Emily Minick is Senior Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council. This article appeared in National Review on March 25, 2014.
The Obama administration claims their focus this year is getting America back to work, yet their actions speak louder than their words.
Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, challenging a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate on religious-liberty grounds.
The employment situation in our country is still grim. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there are 10.5 million people looking for work, with 37percent of these people classified as long-term unemployed because they have been jobless for 27 weeks or longer. The labor-force participation rate has also been hovering around the lowest levels seen since the late 1970s, with 91.4 million people not included in the labor force - and therefore not counted in the monthly unemployment data.
Given these discouraging unemployment numbers, one would think the administration's main focus would be to present new policies and ideas that create jobs and get Americans working again, rather than passing laws and having agencies impose mandates that punish businesses with crippling fines and discourage hiring.
Yet, Obamacare's HHS mandate requires all private health-care plans to include coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives, drugs that can destroy a human embryo and sterilization services in their health plans, without co-pay. This mandate applies to individual market plans and employer plans. It threatens the very existence of family businesses across the country, with more than 300 plaintiffs challenging the HHS mandate on religious-liberty grounds. If a family business does not want to violate their deeply held moral beliefs, they will be fined up to $100 per day, per employee, by the IRS.
In other words, family businesses will be forced to pay a fine of up to $36,500 per employee, per year, for not offering a health-care plan that includes conscience-violating drugs or services.
The U.S. median income for all households in 2012 was $51,017. In other words, the Obama administration wants to impose daily fines on family businesses, which employ thousands of people, equal to 72 percent of the median household income for the entire year.
In America we reward hard work and entrepreneurship and strive to create an environment where family businesses can thrive, because it is these hardworking individuals that propel a robust and growing economy. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties were built from the ground up by hard-working families. From humble beginnings, they now employ thousands of people and have long provided generous health-care packages for their employees. What's more, their employees like these health-care packages.
All this could change, however. If the administration wins at the Supreme Court it will force these families to either violate their consciences by providing drugs and services to their employees to which they morally object, or pay crippling fines that could result in people losing their jobs, health care, and livelihood.
If a family business decides to drop health-care coverage for their employees and their employees' families altogether, they will be fined $2,000 per employee, per year, by the IRS. These fines are extremely revealing of the administration's priorities: $2,000 per year, per employee, for a business owner who drops coverage versus $36,500 per employee, per year, for a business owner who offers health-care coverage consistent with their values.
The administration, by executive order, recently delayed the implementation of the employer mandate for a second time. Thus, if a family business drops health-care coverage for their employees that business will pay no penalties this year. Yet if Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties want to continue offering generous health-care packages to their employees, but do not want to include coverage of drugs that can destroy human embryos, the administration will attempt to fine them out of business. Where is the consistency and fairness for all Americans under law?
The actions of the Obama administration have demonstrated that they are willing to destroy a family-owned business rather than let its owners do what they do best: serve their customers, treat their employees well, and create jobs in an economy that is still recovering from a recession. In essence, the administration's mandate forces people to choose between violating their faith and earning a living.
It is a long-held American tradition that we respect people's consciences in this country. Let us hope the Supreme Court recognizes and protects family business owners across the country.