Americans who voted for Republicans in 2014 and handed them a Congressional majority had high expectations. Maybe too high, says outgoing House Speaker (and fellow Republican) John Boehner.
Now GOP voters are in a season of discontent because of unmet expectations. Almost none of the things they cared so passionately about, things that were the centerpiece of their successful campaigns—have changed for the better. Their frustrations and anger have cost Boehner his Speaker's seat. And they have catapulted outsider candidates to the top of the heap in the 2016 presidential race, leaving those with political experience far behind.
The House tried and tried and tried to stop what first stirred up all this Republican angst: ObamaCare. No Republican voted for it, their ideas were excluded by Democrats and since then the White House has bypassed Congress entirely to delay and modify the law. House Republicans tried to repeal ObamaCare and got nowhere—time after time.
This should be the “litmus test” for a new Speaker: Will you continue to break faith with citizens by taking an illegal ObamaCare waiver for your own benefit or will you insist that Congress is not above the law.
Boehner is right, without a president willing to respect the people’s branch there is little Congress can do about a law that half the nation hates--except perhaps symbolically.
But there is something Congress and the next Speaker of the House can do to close the distance between citizen “outsiders” and political “insiders.” It involves ObamaCare. They can end the illegal waiver that puts Congress above the law it enacted. An amendment to the Affordable Care Act required Congress to live under its provisions but, after the bill became law, Congressional leaders from both parties sought and received a very generous “waiver” from the White House. Congress now enjoys benefits in violation of the law they enacted.
Today, under an extraordinary provision granted by the Office of Personnel Management (at White House direction), the income earned by members of Congress and staff is not counted when calculating subsidies. Instead, members and staff receive a 75 percent subsidy for Gold level health care coverage, irrespective of income, and members are even allowed to exempt staff from ObamaCare entirely. No mere citizen can claim anything like what Congress gets.
Perhaps it is unfair that Republican voters expected so much more from Republican majorities in the House and Senate especially since Mr. Obama has ignored standing laws, the Constitution's separation of powers and even budget deals negotiated and concluded in good faith by Speaker Boehner. But it is entirely fair that Republicans--and Democrats as well for that matter--expect their legislators to live under the same laws Congress requires citizens to obey.
This should be the “litmus test” for a new Speaker. Will you continue to break faith with citizens by taking an illegal ObamaCare waiver for your own benefit or will you insist that Congress is not above the law? Could there be a better way to demonstrate that political “insiders” will suffer (or benefit) just as citizen “outsiders” will?
The House tried to use the “power of the purse” to force changes or even repeal of ObamaCare and it ended very badly for Republicans despite public opinion critical of the law. “Consent of the governed” was apparently less important to most citizens than the continued operation of the government. Yes, Obama fans in the media played a role in this judgment but if the country hadn’t witnessed the disastrous launch of ObamaCare’s failed website Republicans might not have recovered by 2012.
To assail the president for so many waivers, extra-legal delays of mandates, federal agency overreach and unappropriated spending unilaterally ordered by the Executive Branch and then turn around and take their own waiver is not only hypocritical of Republicans but gives real substance to the perception of betrayal of voter’s trust. Here is the issue that will test the sincerity of not only a new Speaker but conservative House Republicans who are demanding a majority true to conservative principles.
The new Speaker may not be able to deliver the re-establishment of the proper constitutional “checks and balances” that this president has so enthusiastically trampled but whoever is chosen can end this betrayal of the rule of law that separates citizen and politician.
This should be the litmus test for the faithfulness of the new Speaker of the House.
Ken Hoagland is a long time grassroots advocate who has written extensively on the disconnect between citizens desires and government policies on health care, taxes and education. He recently founded “ArmorGrid.org” to pressure government official to get serious about the dangers to our electrical grid.