The Check Creates the Balance
In 1990, I was a junior lobbyist representing insurance agents, still fresh off of Capitol Hill, so I was eager to ingratiate myself with successful politicians.
An open congressional seat in the Cincinnati suburbs afforded me a chance to be an early political action committee backer of a guy named John Boehner. I’ve made a lot of lousy political calls in the ensuing years, but my Boehner support looks prescient, and I’m proud of it. I work both sides of the political aisle, but I’m a Boehner guy.
In Washington that year, Boehner didn’t look like a shoo-in. He was the third man in a Republican primary, running against a sitting member of Congress (who was enmeshed in a sorry little sex scandal) and a former member from the same district who was attempting a comeback. My man on the ground in Ohio assured me that Boehner, then a state legislator and successful businessman, was going to win. He did, handily.
Twenty-three years later, deep into a series of fiscal cliffs and political acrimony, John Boehner’s continued speakership past the 2014 elections, it seems to me, is essential. Our trade association’s engagement in the political process is active, not passive. We’re in the business of political activism. And like it or curse it, the kind of political activism that members of Congress most respect is when people get out their checkbooks and make a contribution. With CouncilPAC, we put our money—the collective personal contributions of thousands of brokers—where our mouth is.
Reasonable people can disagree about who’s right and who’s wrong on fiscal policy. But the truth is that the current White House strategy on every big-picture issue in the current election cycle is to annihilate Republicans and return Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
“The president understands that to get anything done, he needs a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in March in The Washington Post. “To have a legacy in 2016, he will need a House majority in 2014, and this work has to start now.”
Boehner, pushed and pulled by elements of his own party, is the firewall against what would be the inevitable excesses of unfettered Democratic control in the final years of an Obama presidency. CouncilPAC resources are spent to support candidates on both sides of the political aisle who support us. On insurance-specific issues, we proudly support plenty of Democrats. But mindful of the mere 17 seats in the House that separate Republican control from Democratic control, our political dollars will be spent to reinforce the firewall.
The most obvious consequences fall into the employee benefits realm. During debate over the Affordable Care Act in 2010, then-Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said he viewed the bill as the gateway to the ultimate goal of securing a single-payer healthcare system. The Democratic House initially passed a “public option” to compete with private health plans. Liberal stripes are not likely to change.
As Obamacare implementation dates approach, the regulatory trends are transparent. Premium hikes as a result of the law (due to taxes, cost-shifters like age bands, and ineffectual mandates) will be blamed on health plans. In keeping with this, the administration in March moved to force plans to submit even minuscule rate increases to the Department of Health and Human Services. Likewise, the drumbeat against self-insured plans is troubling. Republicans may or may not be able to restrain the White House from imposing draconian stop-loss limits. Boehner has long been a champion of ERISA plans that work.
In fairness, many Republicans in Congress want Obamacare to fail and aren’t inclined to improve it or fix it. My post-Supreme Court, post-election argument to them is that that’s the path to single-payer—not to marketplace-driven—healthcare. But as a lesser-of-two-evils alternative, it’s easy to champion the Boehner speakership on healthcare reform.
Need I describe the trough-feed that the plaintiff’s bar would enjoy in the final two years of an all-Democratic Congress? In virtually every piece of legislation passed in the first two years of Obama’s term, new rights-of-action lurked in every corner. Countless regulations have been promulgated that encourage a litigious society and enrich trial lawyers.
There are, indeed, some big issues on which the ideological boundaries between R’s and D’s are murky. The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act comes to mind. A number of conservatives remain deeply skeptical that the government has an ongoing obligation on terrorism reinsurance. Some want to scale back the program or let it expire in 2014. We have much work to do this year in convincing them otherwise.
Boehner, meanwhile, has always supported TRIA. Democrats may be more easily convinced on the law, but liberals also want to use it as a vehicle for more potential litigation against commercial policyholders.
Washington is indeed more polarized and dysfunctional than ever, and there’s plenty of blame to go around for that. John Boehner leads one half of one third of the government. On many fronts that matter to brokers, he is the check and the balance.