Politics drives retreat on insurance issue

February 11, 2012


— At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, seeking theological underpinning for his drive to raise taxes on the rich, President Obama invoked the highest possible authority. His policy, he testified “as a Christian,” “coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’”

Now, I’m no theologian, but I’m fairly certain that neither Jesus nor his rabbinic forebears, when speaking of giving, meant some obligation to the state. You tithe the priest, not the tax man. The Judeo-Christian tradition commands personal generosity.

But no matter. Let’s assume that Obama has biblical authority for hiking the marginal tax rate exactly 4.6 points for couples making more than $250,000 (depending, of course, on the prevailing shekel-to-dollar exchange rate). Let’s stipulate that Obama’s prayer-breakfast invocation of religion as vindicating his politics was not, God forbid, crass, hypocritical, self-serving electioneering, but a sincere expression of a social-gospel Christianity that sees good works as central to the very concept of religiosity.

Fine. But this Gospel according to Obama has a rival — the newly revealed Gospel according to Sebelius, over which has erupted quite a contretemps. By some peculiar logic, it falls to the health and human services secretary to promulgate the definition of “religious” — for the purposes, for example, of exempting religious institutions from certain regulatory dictates.

Such exemptions are granted in grudging recognition that, whereas the rest of civil society may be broken to the will of the state’s regulators, our quaint Constitution grants special autonomy to religious institutions.

Accordingly, it would be a mockery of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment if, for example, the Catholic Church were required by law to freely provide such “health care services” (in secularist parlance) as contraception, sterilization and pharmacological abortion — to which Catholicism is doctrinally opposed as a grave contravention of its teachings about the sanctity of life.

Ah. But there would be no such Free Exercise violation if the institutions so mandated are deemed, by regulatory fiat, not religious.

And thus, the word came forth from Sebelius decreeing the exact criteria required (a) to meet her definition of “religious” and thus (b) to qualify for a modicum of independence from newly enacted state control of American health care, under which the aforementioned Sebelius and her phalanx of experts determine everything — from who is to be covered, to which treatments are to be guaranteed free-of-charge.

Criterion 1: A “religious institution” must have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose.” But that’s not the purpose of Catholic charities; it’s to give succor to the poor. That’s not the purpose of Catholic hospitals; it’s to give succor to the sick. Therefore, they don’t qualify as “religious” — and therefore can be required, among other things, to provide free morning-after abortifacients.

Criterion 2: Any exempt institution must be one that “primarily employs” and “primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.” Catholic soup kitchens do not demand religious IDs from either the hungry they feed or the custodians they employ. Catholic charities and hospitals — even Catholic schools — do not turn away Hindu or Jew.

Their vocation is universal, precisely the kind of universal love-thy-neighbor vocation that is the very definition of religiosity as celebrated by the Gospel of Obama. Yet according to the Gospel of Sebelius, these very same Catholic institutions are not religious at all — under the secularist assumption that religion is what happens on Sunday under some Gothic spire, while good works are “social services” that are properly rendered up unto Caesar.

This all would be merely the story of contradictory theologies, except for this: Sebelius is Obama’s appointee. She works for him. These regulations were his call. Obama authored both gospels.

Therefore: To flatter his faith-breakfast guests and justify his tax policies, Obama declares good works to be the essence of religiosity. Yet he turns around and, through Sebelius, tells the faithful who engage in good works that what they’re doing is not religion at all. You want to do religion? Get thee to a nunnery. You want shelter from the power of the state? Get out of your soup kitchen and back to your pews. Outside, Leviathan rules.

The contradiction is glaring, the hypocrisy breathtaking. But that’s not why Obama offered a hasty compromise on Friday. It’s because the firestorm of protest was becoming a threat to his re-election. Sure, health care, good works and religion are important. But re-election is divine.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Ron Holzwarth 5 years ago

"I believe people who go into politics want to do the right thing. And then they hit a big wall of re-election and the pettiness of politics. In the end, politics gets in the way of the business of people." - Kevin Costner

Maddy Griffin 5 years ago

It was written so there would be room to negotiate with any groups who didn't agree with it. What I don't get is the Catholics getting their noses bent about it. Nobody was forcing birth control on anyone.Kind of like abortion or gay marriage. If you don't like it, don't have one.

Terry Sexton 5 years ago

You've made this mistake before. It's 'shudder' not 'shutter'.

Terry Sexton 5 years ago

well, I yam perfect, so I yam allowed to say stuff.

jafs 5 years ago

Not an accurate and complete quote.

pace 5 years ago

My family is grateful the health care bill passed. It was needed. It is already making changed improving the quality, improving access and lowering the costs of health care to families. Much better than the republican plan, which was to secure special benefits only to the health care corporations and in Kansas have actually increased costs to families and limited access to health care. Brownback is killing people with his health care games.

cato_the_elder 5 years ago

"The contradiction is glaring, the hypocrisy breathtaking. But that’s not why Obama offered a hasty compromise on Friday. It’s because the firestorm of protest was becoming a threat to his re-election. Sure, health care, good works and religion are important. But re-election is divine."

That says it all. Brilliant column.

cato_the_elder 5 years ago

Quoting Obama as evidence that anything he does isn't 100% politically motivated is like quoting Barry Bonds saying he never used steroids.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Imagine that-- a politician doing something with political motivations. Sure glad Republicans never do that.

cato_the_elder 5 years ago

As I said, Bozo, everything Obama does is 100% politically motivated. There's a difference.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

As if the moaning and bitching about this from Republicans isn't politically motivated.

Do you ever have non-partisan thought?

cato_the_elder 5 years ago

Sure. It's that you never have a non-partisan thought.

pace 5 years ago

The only thing transparent in the Republican narrative is their hate based faith.

Paul R Getto 5 years ago

The whole debate about the Affordable Care Act has been strange from the start. Much of the act is a compilation of older Republican ideas, now abandoned by that party because the 'other' is promoting them. As I understand it, much of the birth control issue is similar, with various principles now being promoted by the President either being common practice, rules and regulations once promoted by Republicans years ago, or laws now on the books that were once suggested by the R's. Like his predecessor, Obama is sometimes tone-deaf and stumbles on small ideas. This too shall pass, perhaps after the election is over.

esteshawk 5 years ago

Kraut is wrong again. The President, like always, is three steps ahead. He got what he wanted, and now has the entire GOP field on record as being against contraception. It really is amusing to see how he is playing with them.

By the way, when did Kraut turn into a wingnut anyway?

esteshawk 5 years ago

The majority of catholics use birth control.

Richard Heckler 5 years ago

The Affordable Care Act was in fact written by the insurance industry:

If you’ve been watching the Senate Finance Committee’s markup sessions, maybe you’ve noticed a woman sitting behind Committee Chairman Max Baucus. Her name is Liz Fowler.

Fowler used to work for WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the country. She was its vice president of public policy. Baucus’ office failed to mention this in the press release announcing her appointment as senior counsel in February 2008, even though it went on at length about her expertise in “health care policy.”

Now she’s working for the very committee with the most power to give her old company and the entire industry exactly what they want – higher profits – and no competition from alternative non-profit coverage that could lower costs and premiums.

A veteran of the revolving door, Fowler had a previous stint working for Senator Baucus – before her time at WellPoint. But wait, there’s more.


While the Affordable Care Act did bring improvements regarding coverage the medical insurance industry see these improvements as an excellent opportunity to increase profits then blame it on Obama.

verity 5 years ago

"Politics drives retreat on insurance issue"


Pot meet kettle.

Richard Heckler 5 years ago

Thursday I read in the Wall Street Journal that the medical insurance industry will be paying out less in doctor fees. The medical insurance industry will be furthering their negative impact on the health care insurance clients receive.

Will the medical industry reflect this savings in their monthly rip off of consumers? I doubt it but the additional dollars may find their way to shareholders and golden parachutes. What a waste of health care dollars.

tomatogrower 5 years ago

Maybe President Obama is just trying to represent everyone, god forbid. I mean you are suppose to follow a party line. What about his loyalty oath to the Democrats? Oh wait, only the Republicans do that. It was the Republicans who got into a bunch over contraception, and quiet frankly, I'm glad they showed their true colors, especially Rickie boy. He doesn't want women in the military - they should be barefoot and pregnant. Let the guys take care of the little ladies.

tomatogrower 5 years ago

Let's see, he tried to work with Republicans on the health care bill, even adopting many of their previous proposals, but they didn't want to work with him, because they wanted him to fail. Now many young people can be insured on their parent's insurance. †hose who had to stay at a terrible job to maintain the insurance, because of a medical condition, can change jobs. And those without insurance at all, because of pre-existing condition can get off of medicaid and get a job with insurance.

Their hero, former President Bush, set up the TARP before he left office with no strings attached, Obama continued the policy, with some strings to protect us, maybe not nearly enough, yet Republicans have given him full credit for that, and hoped the bail outs would fail miserably.

Republicans created Guantanamo, yet they are critical, because Obama hasn't cleaned up that mess for them yet.

Republicans wanted to increase drilling of domestic oil, and Obama has allowed that putting in more safety conditions to protect us. Now we aren't relying on as much foreign oil, and the oil companies are still making record profits.

Republicans are against gun control. Obama has done nothing to create more gun control and actually allowed guns to carried into national parks, increasing a gun owner's rights. Yet the Republicans keep telling people that he wants to take away their guns.

Obama used bail out money to help out GM, put them into a structured bankruptcy, fired the lousy arrogant executives, got the union to make concessions, and save hundreds of thousands of jobs. And now GM is outselling Toyota. But the Republicans are still crying foul.

Obama wants to make family planning easier and cheaper, so that people won't have children they can't afford and to prevent situations where a decision about abortion doesn't have to be made. Yet the Republicans who criticize poor people for having children and are anti-abortion are against contraception.

I don't think Obama has to do much more to get reelected, because many Americans are starting to see the hypocrisy of the Republican party.

pace 5 years ago

No, 70 percent of the people did not oppose the health care bill. Some people didn't like some parts of it, some people didn't think it went far enough, and some people opposed it.l Most people support some parts of it. A lot of people are already receiving better access to health care and insurance. It is a blessing for working families. Almost no one supported the Republican health care reform because there literally wasn't anything to talk about. Nada.

pace 5 years ago

Your information was and is inaccurate. I don't make my decision on matters by popular poll but your information on results of some of the popular polls is foxoff. Mine was accurate. Yours was just inaccurate. Study the results and savings from the health care act, you will be relieved to find it will improve the access to health care and insurance for working families and will reduce costs. I appreciate you have a hatred for President Obama, you have a right to your feelings. I don't see a president as a savior, a remark made about him by the more rabid GOP. Returning to the ruinous economy fallacies of the Bush boys would not be welcome by any sensible person. The current tea party congress members have proven themselves to be inapt and inert.

pace 5 years ago

Probably the main difference between our opinions is my information is from a variety of sources and weighed by skeptical assessment of any media's bias and accuracy. I also try to find similar circumstance in history to gain perspective. I also have a less profound "faith" in political leaders of either side than you do.. My advise is,do more reading and use a broader range of information source. I use to be tolerant of Fox news, but it has dissolved into just propaganda machine. I avoid Fox but have some sound sources for wide variety of different viewpoints of the issues. I do read a lot of history. While I think some of the facts you state are lies, I would hesitate to call you a liar, more you just hear lies and repeat them. Don't believe nonsense out of fear and prejudice. Get informed.

jafs 5 years ago

Your comment about Pelosi's comment is incorrect.

If you read the comment in it's entirety, you will find it doesn't say what you claim at all.

Richard Heckler 5 years ago

But contraceptives prevent abortions = a goal to admire

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

"Now, I’m no theologian, but I’m fairly certain that neither Jesus nor his rabbinic forebears, when speaking of giving, meant some obligation to the state. You tithe the priest, not the tax man."

Yup, Chuck, you're no theologian.

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's"

voevoda 5 years ago

Jesus personally equated obligations to the priest and obligations to the state: Matthew 17:24-27: "On their arrival at Capernaum the collectors of the temple tax came up to Peter and asked, "Does your master not pay temple tax? 'He does," Peter said. When he went indoors Jesus forestalled him by asking, "Tell me, Simon, from whom do earthly monarchs collect tribute money? From their own people, or from aliens?' 'From aliens,' said Peter. 'Yes,' said Jesus, 'and their own people are exempt. But as we do not want to cause offence, go and cast a line in the lake; take the first fish you catch, open its mouth, and you will find a silver coin; that that and pay the tax for us both.'"

Cait McKnelly 5 years ago

I find it ironic that Obama's contraceptive mandate was law under Bush II and has been for over a decade. http://motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/controversial-obama-birth-control-rule-already-law Oh, did I out that?

camper 5 years ago

"Fine. But this Gospel according to Obama has a rival — the newly revealed Gospel according to Sebelius, over which has erupted quite a contretemps"

More garbage. These guys make stuff up out of thin air. Class warfair, war on religion. President Obama could eat an apple and these knuckleheads would say he'd declared a war on oranges.

Cait McKnelly 5 years ago

Quoting myself from another thread.

By the way, a new study just out shows teen pregnancy is at a thirty year low. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup/2011/02/teen_birth_decline_back_on_tra.html Why? Because of increased education and free access to cheap contraceptives. Oh my. What are pro-forced birthers/competitive breeders gonna do about this?

camper 5 years ago

"The contradiction is glaring, the hypocrisy breathtaking. But that’s not why Obama offered a hasty compromise on Friday. It’s because the firestorm of protest was becoming a threat to his re-election. Sure, health care, good works and religion are important. But re-election is divine."

Krauthammer sure does try to pole vault over ant hills sometimes. Exaggerating here a bit? Dramatic much? hypocrisy, breathtaking, hasty, firestorm, protest, threat, divine......that is quite a bit to digest this morning. Propaganda at use.

Cait McKnelly 5 years ago

A quote from a friend; "Just thinking out loud here.......when JFK was President, the right-wing was worried he'd be taking "orders" from the Vatican. Now look at the right-wing."

imastinker 5 years ago

JFK was a conservative, fiscal and otherwise.

weeslicket 5 years ago

it's all a demo-socialist-catholic conspiracy i tell you. with world domination as its goal.

  1. the evil minions at the white house trot out an "aborrent" policy.
  2. thus creating "a sense of outrage" with certain groups of believers.
  3. thus "energizing" them to vote for santorum in republican primaries and caucuses.
  4. thus diminishing romney even further.
  5. then the evil minions present the "fair and balanced" plan that they had been holding in their vest pockets all along.
  6. and then other things happen.
  7. and finally, world domination.

Armstrong 5 years ago

Except it's the same smoke and mirrors we have seen for the last 3 years and it's kind of worn out now

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

"thuggish campaign honchos"

Are Karl Rove and Roger Ailes working for Obama now?

camper 5 years ago

"thuggish campaign honchos", "his billion bucks"

Go ahead and brace yourself math. But be sure to use two hands. That way you can't post.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

I have been waiting for this. I love how different groups frame the issue differently! I have my version and I don’t see it singularly. 1. The first issue is the availability of reproductive services to woman. A worthy cause. 2. Issue 2 is a decision to make those services “free”. Essentially another income transfer effort. 3. Issue 3 is the decision to mandate that private insurance as opposed to government now provide that coverage for free essentially avoiding the tax costs of the mandated service. 4. Issue 4 is the mandate that those with moral concerns with what is being required must provide the service and pay for it.

I would argue that for reasons of political expedience some people are deliberately mixing those issues. Clearly we can acknowledge that no impediment should exist to a woman receiving reproductive services without mandating private groups provide it for free and certainly without mandating that the woman’s right to such services at the expense of everyone else should ignore legitimate, deeply held and long standing moral concerns.

Government is not always right – remember that slavery was legal until we killed off about 600K of us to change it – at least in part.

So what is the real issue here because there clearly was no impediment to women receiving reproductive services as somewhere around 70% of current insurance programs provide it? Do men get a similar freebee?

notaubermime 5 years ago

In that sense, one can view birth control as cost-saving preventative medicine. Insurance coverage of birth control is undoubtedly less expensive than the cost of insuring abortion procedures or insuring dependents.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

I hate to tell you but that is what I think I said in 1.

To my mind those services are petty much available on demand in our current system. Does not Medicaid provide them? Are there not providers like planned parenthood that provide them? Most commercial insurance provides them. By no means to I support refusing those service to a women seeking them.

Exactly what is your real point? If Catholic Hospitals only provided abortion services the world would be right??? Why?

George Lippencott 5 years ago

Cheap shot. You have a cause. I do not disagree with it. I just want to know where my goodies are. Services are available so why must they be free?

You argue that by providing free services we will reduce costs over time. Might be true. I amend your thought to a consideration of the significant amount of public largess that follows a live birth to low income women. They just may not be motivated to seek such services considering the penalty they will experience if they do??? Sounds more like I will be providing free services primarily to those who can afford them. Think of it. We take resources from the middle and transfer them to the top 1%.

How about we follow this notion with a penalty for having more than one live birth? Maybe we limit child deductions to one, eliminate the EIC and actually charge penalties for more than two? That way there is a return on my investment.

Cait McKnelly 5 years ago

"So what is the real issue here because there clearly was no impediment to women receiving reproductive services as somewhere around 70% of current insurance programs provide it? Do men get a similar freebee?" Well if they buy the right plan it will cover their Viagra.

Katara 5 years ago

So, how do you know that boner pills are not free?

Katara 5 years ago

That is about the closest thing you come to in actually stating a fact.

You stated that those medications are not free as if it were fact.

Have you investigated all insurance companies prescription plans?

George Lippencott 5 years ago

Ah, but the issue here is "free". :Insurance costs most of us money - sometimes a lot!!!

voevoda 5 years ago

This whole controversy wouldn't exist if the US would move to a single-payer system.

Cait McKnelly 5 years ago

Just out of curiosity, do you also sit on your porch and scream at kids to get off of your lawn?

Cait McKnelly 5 years ago

Oh and by the way, I thought, according to you, "only Liberal women aborted". (Which by all rights should make you rabidly pro-abortion.) So which is it? can't have it both ways, y'know.

voevoda 5 years ago

Except for the fact, FalseHopeNoChange, that many Liberals have Conservative parents. Would you like to try for a cogent refutation of my point?

Cait McKnelly 5 years ago

"This controversy wouldn't exist if there were not so many Liberal humans seeking orgasms pell mell." I guess this means you don't enjoy sex. Poor dear.

tomatogrower 5 years ago

LIfe at your house must be boring. You and your wife only have sex for reproduction? Don't you have grown kids? Your wife is probably past the age of childbearing, so just give up sex, right?

Cait McKnelly 5 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Katara 5 years ago

Oh the Humanity!

Not pell mell orgasms, you say?!?!?!?

I can't think of a worse fate to befall a woman.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

If you assume the government is the provider. If there were still cCatholic Hospitals the issue might continue.

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