Opinion

CEOs won’t dare defy Waxman, even with facts on their side

In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. Senate War Investigating Committee called hearings in an attempt to publicly shame and excoriate industrial titan Howard Hughes. Hughes was accused of wasting taxpayer money on his F-11 and HK-1 projects. The hearings backfired as the stubborn Hughes accused the Senators of corruption and blackmail and of being beholden to his competitors, and he detailed the millions of his own dollars he spent on these projects.
The committee, embarrassed by the unexpectedly effective defiance of the infamous recluse, disbanded without filing a report.

Don’t expect that kind of defiance from the chief executives of AT&T, Verizon Communications, Caterpillar, and Deere & Co., if they respond to the demands of powerful Democratic Chairman Henry Waxman. In letters issued Friday, Waxman called on each of these CEOs to appear before his committee for the absurd purpose of defending internal memos to their own employees, and related statements to the press, about the impending changes in their health care plans.

Of course, these CEOs likely had little or no involvement in the estimates about how these new policies would affect their companies. They have hardworking professional staffers and auditors who focus on these issues for a living and make assessments not for the sake of politics but with an eye on what’s best for the company, its shareholders and its employees.

The trouble for Waxman and his fellow Democrat leaders arises from the direct conflict between the (accurate) statements of these companies and Obama’s oft-repeated promises that if you’re happy with your health care, nothing will change.
Obama said in Iowa City last week, “[My opponents] will have to finally acknowledge that this isn’t a government takeover of our health care system. They will see that if Americans like their doctor, they will keep their doctor. If people like their plan, they will keep their plan.”

The ludicrous nature of this claim didn’t prevent Obama from saying it again and again (but these are words, just words) even as the Associated Press, ABC News, FactCheck.org, and a multitude of independent groups found this promise inaccurate at best. These predictions were borne out within the week, as companies warned employees their coverage plans will change in the face of new taxes and cut off tax breaks for providing benefits.

In a regulatory filing last week, AT&T reported, “As a result of this legislation, including the additional tax burden, AT&T will be evaluating prospective changes to the active and retiree health-care benefits offered by the company.” It also announced that the health care legislation would result in a $1 billion first quarter non-cash charge against profits.