It wasn’t that long ago that Republicans were the Constitution’s most stalwart defenders. In the Obama era, when our former “constitutional law professor” president oversaw all sorts of innovative law-breaking, Republicans stood united behind a system of checks and balances.
But as we’re seeing with Republicans in firm control of Washington, it’s awfully tough to let go of power that’s suddenly yours. How else can you explain the recent announcement from Seema Verma, Trump’s head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week?
Rather than moving to limit and eventually repeal on of Obamacare’s most egregious power grabs, the “Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation” (CMMI), Verma wrote the Trump administration will “lead” the unaccountable office in “a new direction.” Verma’s boss, Health and Human Services Secretary and former Congressman Tom Price, was once one of CMMI’s most vehement critics. Price spearheaded a letter signed by 178 of his GOP colleagues laying bare the threat CMMI poses to our constitutional order. The “most basic tenets of our government, intended by our Founding Fathers to preserve and maintain balance of power, have clearly been neglected,” Price wrote.
But that was then.
CMMI is one of numerous Obama-era programs designed to be unaccountable to Congress. Specifically, the office is granted by the law the authority to rewrite the law on its own, without any further act of Congress, a provision at odds with THE law, the Constitution. Purportedly intended to identify cost savings, CMMI has cruised through its initial $10 billion — funding Congress set to renew on autopilot in perpetuity, without regards to any future cost calculations — without having saved a dime.
CMMI has instead used its money and illegal power to turn Americans into its personal guniea pigs for far-reaching and disruptive experiments on as much as 75% of Medicare recipients at once. Surprise, surprise: these “pilot studies” tend to serve left-wing policy goals. Obamacare gives CMMI the unconstitutional authority to amend health care law simply by deeming one of these “studies” a success. In the Obama era, Republicans knew this power was dangerous and unconstitutional. Now, it seems, they’re not so sure.
Verma’s op-ed is full of bureaucratic vernacular — “We must shift away from a fee-for-service system that reimburses only on volume,” Verma writes — that lays bare its central conceit: the idea this administration will succeed at managing the economy where others failed. Then, in a few years, the page will turn again. Suddenly, it won’t be Price and Verma manning the controls, but a new administration with very different priorities and no compunction about pushing the legal envelope with CMMI and other programs. And when Republicans question how the “new” administration is rewriting the law on its own, they can point to the “precedent” of the Trump years.
Does anyone believe that in the long-run, in a liberal city with liberal government workers, powers like these will be used for conservative policies more than to secure left-wing priorities that would not be possible unless the decision were shielded from public accountability. That is another conceit, that anything Price and Verma might do with their ill-begotten power could be “worth it.”
But another future is still possible. Price could re-read his letter and remember that even he shouldn’t have the power to re-write the law without an act of Congress. After all, it’s one of the “most basic tenets of our government, intended by our Founding Fathers to preserve and maintain balance of power.”
Peter Weyrich is a conservative activist who has worked for a variety of pro-free market organizations including the Free Congress Foundation and Coalitions for America.