Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Return of the HUAC

During the Red Scare of the 1950's one of the most feared pieces of paper one could get was a subpoena to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee or before Sen. Joe McCarthy. One witness queried of Sen. McCarthy, "have you no shame sir?"

Well, could a 21st century version of HUAC be on the horizon, or actually here. There have been stories lately discussing how big corporations are reacting to the health care bill by noting to their shareholders in SEC filings that the bill will required significant charges to their bottom line, for AT&T as much as $1 billion. Well, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), is channeling Sen. Joe McCarthy by calling to testify the leaders of some of these big companies:
That the legislation would negatively affect the earnings of these corporations and potentially hamper their ability to provide healthcare is for Rep. Waxman “a matter of concern,” as the “new law is designed to expand coverage and bring down costs.”

But I wonder, for whom are the negative effects of this legislation really a concern? For Rep. Waxman and his fellow Democrats who already forced the egregious bill on the public? For the private enterprises pummeled seemingly on a daily basis by these same politicians? Perhaps for the American people faced with all kinds of economy-crippling unintended consequences as a result of the legislation, on top of the higher costs and worse healthcare they will ultimately receive?

Is it in response to the criticism of the bill or out of the selfless devotion to public service of Rep. Waxman (he who never read his own cap-and-tax bill) that he has the gall to call individuals critical of the healthcare albatross to personally testify in front of members of his House Committee? It sure seems like the former when he is challenging the executives simply because their prognoses happen to differ from those of the almighty independent CBO.

Even more shocking is the fact that companies are being asked to provide records such as proprietary analyses on projected health care costs and “any documents including email messages, sent to or prepared or reviewed by senior company officials related to the projected impact of health care reform,” for the hearing. As York asserts, “The executives will undoubtedly view such documents as confidential, but if they fail to give Waxman everything he wants, they run the risk of subpoenas and threats from the chairman. And all as punishment for making a business decision in light of a new tax situation.” That Waxman is requesting internal emails related to the financial decisions of these companies should send a chill down our collective spine.

The threat to free speech and private enterprise represented by this hearing fits in well with the increasingly authoritarian atmosphere emanating from Washington, replete with the abrogation of contracts, bailout of businesses, levy of arbitrary taxes on bonuses, takeover of large swaths of private industry and the populist attack on commerce in general.
That's right, Waxman is looking at inernal documents of companies who think that the health care bill will cost them significant sums of money.

Oh, there is also the irony that SEC rules (which are overseen to a certain extent by the Energy and Commerce Committee) actually required the company's make these estimates in order for investors to have a clearer understanding of the value of the company. Ironic that they are now going to get hauled before Congress to testify about their disclosures that are required by Congress.

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