Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Henry Waxman's optional Constitution

Suppose you were trying to write a Constitution that protected freedom in America. You'd probably want to make sure the government didn't have the power to restrict freedom of speech. And you'd probably want to make sure the government didn't have the power to conduct fishing expeditions through the papers and personal records of unpopular people or anyone else who fell out of favor with the government officials in power at the moment.

You might write something like this:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
By coincidence, or maybe not by coincidence, the First Congress wrote that, and it became the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

On Monday Rep. Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to 52 insurance companies demanding documents for an investigation into "compensation and other business practices in the health insurance industry."

"For each year from 2003 to 2008," the letter requests "a table identifying each employee or officer who was compensated more than $500,000 in any one of those years, and listing the individual's principal position, the total value of compensation the individual received in each year, and the annual value of each of the following components of the individual's compensation:
(a) salary;
(b) bonus;
(c) grant date fair value of stock and option awards;
(d) the realized value of all sales of stock and exercised options;
(e) non-equity incentive plan compensation;
(f) change in pension value and nonqualified deferred compensation earnings, and
(g) all other compensation, including perquisites
The letter also "requests" a table identifying all board members and all compensation for each board member for each year from 2003 to 2008.

In addition, Chairman Waxman wants to see "a table listing all conferences, retreats or other events held outside company facilities" for the last three years, with documentation explaining "the purpose of such events" and "all expenses incurred, including transportation, lodging, food, entertainment, or gifts."

Then he wants to see, "for each year from 2003 to 2008," documentation of total revenues, net income, and total dividend payments.

He also "requested" all documents "provided, reviewed, prepared, or produced by or for the board by a compensation committee or compensation consultants."

And, of course, no examination would be complete without a table listing, "for each year from 2005 to 2008," premium revenue, claims payments, sales and administrative expenses, and profits. Chairman Waxman asked the insurance companies to break out the data separately for the self-insured employer market segment, the insured employer market segment, and the individual market segment, as well as for Medicare, Medicaid, and other government health programs.

Henry Waxman wants all of this by September 14 and some of it by September 4, and we can expect Capitol Hill hearings grilling the insurance executives just as soon as his overworked staffers find the time to edit the documents into a remake of Les Miserables and build a guillotine.

Who was it who said tyranny is when the people are afraid of the government, and freedom is when the government is afraid of the people?

It wasn't Henry Waxman.

Speaking of being afraid of the people, Henry Waxman is ducking his constituents this month. America Wants to Know happens to live in his district, and we called the district office today to complain about this McCarthyite abuse of power and also to ask if there will be a public forum or town hall meeting where constituents can ask Congressman Waxman questions like, "By what authority do you demand to see the confidential financial records of private individuals and companies that have committed no crime and are not even federally regulated?"

"Um," the staffer in the district office said nervously, "he's doing a forum on Friday but it's on climate change."

Where on Friday?

"Um... (long pause), it's at UCLA."

What time?

"Um... (long pause), it's at 10:00 a.m. But all the tickets are gone already."

Any town hall meetings on health care reform? Any other public appearances?

"No. Would you like to talk to the committee staff? The number is 202-225-2927."

The interesting thing about Congressman Waxman ducking any contact with his constituents is that this is a district so blue it looks like it's been asphyxiated. This is one of those Hollywood blue districts, the kind they make fun of during Republican fund-raising events.

If a Democratic congressman is ducking the public here, the Democrats are in worse shape than they were in 1994.

That's when President Clinton barnstormed the country campaigning for Democrats, telling everyone who would listen that he had to have more Democrats in the House and Senate or we'd never get health care reform passed.

In the 1994 election, the Democrats lost their majorities in both the House and the Senate.

Who was it who said those who forget history are doomed to repeat it?

It wasn't Henry Waxman.

Here's some free advice for the insurance companies. Stand up to the bullying and tell the public about every law, court ruling and regulation that makes health insurance coverage more expensive and less available. Don't make the mistake of being nice to the alligator in the hope that it will eat you last.

Copyright 2009

Editor's note: You might be interested in the previous posts, "Insanity," "Gazing into the future," and "Yes we can and no we won't."