Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: December 21, 2009

Open Thread

Have we ever done this before? Don’t know, but we’re going go ahead and have one tonight.

So, suggested topics:

(1) ObamaCare: If it passes, can it be repealed once the Republicans take over the legislative duties again? I think not, but maybe there’s a rosier prognostication.

(2) Cap’n-Trade: The EPA is poised to rule by fiat. Would a statutory empowerment be the better choice?

(3) Climategate: Will the leaked emails and failed Copenhagen conference make any difference in the seemingly endless march toward global governance via the canard of AGW?

(4) Afghanistan: Obama has at least done something, but is it enough to accomplish the goal of ending, or at least seriously retarding, global terrorism? Will the current semi-surge result in the same success as Iraq or is it just a political gimmick that costs nothing electorally while wasting American lives?

Let’s see how it goes.

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What Happened To The Mandates?

One of the more pernicious provisions of the ObamaCare bills working their way through Congress is the mandate to purchase health care insurance. It’s probably unconstitutional (arrogating to the federal government an unprecedented power to force Americans to purchase a service or product), but that isn’t going to stop it from being shoved down our collective throats anyway. According to a DKos blogger, however, the Senate bill removes the provision’s bite, which may render it constitutionally valid:

To briefly recap- the HCR requires everyone (except native americans, low income people, undocumented immigrants, followers of my cult, the grandfathered**, etc) to purchase health insurance. Violators will have to pay a $750 per head penalty on their tax returns starting in 2016. If you want to pull a Keith Olbermann and become a Mandate dodger, predictably, the HCR has this to say about it:

SEC. 5000A(g)(1)

(1) IN GENERAL.—The penalty provided by this section shall be paid upon notice and demand by the Secretary, and except as provided in paragraph (2), shall be assessed and collected in the same manner as an assessable penalty under subchapter B of 23 chapter 68.

The IRS will have your ass, etc, etc. All very predictable. UNTIL you read on to section (2):

(2) SPECIAL RULES.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law—
‘‘(A) WAIVER OF CRIMINAL PENALTIES.— In the case of any failure by a taxpayer to timely pay any penalty imposed by this section, such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such failure.
‘‘(B) LIMITATIONS ON LIENS AND LEVIES.—The Secretary shall not—
‘‘(i) file notice of lien with respect to any property of a taxpayer by reason of any failure to pay the penalty imposed by this section, or
‘‘(ii) levy on any such property with respect to such failure.

Woah!!!! The mother of all loopholes! It turns out the mandate is not mandatory because the penalty is purely voluntary! What happens if you failed to pay that penalty? Nothing! No criminal charges will be filed, no penalties will be assessed, and the IRS has no right to file any lien on you. Imagine a judge saying to a convict: “This court hereby sentences you to death. Pssss- don’t worry, son- our electric chairs are not plugged in.”

Of course, just because the teeth were removed in the Senate bill doesn’t mean that they won’t be added back in when it gets reconciled with the House version.

Nevertheless, it is interesting that the Senate would make the penalty seemingly voluntary. I say “seemingly” because the provision’s language leaves open the door to other means of exacting a penalty from non-compliers. While Section 2 negates criminal penalties and prohibits liens or levies from attaching to a taxpayer’s property, just what constitutes someone’s property isn’t spelled out. It may surprise you to learn, for example, that tax dollars are not deemed your property by the federal government, such that once they are paid (or deemed owing) you don’t have any say in how they are spent outside the ballot box. By the same token, if you were to be due a tax refund of some sort, this provision appears to allow the federal government to withhold the $750 penalty. Similarly, it could also declare certain dollar-for-dollar income deductions to be invalid (up to $750) if you refuse to abide by the mandate. My reading of the provision would allow all sorts of federal government gimmicks to be used while still remaining within the letter of the law.

Another interesting aspect of Congress placing this muzzle on the mandate, is that we know it will raise costs. Indeed, the CBO has stated about other bills that an ineffective individual mandate would make the costs skyrocket as the uninsured wait until they are sick before getting any coverage. Without paying into the system from the start, this sick population will basically just receive heavily subsidized health care, paid for by the dopes who paid while they were healthy.

In short, Congress is faced with two poison pills and must choose one: either (i) unconstitutionally force Amercians to purchase insurance, or (ii) create mandates without teeth, and ensure that the bill costs far more than promised. It will be interesting to see which of the two survives.

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Media: Your Friendly Moral Interpreters

Just to make sure you knew how horribly indecent Republicans were, Dana Milbank leads the charge against Sen. Coburn in the Washington Post today:

Going into Monday morning’s crucial Senate vote on health-care legislation, Republican chances for defeating the bill had come down to a last, macabre hope. They needed one Democratic senator to die — or at least become incapacitated.

At 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon — nine hours before the 1 a.m. vote that would effectively clinch the legislation’s passage — Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) went to the Senate floor to propose a prayer. “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight,” he said. “That’s what they ought to pray.”

It was difficult to escape the conclusion that Coburn was referring to the 92-year-old, wheelchair-bound Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) who has been in and out of hospitals and lay at home ailing. It would not be easy for Byrd to get out of bed in the wee hours with deep snow on the ground and ice on the roads — but without his vote, Democrats wouldn’t have the 60 they needed.

While Dana and his media brethren certainly have difficulty escaping that conclusion, a more fair-minded and disinterested party might take note that the historic snowfall over the weekend, which caused local and federal government offices to close, is a more likely catalyst to Coburn’s prayer request. But fairness was not on Dana’s mind. Quite to the opposite, he attempted to draw a false equivalence to the tirade unleashed by Sen. Whitehouse at ObamaCare dissenters:

But Democrats weren’t in the best position to take the high road Sunday evening. One of their own members, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) had just delivered an overwrought jeremiad comparing the Republicans to Nazis on Kristallnacht, lynch mobs of the South, and bloodthirsty crowds of the French Revolution.

“Too many colleagues are embarked on a desperate, no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, obstruction and fear,” he said. “History cautions us of the excesses to which these malignant, vindictive passions can ultimately lead. Tumbrils have rolled through taunting crowds. Broken glass has sparkled in darkened streets. Strange fruit has hung from southern trees.” Assuming the role of Old Testament prophet, Whitehouse promised a “day of judgment” and a “day of reckoning” for Republicans.

For some strange reason, while referring to Whitehouse’s comments as “ugly”, Milbank forgot to include the following tasty selections of hate:

“Voting ‘no’ and hiding from the vote are the same result. Those of us on the floor see it. It was clear the three of them who did not cast their yes votes until all 60 Senate votes had been tallied and it was clear that the result was a foregone conclusion. And why? Why all this discord and discourtesy, all this unprecedented destructive action? All to break the momentum of our new young president.

They are desperate to break this president. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The birthers, the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups, it is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist. That is one powerful reason. It is not the only one.”

Seemingly the conclusions of that statement escaped Dana.

Never fear, however, as our intrepid journalist manages to balance the ugliness and comes to this inescapable conclusion:

The day’s ugly words [from Sen. Whitehouse] were a fitting finale for the whole sorry health-care debate of 2009. Democrats have finally — and after jettisoning any trace of government-run health care while swallowing new abortion restrictions — found their way to success; the overnight vote proves they have the numbers to prevail in the remaining votes this week. But it certainly wasn’t pretty.

Senate Democratic leaders made the bill fit their fiscal requirements with a series of budgetary gimmicks, and even then the final cost estimate didn’t instill confidence. The Congressional Budget Office sent lawmakers a letter on Sunday saying it goofed and overstated the cost savings from the bill by half a trillion dollars. Then there were the goodies given out to buy the votes of Democratic holdouts, most notably Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), who got a “Cornhusker kickback” in the form of an extra $100 million in Medicaid payments for his state. On the Senate floor Saturday, Republicans forced Democrats into the embarrassing position of objecting to similar payouts to the other 49 states.

But all of that put together wasn’t quite as noxious as the two sentences that escaped Coburn’s lips on the Senate floor.

Don’t you feel all informed now? Good thing for us insufficiently nuanced Americans that we have the likes of Dana Milbank to help us keep score as to who is ugliest amongst our Senate representatives. Otherwise, we might have all these wonderful conclusions escaping us as easily as those “noxious” words escaped Sen. Coburn’s lips. Instead, we might be tempted to pay more attention to blatantly ugly slurs that drip like venom from the mouths of our ObamaCare heroes. And we can’t have that now, can we?

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McQ Out For A Bit

In case you’re wondering why the content around here has been a bit thinner than usual, it’s because the primary progenitor of said content is on an unscheduled leave of absence. His brother fell ill over the weekend, and so McQ went to help him recuperate.

So, please keep McQ and his family in your prayers and the rest of us will do what we can to get some posts up.