WASHINGTON — Today, Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL) delivered the following opening statement during a hearing on the use of administrative actions in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“Good morning and welcome to our hearing. Today we’re going to look at ‘administrative actions’—that is—unilateral actions by the President and the Executive Branch as they implement and administer the President’s healthcare law.
“The question we examine today is: If one president can ignore parts of the healthcare law, can another president ignore the whole thing?
“This issue goes to the core of our committee’s mission to conduct rigorous oversight. House Rule Ten empowers us to ‘determine whether laws and programs . . . are being implemented and carried out in accordance with the intent of Congress.’
“While we consider these issues today, it’s also important to remember the larger context. The Affordable Care Act was passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in 2010. It was signed into law by President Obama. If a president and Congress of one party can enact a law—but reconsider and alter it after enactment—then what can a different president and Congress do with the same law…or any other?
“Do laws matter at all? What about the votes of the American people, do they matter? We are focusing specifically on Executive actions relating to the Affordable Care Act, but don’t lose sight of the critical importance of these issues at the core of our representative democracy.
“The question before us is not whether the Administration is implementing the healthcare law. It’s whether the Administration is undermining the rule of law. And the answer is yes. This Administration is too eager to take unilateral actions to resolve thorny political problems. It has created a false narrative that Congress is unwilling to take on these challenges. In fact, as we will hear today, Congress has amended the Affordable Care Act over a dozen times. The Administration’s problem is that they are acting out of expediency, but not following the Constitution. So, the old phrase comes to mind, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
“The Constitution is clear: Congress writes the law, and the President executes the law, period. The President cannot rewrite it. If the President can make up the law as he pleases, there is no accountability. Putting this incredible amount of power in the hands of one person completely erodes the delicate balance of power our Founding Fathers established through checks and balances and ultimately, takes away the meaning of your vote as an American citizen. It’s precisely because of this issue and the significance and the scope of the President’s healthcare law that yesterday I introduced legislation to create a Special Inspector General to Monitor the Affordable Care Act. It is modeled after the Special Inspectors General that Congress has created for Iraq and Afghanistan Reconstruction and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that together have produced taxpayers savings of almost ten billion dollars. An enterprise as huge and complex as national healthcare reform surely deserves the same level of oversight as these earlier endeavors. And without objection, I’ll insert the findings of my SIGMA Act into the record.
“Our hearing today will review some of the changes the President has made to the Affordable Care Act without Congressional approval, and the impact of those changes. To do this, we have four extremely knowledgeable witnesses. Elizabeth Papez, a Partner at the law firm of Winston and Strawn; Jonathan Adler, Professor of Law at Case-Western Reserve University; Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute; and Robert Weiner from Arnold and Porter. I want to thank you all for attending and I look forward to your testimony.
“Defenders of the law claim that the President’s actions are routine uses of administrative discretion. However, as we will discuss today, administrative discretion is not unlimited. In many ways, the actions are unprecedented in American history, as some of our witnesses will describe. I expect that one witness will shrug this off. But I don’t think the Founders would shrug. In fact they were very apprehensive about just this situation. And here’s the proof: our second president John Adams wrote this, in part, in the Massachusetts Constitution:
In the government […]the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, […] the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, […] the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, [so that] it may be a government of laws and not of men.
“I want to emphasize that this is not hypothetical. This is not esoteric. This is not distant. This is at the core of who we are as a people. The unchecked use of unilateral Executive action creates a dangerous and damaging precedent.
“Today we’re going to hear a cautionary tale. Beware of a bad process that yields the result you desire. It can just as easily be used against you. This principle was brilliantly portrayed in the film A Man for All Seasons. You’ll recall this is the story of Sir Thomas Moore. An associate of his made the argument that he would cut down all the laws in England in order to get at Satan himself. Moore retorts that he would ‘give the Devil the benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake.’ Let’s not forget that laws exist to protect us.
“I know members on both sides of this Committee have strong feelings on these issues, and I look forward to our discussion today.”