November 5, 2009
Obama-Pelosi to Health Insurers: Shut Up or We'll Shut You Down
President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and their Democratic followers in Congress have a rather draconian message for the private sector: Speak now, and we'll make you forever hold your peace.
Up until a few weeks ago, America's health insurers were sheepishly on board with the Obama-Pelosi health care reform plan. Perhaps the industry feared that voicing any concern about the plan would unleash the ire of an increasingly rabid Democratic majority on Capitol Hill. As it turns out, the health insurers were right.
No longer able to sit idly by while the President and his chief minion in the House amateurishly try to revamp one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the health insurance industry released a study they commissioned that analyzes the costs of the Obama-Pelosi plan. The results are quite sobering. The study shows that "between 2010 and 2019 the cumulative increases in the cost of a typical family policy under this reform proposal will be approximately $20,700 more than it would be under the current system." (Emphasis mine.)
Rather than challenge the study's results on merit, Obama and Pelosi wasted no time demonizing the health insurance industry with hyperbole and rhetoric. And then Pelosi lowered the boom, expressing "tremendous interest" in revoking the industry's decades-old antitrust exemption. This proved to be no empty threat, as the Democrat-run House Judiciary Committee promptly passed a bill to do exactly that.
Now, curtailing the health insurance industry's limited exemption from federal antitrust laws may or may not be good policy. But given the circumstances, this is beside the point.
The real issue is that Obama and Pelosi are using the power of Congress to muzzle the speech of a private sector industry, First Amendment be damned. It couldn't be more blatant. Stay quiet about their disaster of a health plan, and Obama and Pelosi will leave you alone. Point out how their plan will actually make matters worse, and Obama and Pelosi will hit you back with new laws that hurt your business.
To listen to the rhetoric of Obama, Pelosi, and their far-left followers, the First Amendment right to free speech is a sacred cow among sacred cows -- so much so that even dunking a crucifix in urine or smearing animal dung on the Virgin Mary is to be protected, lest we end up on a slippery slope toward Marxist-style censorship.
But when the subject turns from fecal art to a private sector industry conducting an analytical study on the costs of the Democrats' government-run health care plan -- well, that's like yelling "boondoggle!" in a crowded Capitol. That sort of free speech simply can't be tolerated, and certainly can't be protected.
As it turns out, the American public isn't fooled by Obama's and Pelosi's strong-arm tactics, according to a recent Zogby International/O'Leary Report Poll. (The poll surveyed 3,544 voters, was conducted October 23-26, and has a margin of error of 1.7 percentage points.) The poll asked:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently condemned the health insurance industry for releasing an unflattering analysis on the Obama administration's proposal to create a government-run "public option" health insurance plan. Pelosi also threatened to revoke the industry's anti-trust exemption which has been in place since 1945. Do you agree or disagree that Pelosi is using the power of congress to try to limit the free speech of private corporations?
A majority of American voters (53 percent) agree that Pelosi is trying to use the power of congress to limit the free speech of private industry. Only 39 percent disagree. Furthermore, 55 percent of Independent voters also agree, while just 39 percent disagree. Majorities of Hispanic voters (52 percent), union members (51 percent), and small business owners (58 percent) agree as well.
Should private corporations have to cower in fear if they exercise their First Amendment rights? Evidently, Obama and Pelosi think so. In fact, the brazen way in which they smacked down health insurers for speaking out sends a clear message to other private sector industries: Better to cut out your tongue than to risk legislative retribution.
Brad O'Leary is publisher of "The O'Leary Report," a bestselling author, and is a former NBC Westwood One talk show host. His book, "Shut Up, America! The End of Free Speech," is now in bookstores and available at endoffreespeech.com.