Saturday, August 30, 2014

Origination Clause Challenge to Individual Mandate In Trouble ... For Now?

Among the stunning features of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” is its requirement that every American purchase health care insurance. That requirement, the individual mandate, marked the first time in US history that Congress ordered the American people to purchase a product that, previously, they had been free to buy or to reject.  The outcry was immediate, and led to a turnover in Congress to Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.

Challenges to the individual mandate were immediate.  Multiple legal theories supported the challenges.  

Thus far, the Supreme Court has taken two turns at examining the Act, or parts thereof.  Last year, a bare majority held that the individual mandate under the Act, which could not be justified as an exercise of the Commerce Clause power, was, instead a tax.  Then, just weeks ago, as the 2013 Supreme Court ended, the Court held that the mandate for corporations to include prescription coverage for their employees for abortion-inducing birth control violated rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Still other challenges to the Act are moving forward in other courts.

Among constitutionalists, much hope has been invested in legal challenges based on two separate strains of legal theory.  One approach seeks to bring about an implosion of the Affordable Care Act by stripping out federal tax credits to fund premiums for low income applicants; those credits are authorized in States that set up exchanges, but not in the 36 States that did not do so.  An IRS rule-making extended the credit in those States despite the lack of authorization for such an extension.  I have previously posted on two recent, conflicting decisions addressing this approach.  

An entirely separate approach, born of a search within the Constitution for the underpinnings of the power to impose a federal tax, has challenged the enactment of Obamacare because it originated in the Senate, rather than the House of Representatives. That, if true, may mean that when the Democratic Party-controlled Congress enacted Obamacare, it violated the Origination Clause the US Constitution.  The Origination Clause states:  “All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.”  US Const. Art. I, sec. 7. 

Litigation raising the Origination Clause argument against Obamacare has been pending in the Nation’s Capitol for some time now.  Matt Sissel, the plaintiff, claimed that, because the penalty for failing to purchase health insurance is a tax, the Origination Clause required that the House of Representatives originate the legislation.

Obamacare, however, was an invention of the Senate.  In fact, the Democrat-controlled Senate took a pending House bill – one regarding tax credits for home ownership by members of the military -- stripped out every jot and every tittle of it including its title, and inserted the Affordable Care Act in place of its original text and title.  This, on Capitol Hill, is called an amendment in the nature of a substitute.

Neither a Nation nor its people, nor their hopes, aspirations, dreams, labors or relationships should be governed by the whim of gamesmanship.  Yet, with courts at the crux of decisions about the legality of laws like Obamacare, crucial decisions often resemble a group of judges arguing over number placement in Sudoku or attempting a “group solve” on the daily crossword.  Not to put too fine a point on it, attorneys whose careers depend on appearing before the Supreme Court and federal appellate courts understand how these word games are played and craft their arguments to the tune of such judicial gamesmanship.

Now, however, a decision from the US Court of Appeals in WashingtonDC, spells trouble for those who have held the hope that a faithful application of the Origination Clause to the mandate would lead to a decision striking down that provision, and perhaps, the entire the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Because the meaning and application of the Constitution is the right of every citizen to discern and the duty of every federal official to respect, a decision that gives meaning to, or applies what it claims is the settled meaning of, a provision of the Constitution, the Court's decision should be thought important by every man.

Matt Sissel, an artist, small-business owner and National Guardsman, simply thought that such a signal shift in policy and law, if it were to be forced upon the people, ought to be accomplished within the bounds of the law and the Constitution. Sissel's view is, I suppose, perceived as unreasonable by those who pushed the Affordable Care Act through Congress.  Such denizens of social manipulation and control take affront when we, who prefer to do so, manage the affairs of our lives free of government mandates. For them, it was entirely reasonable to enact legislation, while candidly admitting that they had to pass the bill to know what was in it. That reasoning hardly inspires confidence that legislators are, in fact, comporting themselves within constitutional boundaries.
Judith Rogers, a Bill Clinton appointee to the DC federal appeals court, joined by two recent Obama appointees, evaluated Sissel's theory that Obamacare violated the Origination Clause.  Faultless, the court responded, was Sissel's assertion that the legislation had, in fact, originated in the Senate, rather than the House.  Faultless, the court responded, was Sissel's assertion that the individual mandate imposed a tax. Of course, Judge Rogers deserves no particular credit on that score given the Supreme Court's previous Obamacare decision by Chief Justice Roberts holding that the mandate was, in fact, a tax.

The appeals court concluded, however, that even though the BILL ORIGINATED IN THE SENATE and even though the BILL IMPOSED A TAX, it was not, as the Origination Clause language states, a "bill[] for raising Revenue."  The court concluded that, while it was true that the tax would, in fact, raise revenue for the federal government coffer, the purpose of the entire Act, and the purpose of the mandate's tax, was, rather than raising revenue, to address the policy and law on health care insurance in the United States. Thus, while revenues will flow in to the government under the Act, because that was not the motivation of the entire act, the court reasoned, the Origination Clause challenge to it failed. 

Clever and conclusive, the decision abides what it must, the Supreme Court's conclusion that the penalty for failing to purchase insurance is a tax, admits what it cannot deny, that the bill originated in the Senate rather than the House and that it imposes a tax rather than a penalty, and then claims a ground of construction of the Constitution allowing it to dispose of Sissel's claim.  

For now, it would seem the Origination Clause challenge to the individual mandate under Obamacare is in trouble.

This post is the first of three on the topic of the Origination Clause, the Sissel litigation, and Obamacare. Parts two and three will follow shortly.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Postal Service Announces Operation Junk Mail Saver

Thanks to coverage on NBC's Today Show and other broadcasting sources, some Americans may believe that postal employees are irresponsibly throwing deliverable mails in dumpsters to ease their route delivery work.  In response to the adverse publicity, the Postmaster General today revealed that the recently, and widely, released surveillance video instead reveals a bold new Postal Service initiative.

JIMSMIND, NC (August 8, 2014)--USPS today confirmed its implementation of "Operation Junk Mail Saver." 

Postmaster General Frank Donahoe announced today the inaugural test of its latest customer courtesy initiative, "Operation Junk Mail Saver." "Ladies and gentlemen, we at your US Postal Service know too well the inconvenience and clutter that results from receiving dozens of advertiser mailings and circulars each week. We have heard your cry and have developed a unique program that combines the maintenance of a high value income stream to your Postal Service while alleviating the taxing tasks associated with reviewing and disposing of unwanted mail."

Although the initiative was not intended to be made public until studies were complete, Donahoe explained his decision to come forward with word of the program when a local news reporter broadcast surveillance video showing one test of the program being conducted by an Austin, Texas participating Post Office:

"I'm sure that, not knowing that this disposition of mailings was intentionally done as part of this customer courtesy initiative, many would assume that the news reporter's video showed a criminal act of postal negligence. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We have highly developed algorithms that have been developed to calculate the likelihood of any individual piece of mail actually being of interest to a Postal Service consumer.

The Postmaster General confirmed that Operation Junk Mail Saver was part of a larger package of initiatives designed to improve service efficiencies and conveniences.  "As you are aware, another aspect of the program in which the Operation Junk Mail Saver was the initiative to spare postal customers the difficult and tedious task of opening, evaluating, and responding to, package deliveries."  In that instance, Operation What Granny Don't Know Won't Hurt Her had come to light last month during initial testing of that program.  In Operation What Granny Don't Know, the Postal Service disposes of shipped packages that are anticipated not to be of use, or meaningful to, our customer base.

"This isn't the Postal Service of dear old Ben Franklin, friends. We have employed the latest technologies and consumer sciences to preserve this Service as a method of bringing unwanted mailing to the homes of over 300 million Americans. This initiative allows us to continue to sell bulk mailing opportunities to unsuspecting merchants and small businessmen, while sparing consumers of the ugly task that actual delivery of unwanted mailing would impose on them.

"As we roll this initiative out across the country, it is our hope, eventually, simply to take money from America's small businesses and merchants while providing absolutely no value in return at all."
Donahoe did not respond to a reporter's question as to whether that goal -- taking money and not providing anything in return -- was, in fact, the definition of taxation.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tobacco and Abortion ... A Tale of Broken Possibilities.

For years, folks like me, who oppose abortion not because we hate women and want to control them, but because we love life and want to see it fostered, have offered as an point in opposition to recreational abortion, even therapeutic abortion, that destroying a child in the womb destroys a future of unknowable possibilities.

If Beethoven's mother had lived today as she lived then, with diseased and broken children preceding him, with testing for genetic abnomality available, there would be no Beethoven in every likelihood.  No Jonas Salk.  No Maya Angelou.  Because in the modern ethic the response to difficulty in pregnancy is optimal relief of responsibility, avoidance of hard circumstance, disposition of that which discomfits.  The point is typically lost on those with whom it is shared.

After all, it's hard to imagine that Beethoven's mom would abort him. Or Oprah's.  Or Elvis's.   Yet we know that 1.5 million moms abort their babies here in America every year, and some 65 million moms do around the world.  So, it isn't that hard to imagine, among those 65 million children lost each year, a child that designs a better mousetrap, composes a sweeter symphony, or lightens the load of another as they walk life's often broken way.

At this point, you have to be wondering what this has to do with tobacco.

Yes, there is a connection and it is in that interesting story of the treatment given to American aid workers exposed to the Ebola virus.  You see, it turns out that the treatment is derived from mouse antibodies and grown in tobacco plants.  Yes, tobacco plants.

Had we the good sense to rid the planet of the noxious weed, we could have won the accolades of those who believe healthy health choices should be made for you by the government.  Had we done so, however, we would have eliminated a highly valuable plant substrate for growing the proteins that make up the ZMapp treatment.  

Of course, had we had that good sense, then those mouse anticlonal antibodies would have had to be grown in some other manner than the highly efficient and high speed tobacco plant.  While many of us enjoy tobacco, just as C.H. Spurgeon did, we don't argue for its beauty, its intrinsic worth and value.  And, had push come to shove, how many would take up arms to prevent the eradication entire of the plant?  Well, probably about as many as take up arms to protect children from abortion, and likely with equal success.

And that, my friends is the connection.  From a despised plant springs new hopes for tomorrow.  Just as, if afforded the opporunity in life, from unborn children such unbounded hopes and possibilities could yet spring.

Restauranteur Chastised for Quantifying the Bottom Line on Forced Wage Increases

Short of a bad review by the local food critic, publicity over the existence, cuisine and quality of a restaurant can be a make-or-break component of getting an eatery up and running, and keeping it up and running.  (See, I pay attention when Gordon Ramsay is repairing Kitchen Nightmares).

I do wonder whether    finds the publicity around his decision to candidly state, on customer bills, the itemized price for his forced compliance with a Minnesota law raising that State's minimum wage.  You can read about Oasis Cafe, and its owner's decision to tack a $0.35 minimum wage increase fee onto each customer transaction here.

Mr. Beemer wants his clientele to know what the impact of an increase in the minimum wage is, and the identities of those who will pay for that increase (the customer).  His clientele, or some of them, and some sector of "living wage" activists object to his decision and his use of the restaurant ticket to promulgate his message.  For me, this is one of those simple and tough decisions.  Beemer risks displeasing a portion of his clientele, thus driving them to competitors.  Yet, for me, this is the essence of the liberty of speech.  A restaurnteur simply making plain what, it seems to me, even a simpleton should know:  if you increase the price of doing business, then you will increase the cost associated with buying from business.

As I see it, this restauranteur probably did something like the following:

1.  totalled up the man hours deployed in providing its quality of customer service, including wait staff, kitchen staff, and others affected by a state law mandated increase in the minimum wage.
2. multiplied that total number of hours times the .75/hour increase in that minimum wage
3.  took that product, which is a best estimate or guess of how much of the company's gross profits will go to covering the addition to the minimum wage, and divided it across some other factor, perhaps the number of service units required to produce that gross profit.
4.  that quotient, then, should approximate the .35 cent "minimum wage fee" that appears on the ticket.

My thoughts:

This is the kind of transparency PROMISED by the weasel in the White House ("The most transparent administration in US History") but never delivered (perhaps because there wasn't a service that could pick up his promise at one of the local golf courses where he spends his time.

This "fee" could have been rolled into the pricing structure.  Doing so would probably have made it unnoticeable.  The ticket could as easily have read:  Black and Bleu Burger, $9.15; Jalapeno, $0.70.  Doing that would have hidden the restaurant's costs in the prices.  Doing so would, perhaps, omit the feel that some seem to be taking, of blaming others for this increase in prices.

In that sense, it could be like Aaron lying to Moses, "Geez bubby, we just threw our gold earrings in the fire and out popped this idol."  We all know that raising wages (a decision that often can be an indication of a savvy businessman because such an entrepreneur knows that the single greatest factor in profitability is happy customers, and that the single greatest factor in creating and maintaining a happy customer base is creating and maintaining a happy employee base), raises costs.  Even if, as some claim, and even offer data to support, raising wages can raise net profits, the fact is that forcing another to do so is an act of political will, expressed by the exercise of republican principles of democracy, in the creation of a law requiring such wage increases.  So, now we have a restauranteur who, having been targetted by an act of political will, uses his own resources to express a message and divulge a fact.  As a constitutional law attorney, and a onetime professor of constitutional law, when I see an individual expressing in writing a message of this sort, I immediately recognize the trappings of an exercise in freedom of speech and of the press.

Now nothing protects the restauranteur from the ire of those customers who feel incensed that he has quantified and identified that COSTS of the wage increase.  They can stop doing business with him.  His choice may affect his bottom line.  Such, they say, is life.

But I admire his decision to quite the point in clear distinction for the discriminating diner.