In his “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Teflon Tim and the Obama Keystone Cops:
Did the First Amendment get amended when I wasn’t watching so that freedom of the press is guaranteed except when it comes to writing about Timothy Geithner?
What else could explain how the former Treasury Secretary’s name could not be found in any of the stories last week about the Obama administration’s decision to postpone for a year the Obamacare requirement that employers with 50 or more employees must provide health insurance or pay a penalty of $2,000 per employee?
The explanation for the postponement was that the rules, instructions, and reporting forms necessary to implement the requirement could not be written in time. The Treasury Department has responsibility for that paperwork and has had three years and three months to get it done. Geithner was in charge of Treasury for all but five of those 39 months.
Try a Google news search for any combination of “Obamacare employer mandate delay” and “Geithner” and you get nothing. How great is that — if you’re Geithner? And how emblematic is that of the press’s widespread failure to cover how well, or badly, the Obama administration governs?
In a parody of the transparency and fresh approach to governing that candidate Obama promised in 2008, the Treasury Department announcement of the delay came in the form of a blog post late Tuesday night from an assistant Treasury secretary, who spun it with this hilarious headline: “Continuing to Implement the Affordable Care Act in a Thoughtful, Careful Manner.”
More time than the 39 months spent so far was needed, the blog post explained, in order to “simplify the new reporting requirements” following concerns expressed by business groups about “the complexity of the requirements” that had been circulated in draft form.
Other than Time magazine’s Joe Klein I don’t know of any reporter who has paid attention to the Obama administration’s glaring incompetence at the basic chores of government.
Can’t someone tell us why Geithner and his team couldn’t get their homework done in 39 months? Is 39 months too fast to be “thoughtful and careful?” What happened? Why wasn’t the White House staff monitoring them from the day the bill passed to make sure the work was getting done? What about the Office of Management and Budget, which was run during most of those 39 months by Peter Orszag and Jacob Lew (who now runs Treasury) and which is supposed to supervise regulation-writing at federal agencies?
Am I missing something? Is this all a hidden part of the Republican conspiracy to thwart Obama? Did Mitch McConnell slip stupid or lazy pills into the Treasury Department water fountains?
Nailing down this story is especially important because critics of Obamacare say the law is so hopelessly complicated that Jack Welch and a six sigma team from GE couldn’t implement it. Does the fact that highly-regarded people like Geithner, Orszag, and Lew failed to get this done prove their point? Or did team Obama simply fail to remember that getting a landmark law passed is the beginning, not the end, of their work? Are the Obama people Ivy Leaguers when it comes to policy and keystone cops when it comes to governing?
The implementation of Obamacare’s impending state insurance exchanges is a far more onerous challenge than implementing the employer insurance coverage requirement. Does this failure at the easier job suggest that the exchanges, due to be online on October 1, will also be delayed, contrary to the repeated promises of the Obama administration? Or will the exchanges be saved by the fact that responsibility for them rests not with Treasury but with the people who run Medicare and Medicaid (and who I think do a great job)?
With that in mind, if Treasury is so bad at implementing the parts of Obamacare for which it is responsible, and given what we now know the lousy job that its Internal Revenue Service division does enforcing the rules for granting tax exemptions, why haven’t reporters taken a look at how well Treasury does some of its other jobs? Is there any reason to assume that things are fine at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, or that Treasury is doing a good job selling bonds or enforcing trade sanctions against terrorists or rogue countries, such as Iran? What about collecting taxes and nailing tax cheats?
2. Profiling the low-profile CRP:
I could tell you in about 90 seconds how much Exxon Mobil contributed in the last five or 10 years to members of Congress holding a hearing on oil company tax breaks.