Obamacare and “Improvisational Government”

December 19th, 2013

Jon Adler links to Christopher DeMuth’s piece in the Weekly Standard, accusing the Obama Administration, and its ad hoc rollout of Obamacare, of ad hoc governance.

Collaterally, Obamacare is introducing a new form of government​—​improvisational government, characterized by continuous ad hoc revisions of statutory law by executive decree. This is a reversion to a primitive form that long antedates our Constitution and rule-of-law traditions. Transported to the modern world, it leaves the private sector in a state of constant uncertainty and subjection. …

But the most harrowing aspect of Obamacare is that it vests political executives and government administrators with sweeping discretionary power, free of conventional checks and balances. It gives federal officials the authority to set insurance prices without any of the economic and legal standards that govern regulation of public utilities. It gives obscure committees authority to decide on the kinds of medical services doctors and hospitals are permitted to deliver from one patient to the next. It gives political operatives the ability to force private institutions to dispense free birth control pills, and potentially many other things, as tactics of electoral campaigns. It has federal and state officials running “marketplaces” and advertising campaigns and sales promotions​—​all with the style and mindset of business executives, but with coercion as well as persuasion at their command. The unsettling appearance of what I earlier called improvisational government​—​with the president and his subordinates revising Obamacare’s statutory requirements, and even their own implementing regulations, by press conference or web posting​—​is an authentic expression of the statute’s basic ethic, which is the ethic of executive will.

The idea of government by improvisation has really troubled me. The lack of concern about this in the academy is striking. Was it not a few years ago that the went ballistic on the President’s decision to issue signing statements? Remember that? Here we have a president ignoring the APA, and changing rules on the fly with no explanation.