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Obama Skirts Rule of Law to Reward Pals, Punish Enemies

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Question: What do the following have in common? Eckert Cold Storage Co., Kerly Homes of Yuma, Classic Party Rentals, West Coast Turf Inc., Ellenbecker Investment Group Inc., Only in San Francisco, Hotel Nikko, International Pacific Halibut Commission, City of Puyallup, Local 485 Health and Welfare Fund, Chicago Plastering Institute Health & Welfare Fund, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, Teamsters Local 522 Fund Welfare Fund Roofers Division, StayWell Saipan Basic Plan, CIGNA, Caribbean Workers' Voluntary Employees' Beneficiary Health and Welfare Plan.

Answer: They are all among the 1,372 businesses, state and local governments, labor unions and insurers, covering 3,095,593 individuals or families, that have been granted a waiver from Obamacare by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

All of which raises another question: If Obamacare is so great, why do so many people want to get out from under it?

More specifically, why are more than half of those 3,095,593 in plans run by labor unions, which were among Obamacare's biggest political supporters? Union members are only 12 percent of all employees but have gotten 50.3 percent of Obamacare waivers.

Just in April, Sebelius granted 38 waivers to restaurants, nightclubs, spas and hotels in former Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco congressional district. Pelosi's office said she had nothing to do with it.

On its website, HHS pledges that the waiver process will be transparent. But it doesn't list those whose requests for waivers have been denied.

It does say that requests are "reviewed on a case by case basis by Department officials who look at a series of factors including" -- and then listing two factors. And it refers you to another website that says that "several factors ... may be considered" -- and then lists six factors.

What other factors may be considered? Political contributions or connections? (Unions contributed $400 million to Democrats in the 2008 campaign cycle.) The websites don't say.

In his new book, "The Origins of Political Order," Francis Fukuyama identifies the chief building blocks of liberal democracy as a strong central state, a society strong enough to hold the state accountable and -- equally crucial -- the rule of law.

One basic principle of the rule of law is that laws apply to everybody. If the sign says "No Parking," you're not supposed to park there even if you're a pal of the alderman.

Another principle of the rule of law is that government can't make up new rules to help its cronies and hurt its adversaries except through due process, such as getting a legislature to pass a new law.

The Obamacare waiver process appears to violate that first rule. Two other recent Obama administration actions appear to violate the second.

One example is the National Labor Relations Board general counsel's action to prevent Boeing from building a $2 billion assembly plant for the 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina, which has a right-to-work law barring compulsory union membership. The NLRB says Boeing has to assemble the planes in non-right-to-work Washington state.

"I don't agree," says William Gould IV, NLRB chairman during the Bill Clinton years. "The Boeing case is unprecedented."

The other example is the Internal Revenue Service's attempt to levy a gift tax on donors to certain 501(c)(4) organizations that just happen to have spent money to elect Republicans.

A gift tax is normally assessed on transfers to children and other heirs that are designed to avoid estate taxes. It has been applied to political donations "rarely, if ever," according to New York Times reporter Stephanie Strom.

"The timing of the agency's moves, as the 2012 election cycle gets underway," continues Strom, is prompting some tax law and campaign finance experts to question whether the IRS could be sending a signal in an effort to curtail big donations."

In a Univision radio interview during the 2010 election cycle, Barack Obama urged Latinos not "to sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're going to punish our enemies and we're going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.'"

Punishing enemies and rewarding friends -- politics Chicago style -- seems to be the unfiying principle that helps explain the Obamacare waivers, the NLRB action against Boeing and IRS's gift tax assault on 501(c)(4) donors.

They look like examples of crony capitalism, bailout favoritism and gangster government.

One thing they don't look like is the rule of law.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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