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Mulvaney discusses health care, executive orders and issues with local constituents

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By Greg Summers

It was a question that U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (S.C.-5) already knew the answer to when he asked it during a town hall meeting for fifth congressional constituents at the University of South Carolina Lancaster on Monday, March 17.

When he asked the 60-plus crowd seated inside the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building’s Bundy Auditorium to raise their hand if they had enrolled in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) exchange since Oct. 1, only one shot up in the air.

It belonged to his wife, Pam Mulvaney.

Obligated by law to sign up for Obamacare, Mulvaney said he figured he was the only person there to do so. 

“And we still don’t have coverage,” Pam Mulvaney said. 

In a non-political appearance, Mulvaney answered a wide range of questions ranging from the annexation of Crimea into Russian territory to queries on education, electromagnetic pulse and power grids and road dollars, as well as getting young people engaged in the political process.  

An uncooperative wireless microphone didn’t hinder Mulvaney, who will seek his third term in Congress later this year. Rather than speak from the stage, Mulvaney came up into the seats and sat on the back of one of them as he fielded questions posed by town hall attendees.

Most of the questions centered on the issues surrounding Obamacare.  

Obamcare, he said, is a complete disaster. His family health insurance is now $400 a month more and the out-of-pocket deductible increased from $1,600 a year to about $6,500. 

“I’m not asking for sympathy, I’m just telling you as the one person here who has signed up that it’s a complete disaster,” Mulvaney said.

Although the congressman doesn’t live in Washington D.C., he was required by law to sign up there. Mulvaney said there are few doctors inside the Capital Beltway licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina. Given that, he and his wife signed up there by the Dec. 15 deadline. However, they opted to sign up their 14-year-old triplets in the South Carolina exchange since they live here.

“I filled out the form online for Caroline, Finnegan and James,” he said. 

When the confirmation arrived in the mail, Mulavaney said it was for “Caroline Mulvaney, James Mulvaney and James Mulvaney.” There was no record of Finnegan and after Pam Mulvaney spent almost four hours on the phone with a health care navigator, they didn’t have any idea what happened to his insurance coverage.

“It’s awful. Don’t take this the wrong way – I’m a member of Congress. While some people think of this as a big deal, I don’t. Now if they are willing to treat me like that, how do you think they are going to treat you?” Mulvaney said, which drew a round of “Yeps” from those at the town hall meeting.  

The question that never gets answered, he said, is not whether you can afford the coverage, but if you can afford the care.

Mulvaney compared it to the circumstances that led to the death of six military veterans who needlessly died at Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn Veterans Medical Center in Columbia while waiting on routine gastrointestinal procedures after the waiting list grew. The case made national news in 2013. 

“If they treat veterans like that and members of Congress, how do you think they are going to treat you? Not very good, and that’s what worries me,” Mulvaney said. “We’re going to end up with a system where everyone has health care insurance, but no one can afford to go to the doctor. It wasn’t on purpose, but that’s where we are headed.”    Business concerns

Mulvaney said there are real concerns that South Carolina’s smaller businesses are not growing as they should due to the impact of Obamacare. 

Since about 80 percent of South Carolinians now work for businesses with less than 50 employees, Mulvaney said it is one of the highest states in the nation in that category.

While small businesses have the ability to adapt to positive market changes, Mulvaney said, many find themselves in an “Obamacare Catch 22” coming out of a recession. 

Unlike major manufacturers, they don’t have the ability to hire attorneys and experts to answer their concerns. Mulvaney said local accountant and dry cleaner owner Ken Davis isn’t the same as Pepsico, Continental Tire and BMW.

“The problem is the health care law is scaring small business to death,” he said. “They’re saying we are doing well, but can’t really hire people until we know what it’s going to cost to hire them. That’s why these unilateral delays are making things worse. The health care law, more than anything, is putting this wet blanket over the economy. Businesses big and small will tell you it’s pretty good, but they aren’t fired up and ready to grow. We need to solve that problem.”    

Overstepping bounds?

Mulvaney said President Obama has made it clear to Congress he has no intention of changing the health care law at all, other than the parts he wants to change, which includes the recent unilateral extension of the sign-up date, which was issued by executive order March 5.

Passed into law in 2010, with millions of uninsured Americans gaining coverage, the law mandated that employers would face fines if they didn’t insure workers.

But the recent executive order now lets people keep health insurance plans for another two years that would otherwise be out of compliance with Obamacare.

Employers are largely sitting on the sidelines after the Obama administration twice has delayed the law’s requirement that larger firms provide coverage or pay a fee. The rule was supposed to take full effect this year, but was first delayed until 2015 and now won’t kick in until 2016.

Mulvaney said many U.S. House members are now questioning how President Obama can issue executive orders that contradict those he previously signed.

The health care act, as passed, clearly states that everyone had to be signed up for the program by Jan. 1, 2014. Mulvaney said Obama can change the administration of the law, but cannot change the law.

“The president certainly has great and sweeping authority within the health care law to make certain regulations. He gets that from Congress by the way,” he said. “If you don’t like the idea that he has so much power, blame it on Congress, who passed that in 2010 and delegated all this authority to him. 

“Congress is too lazy to get into the business of handling all the details,” Mulvaney said. “We paint this broad brush and then let him do the rest. Then, it comes back to bite us, by the way, which is why I didn’t vote for the health care law.”

The problem Congress now faces, Mulvaney said, is how to fix it. Many political analysts have called the most recent extension nothing more than a move to keep Democratic control of the U.S. Senate in the upcoming election. 

Mulvaney said there are two traditional tools the legislative branch has against the executive branch.

At the lower level, Congress has the authority to defund programs, or “cut off the purse strings” to keep the executive branch in check. In this instance, with Republicans having a House majority and Democrats have a Senate majority, Mulvaney said defunding will not work.

At a higher level, Mulvaney said the legislative branch could impeach the president by saying he has violated the duties of his office.

But the changing of the enrollment date, Mulvaney said, probably doesn’t constitute an impeachable act.

“Is it wrong? Yes,” Mulvaney said. “But we can’t defund it and it doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. There’s nothing we can do for things that fall in the middle in figuring out how to deal with it.” 

Mulvaney compares it to what happened in the Nixon administration when the President refused to turn over tape recordings. He also compares it with the legislative branch trying to get questions answered on the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack that killed four, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and injured 10 others.     

“The Justice Department is who supplies us with the information, but what happens when they work for the executive branch? It’s a circular problem. How do you get a president to enforce a law against himself?”

Mulvaney said that’s a question that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia can’t answer.   

“The only two available are defund and impeach and neither of them seem to be applicable to the situation we find ourselves in,” Mulvaney said. 

 

Contact copy editor Greg Summers at (803) 283-1156