In Casablanca, Captain Renault feigns surprise by famously declaring, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” Moments later, a croupier hands Renault a pile of money, saying, “Your winnings, sir.”
Just as Renault wasn’t really surprised that Rick’s Café would break the law, none of us can be surprised this week that President Obama and the implementers of Obamacare are breaking the law – again. After all, they’ve played fast and loose with the law creating Obamacare since it was (sloppily) written and (barely) passed almost exactly four (long) years ago.
The most notorious of Obama’s law breaking has come from his decisions to delay deadlines that were set by Congress. Of course, most people think that when the President signs into law a bill passed by both houses of Congress, the President has to follow the law – just like the rest of us. But Obama has repeatedly rejected that quaint proposition on which the rule of law depends.
When Obama didn’t like the deadline for states to decide whether to set up insurance exchanges, he pushed back the deadline. When he wanted to delay the employer mandate to 2015, he did. When he wanted to change next year’s open enrollment season, he changed it. When he didn’t approve of the online-enrollment time-table for small businesses, he delayed it. Last December, he extended the deadline for coverage effective January 1st. Two weeks later, he extended it again. The next month, he changed the closing date for high-risk insurance pools, which he had extended once already. (Still with me? There’s so much law breaking, it’s confusing.) And then he delayed the employer mandate (again). And then he delayed the deadline for high-risk pools (for the third time).
Now – in what is as surprising to us as gambling in the casino was to Captain Renault – Obama is delaying the final enrollment deadline beyond March 31st. “I’m shocked, shocked!”
What makes this delay different from the countless other unlawful delays is that the Obama administration was so adamant that it wouldn’t happen. Two weeks ago, the spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Julie Bataille, told reporters, “We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period.” Bataille has spent much of life in politics working for some of the most notorious liars in modern political history – including the buffoonish my-grandfather-was-a-coal-miner-Joe-Biden and the masseuse-harassing inventor of the Internet, Al Gore – so she may have learned how to lie from some real experts.
In explaining why she was so sure there would be no delay, Bataille added, “In fact, we don’t actually have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014” – as if an absence of statutory authority had ever stopped Obama before.
The next day, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius seconded Bataille’s empty promise. When asked at a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee if she was going to delay open enrollment, she replied, “No, sir.” Her use of “sir” suggests an interesting strategy: Even if you have no respect for the law, at least feign respect for the people who write the laws.
Sebelius’s guarantee that she wouldn’t push back open enrollment wasn’t her only misleading statement of the day. In her testimony, she told Congress that HHS wasn’t keeping track of the number of Obamacare enrollees who have paid their premiums. But it now appears she was just trying to inflate Obamacare’s numbers – like LBJ inflating the enemy casualty figures in Vietnam – to cover up the gap between people who have “enrolled” and people who haven’t paid for their enrollment. Days later, the Ways and Means Committee learned from an HHS website that the agency actually does have this information and was just keeping it secret.
At least someone somewhere has learned something from an HHS website.
Now that is a surprise.