Is President Obama planning on unilaterally re-writing the rules of his signature health care law to rescue Big Labor? Nobody in the nation's capital will be shocked if he does, and the intense speculation the issue has sparked is indicative of how Obamacare is sowing confusion in the workplace and damaging the economic recovery.
Big Labor has pushed hard to get Obamacare's individual premium subsidies extended to cover union-backed, multi-employer -- aka “Taft-Hartley” -- health insurance plans. The White House has reportedly said no but the talks are continuing, so something may well be in the offing to satisfy Big Labor heavies like AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and others who were among the most enthusiastic Obamacare backers before it became law.
And what might that something be? The Treasury Department issued a Sept. 13 statement noting that Obamacare subsidies cannot legally be extended to Taft-Harley plans. Treasury also said, reasonably enough, that the subsidies are meant only for those who don’t have insurance through their employers.
Even so, Obama administration officials, including Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, are still holding those private meetings with top union leaders. Remember, too, that in August, the Office of Management and Budget proposed a new Obamacare rule developed by the Perez Labor Department modifying the definition of an employer benefit plan. The proposed rule then suddenly and mysteriously vanished from OMB's website three days after it was posted.
Is this evidence of a backdoor attempt to reward Big Labor by redefining employer plans under Obamacare so that individuals covered by Taft-Hartley plans can be made eligible for premium subsidies? Republicans suspect so and are demanding answers from OMB and DOL. If the GOPers are right, taxpayers would be on the hook for an estimated $187 billion over 10 years.
The possibility is not idle speculation, given this administration’s past history and the aggressiveness with which Big Labor is pushing the matter. Obama has repeatedly rewritten the law to suit his ideological agenda, notably in July when he took it upon himself to rewrite Obamcare by delaying its employer mandate in response to an outcry from Big Business. But the individual mandate, which was included in the legislation to benefit the insurance industry, remains scheduled to kick in on Jan. 1, 2014.
Hundreds of Obamacare exemptions have been approved by Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Each exemption encourages more special interests to go to the White House waving lists of campaign contributions, volunteers and other support given to Obama in 2008 and 2012. No wonder Trumka has publicly said that if Big Business support for Obamacare could be bought with a mandate delay, then it was unfair to deny Big Labor similar consideration. Obamacare will politicize a sixth of the world's largest economy. Nobody can effectively plan for the uncertainty that follows. No wonder the recovery still crawls along.