t mean the American people should stop, though. Quite the opposite, the American people should keep shouting all the way to the ballot box in November.
Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana is the senior Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.