There's No Such Thing as a Free Launch
Elections are funny things. Nothing does more to improve Congress's hearing and stiffen members' spines than a routine trip to the ballot box. Like democracy's miracle cure, incumbents recover from their autonomy and start paying attention to their employer: voters. Next year's midterm elections are already having that effect on Democrats, who find themselves on the opposite side of most Americans on ObamaCare. As the gulf grows, so do the liberals running for the exits. This week, some of the law's staunchest supporters were ready to jump ship on the system's linchpin: the individual mandate. Senators Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) all boarded the GOP's bandwagon to delay the ObamaCare penalties that threaten Americans who don't buy insurance by January 1.
Of course, logging on to the system -- let alone buying insurance -- has been next to impossible since the administration's launched its disaster of a website. With no real timetable for fixing the system's collapse, even Democrats agree that it's ridiculous to fine Americans who are victims of the government's own incompetence. Sen. Shaheen, who, like Pryor and Begich, will face voters next year, sent a blunt letter to the President asking the administration to "state clearly how the enforcement mechanism will work if people can't sign up in time."
Of all the Left's new converts, only Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) isn't running for reelection next year. Like conservatives, he backs the plan to push off the individual mandate until January 2015 at the earliest. On working with Republicans, Manchin told Bill O'Reilly, "We've been good about putting coalitions together," Manchin said. "We can do that." President Obama, meanwhile, seems more determined than ever to give the GOP the cold shoulder. At a Dems-only meeting on Wednesday, lawmakers dug in on their response to the crisis and insisted that HHS's tech team was making progress.
Less than a day later, several of the men and women in the country's bulls-eye, the contractors responsible for building ObamaCare's website, were quizzed by House Energy and Commerce Committee members desperate to get to the bottom of the system's meltdown. Claiming HHS was the "quarterback" on the project, most witnesses tried to shift some of the blame back on Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's shop. Asked why the rollout was not postponed when the system clearly wasn't ready, CGI's Cheryl Campbell insisted, "It was not our position to tell our client whether they should go live or not go live." Ultimately, contractors say, that was Sebelius's decision -- and she made it, despite the website's complete unworkability.
"Either these officials were shockingly unaware of what was happening," said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) "or deliberately misleading our committee and the public." CGI and others point to the administration's eleventh hour decision to force users to register for insurance before they've seen their options (now we have to buy it "to find out what's in it?"). "This may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn't have otherwise occurred if consumers could window-shop anonymously," explained Andy Slavitt from Optum/QSSI.
And as we're learning, with the surge in errors came a surge in spending. While contractors were on the Hill, Bloomberg showed how costly the mistakes have been -- not just to the administration's image, but to taxpayers. The rollout, which was projected to cost $394 million, skyrocketed past the $1 billion mark, with the bulk shelled out to contractors in the past six months.
That isn't likely to help Sebelius's case, which she'll be forced to make to House members next week. Maybe then she can explain why she felt compelled to rush a program that the nation never wanted in the first place. "We named it the tyranny of the October 1 date," said a person close to the project. Well, ObamaCare is tyranny all right -- but not of the urgent. Find out why in the new Republican Study Committee report on the law, Unworkable, Unaffordable, and Unfair.
Army Orders Ideologues to Stand Down
The good men and women of the U.S. military aren't the enemy -- they fight the enemy. Unfortunately, that's a distinction that fewer Army leaders seem capable of making. Just in the last few weeks, two soldiers from different bases confided in Fox News's Todd Starnes that their superiors had specifically identified Christians and conservatives as "extremists" who posed a threat to America. In both instances, the Army denied any involvement in the briefings, insisting they were isolated cases. Today, the Army leadership is now acknowledging that they weren't so isolated after all. Army Secretary John McHugh sent a branch-wide memo ordering leaders to stop characterizing evangelical Christians and their organizations as domestic hate groups.
"On several occasions over the past few months," McHugh wrote, "media accounts have highlighted instances of Army instructors supplementing programs of instruction and including information or material that is inaccurate, objectionable, and otherwise inconsistent with current Army policy... Given these recent developments, it is clear that we must act to standardize such programs of instruction and training plans to ensure consistency with Army policy." He went on to denounce any training material that classifies Christians as "extremists" and ordered a halt to all "briefings, presentations, or trainings" dealing with the subject.
McHugh's directive is a huge victory, not just for our troops -- but for religious liberty. In recent months, Army instructors have begun relying on the Southern Poverty Law Center, which was just tied to domestic terrorism in federal court, as a source for its briefings. We can infer from the Secretary's letter that he recognizes that SPLC's labeling is "inaccurate, objectionable and...inconsistent" with current Army policy. While SPLC's mission is to advance the agenda of the Left, the military's mission is to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States. From now on, let's hope the Army does its part to keep the two separate.
Until then, Congress, led by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) will keep the heat on the Pentagon to make religious liberty a military-wide priority. In separate letters, one by Lamborn and the other by Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.), members vent their frustrations with the Defense Department's climate of intimidation. "This most recent mislabeling of a Christian organization reflects what appears to be a troubling trend of religious intolerance in the military." A trend, we hope, that Secretary McHugh's memo begins to reverse.
** Is the government playing favorites on marriage? FRC's Peter Sprigg and Cathy Ruse certainly think so as they tackle the Feds overreach after the Supreme Court's decision on DOMA. Don't miss their compelling and important analysis in today's Hill.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.