When I was growing up the term “waiver” was used in the following way:
The Washington Senators have placed OF Milt Paskewitz and his .211 batting average on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release.
Today the term is used most often by a different group of Washington Senators, Congressmen, and Executive Branch politicos seeking special privileges or exemptions from existing bills that they themselves have passed and signed into laws for the rest of us. Here’s some of what I mean:
- On March 23, 2009 the Democratic Party in Congress and President Obama passed and signed into law the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (don’t you just love the way the language is used in D.C.?). The final bill (PPAHCA) contained hundreds of individual, business, and state mandates among its more than 2500 pages and 500,000+ words, and created more than 200 new federal boards or agencies to see to its enforcement and implementation.
Except… more than 1200 annual and renewable waivers have already been granted select corporations (like GE which paid no federal taxes last year), labor unions, and small businesses ( including 38 restaurants, bars, and hotels in Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district) from various provisions of the law. While there is no evidence that Pelosi had anything to do with these exemptions, Senator Harry Reid did personally intervene and secure an exemption for all health insurers in the state of Nevada from provisions of the law they deemed disadvantageous. We don’t know who the 200+ waiver requests that were turned down came from, because the administration that promised us transparency refuses to release that information.
- On January 8, 2002 President Bush signed into law the “No Child Left Behind Act” setting new standards in an effort to improve K-12 education in the United States public school system. The fact that Bush and Teddy Kennedy were together behind NCLB gives one pause, but nevertheless, it is the law.
Except… On August 10, 2011 President Obama issued waivers by executive order giving states “flexibility” in complying with the provisions and standards of the No Child Left Behind Act passed during the Bush years. Question: Where does the President or anyone in the Executive Branch get the power to unilaterally change a law or to choose when, how, and to what extent that law is to be enforced?
- On September 21, 1996 Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) whereby the federal government defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. It passed both houses of Congress by wide margins.
Except… On February 23, 2011 President Obama ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the law in court, declaring that it was unconstitutional. Funny, I thought we had a Supreme Court that ruled on the constitutionality of the laws and a legal process for seeking their ruling on such matters.
Understand, I am not arguing the merits or demerits of DOMA, PPAHCA or NCLB or any other laws for that matter. I’m decrying the “new normal” of laws being passed and only being applied to some of the people according to the opinions of those who make and enforce the laws for us all.
If an idea was sound enough to merit passage into law, it becomes the law. If changes are in order for whatever reason, our Constitution contains the means via legislative process by which it can be changed, amended or rescinded. We also have the process of judicial review for the courts, ultimately the Supreme Court, to determine the constitutionality of any law.
But the selective application of the law is no law at all.
There was a time when our laws were enacted and fully, not selectively enforced, Those days seem to have gone and are not likely to return until the voters of this country give a lot of these politicos their unconditional releases.