Delays, Delays . . . And Accountability

Today the Obama Administration announced — through a blog posting, of all things — that the “employer mandate” aspect of the Affordable Care Act law, also known as “Obamacare,” will be delayed by a year.

The “employer mandate” provision is supposed to penalize employers with more than 50 employees that do not provide certain minimum health insurance coverage for employees.  The provision was supposed to take effect in 2014, but now it will take effect in 2015.  The one-year delay was announced in a blog posting by an official in the Treasury Department.  The Obama Administration says the delay is the result of a “dialogue” with businesses about reporting requirements.  The “individual mandate,” on the other hand, remains unchanged.

Of course, people are already questioning whether the delay was politically motivated, with the Administration hoping to avoid fallout from business resistance to the new law.  My questions, however, are more fundamental.  The Affordable Care Act is supposed to be a federal statute.  How can the Administration simply delay the effect of the law through administrative fiat?  What kind of law is it that can be delayed through a blog posting by some functionary in an administrative department?

For that matter, doesn’t it seem awfully questionable to announce something so economically significant through a Treasury Department blog posting?  Is it possible that the Administration hoped that the announcement would escape any notice?  What’s the White House press secretary for, if not to address this kind of issue, publicly and transparently?

Set aside your views about the Affordable Care Act for a minute.  From a strict accountability standpoint, shouldn’t a decision affecting the implementation of a major, controversial statute be announced in a more open and honest way, in a context where the news media might be able to ask a question or two?  It seems that way to me.

Gettysburg, July 2, 1863

As the second day of the battle dawned, the Army of the Potomac held the high ground south of the little Pennsylvania town — but its hold was precarious, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee was determined to dislodge the Union forces and win another stunning victory over the beleaguered Northern army.

Lee decided to swing a mighty hook at the Union left flank.  The attack would be led by his dependable “War Horse,” Lieutenant General James Longstreet, while the rest of the rebel army would pin the Union center and launch diversionary attacks at the Union right to prevent reinforcements.  Lee hoped Longstreet would be able to turn the flank and roll up the Union forces, crushing them between his men and the remainder of the Confederate Army.  On the Union side, commanders were frantically moving into position, seeking to plug holes in the line to deal with the attack they knew was coming.  After two years of fighting, the Northerners knew that General Lee would be aggressive.

It was a brutally hot and humid July day.  The Confederate attack took time to develop, but by late afternoon it looked like Lee’s plan had, again, succeeded.  Longstreet had smashed into the Union left, sending soldiers scattering through a bloody wheat field, and Lee ordered a further attack on the Union left, hoping to deliver the coup de grace that would send the entire Army of the Potomac into another disorganized, embarrassing retreat.  The rebels attacked, shouting their eerie rebel yell, but the Union forces refused to buckle and sent fusillades of artillery into the attacking Confederates.  Attacks were launched and repelled at murderous cost, and the bodies of dead and wounded soldiers from both armies lay baking in the sun.

It was the day that would make Joshua Chamberlain immortal.  On the far point of the Union left, on Little Round Top, Chamberlain was a colonel in the 20th Maine.  The Men of Maine rebuffed several attacks by the 15th Alabama infantry until they ran low on ammunition.  At that point, Chamberlain ordered his men to attack with bayonets and the Mainers swept down the hillside, sending the Confederates fleeing and securing the Union flank.

As the day ended, both sides had suffered devastating casualties.  The Confederate attack had almost succeeded, but the Army of the Potomac had held for another day.  General Lee considered whether another assault the next day might win the battle, and Union commanders weighed how to prepare.  The common soldiers in both armies, on the other hand, found it difficult to sleep in the sweltering heat, as they listened to the screams of injured horses and wounded men and thought about the battle that lay ahead.

B.Y.O.T.P.

The other day Kish told me a little story about one of her prior jobs that, I think, says something profound about the human condition.

It happened one summer during college.  She was working in a small Ohio town in one of those older buildings where you would find several different business offices on a floor.  In this building, the offices shared a single, unisex bathroom.

IMG_4041When Kish went to use the facilities for the first time, she noticed there was no toilet paper.  No squeezable Charmin.  No quilted Northern.  Not even a roll of some cheap, so-thin-you-could-see-through-it institutional brand.

So she stopped by one of the other offices to ask where the communal toilet paper could be found.  The women working there explained that the toilet paper was not supplied by the building manager; instead, all of the offices were supposed to contribute to a common toilet paper fund.  However, a guy working in one of the offices always failed to pay his fair share.  After a while, the workers in the other offices got so angry at his refusal to chip in that they decided not to stock the bathroom.  Instead, everyone would simply bring, and use, their own toilet paper.  And that’s what they did.

Never mind that such an approach would inconvenience and embarrass a client or customer of one of their businesses!  Never mind that it looked silly to see people marching toward the bathroom with their own personal roll!  Never mind that a time would inevitably come when one of the workers on the floor would forget their bathroom companion until it was too late!  No matter the consequences, the stubborn workers on the floor just weren’t going to support the freeloader.

What better example of why communism, as an economic system, has failed?