The commencement speech market, Obamacare job bonanza, and recess appointment gridlock

May 14, 2013

1.  The commencement speech market:

It’s my guess that the most sought-after commencement speaker this season is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. How many invites did she get, and how does that compare with other top names? And did she accept any? Is she getting paid? Especially now that Benghazi has come back into the news, has she set any ground rules related to the appearance, such as whether she will be available to the press before or after the talk?

Who else is a top drawer graduation speaker this year? And who, in terms of gravitas or lack thereof, is this year’s most unlikely pontificator?

What’s the market like generally this season? At a time when students face mounting tuition debt, have any schools, mindful that graduates are rarely rocked by any commencement speaker, made it a policy not to spend big bucks to put a star at the podium?

2. The Obamacare gravy train:

According to this exclusive AP report published last week, the state of California is going to spend “nearly $458 million on outside vendors by the end of 2014, covering lawyers, consultants, public relations advisers and other functions” to set up the state’s insurance exchange provided for by Obamacare. That suggests the birth of a new multi-billion dollar nationwide industry for people who can sell themselves as experts in building an electronic  consumer marketplace for health insurance, which until now has mostly been marketed to employers rather than individuals.

So, who’s leading the charge to cash in and how are they doing it?

The AP story suggests that there is one obstacle, as least in California, to finding out. AP reports that unlike in other states, where the books of the agencies overseeing the insurance exchanges are subject to open records laws, legislators in California inserted an usual provision in its law setting up the exchange support apparatus that allows that all the new spending to be kept secret. (How that happened would, itself, be a good story.) But the books are open in other states, and even in California a good reporter ought to be able to find out who’s getting in on the action and what strings they are pulling along the way.

A related story has to do with all the new federal jobs being created by Obamacare. Here’s one snippet from the health news service of the Kaiser Family Foundation that covers a piece of the story – the 9,000 people being hired just for the call centers being organized to answer consumer questions about the insurance exchanges being run by the federal government.

3. Looking in on court-ordered regulatory gridlock:

In January, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit sharply curtailed President Obama’s ability to make so-called recess appointments, which allow a president to put his appointees in place when the senate refuses to  confirm them. The recess appointment gambit, regularly used by presidents of both parties, had allowed officials to take office if appointed by the President during a Senate recess and stay there until a new session of the Senate convened the following year.

In recent years senators in the party not occupying the White House had tried to block the tactic by not formally recessing and instead hold perfunctory, minutes-long sessions even on days when most of the Senate was out of town. But President Obama tried to trump that in 2011 by declaring that these pro-forma sessions were not real and, therefore, that he could make a recess appointment.

The appeals court ruled not only that President Obama’s tactic was an unconstitutional intrusion on Senate prerogatives but also that even during a real recess, the president could only appoint officials whose offices had become vacant during that same recess.

The decision, if not overturned on appeal, would invalidate the appointments of, among others, three sitting members of the five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), who had been given recess appointments in 2011. The standing of the acting head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Board would also be in jeopardy.

That in turn could allow all of the decisions made by the NLRB since these appointees took office to be challenged, as could the regulations promulgated by the consumer protection board.

According to this editorial in the New York Times, citing the Congressional Research Service, “652 appointments by Presidents Reagan through Obama would have been blocked by those rules, because they came during breaks in Senate sessions or, even though they came during gaps between sessions, the actual vacancies did not occur in the gaps.”

The Obama administration announced two weeks ago that it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but the high court is not likely to rule until some time next year.

So what kind of chaos is this causing at the affected agencies in the interim? Are the two agencies completely paralyzed? Are their rulings being challenged and held in abeyance? What other agencies are affected? What about the rulings of judges who might have decided cases while sitting on the bench through these recess appointments? This story is not exactly sexy but it’s likely causing havoc all over the executive and maybe even the judicial branches

The Times did report early last month that “more than 100 companies have asked the courts to rule that the labor relations board lacked a quorum — and thus had no authority to act against them.” I’d like to know what some of the most important of these cases involve, and what other challenges to other agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, have sprung up.

Put simply, who’s benefiting the most from this new DC monkey wrench, and who’s getting hurt?

Editor’s note: On several occasions (here, here and here) this column has advocated greater scrutiny of the IRS, and specifically how the agency treats tax-exempt 501 (c) (4) organizations that are closely aligned with political action committees. In the wake of reports last week about how Tea Party and other conservative organizations were apparently targeted by the IRS, some stories scrutinizing this aspect of the IRS have been published, including this Wall Street Journal story.

PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the commencement for Barnard College, in New York, May 18, 2009.  REUTERS/Chip East

One comment

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As evidenced in both California and inside the Beltway, when government becomes so large and complex that it is both impossible to manage and works first to expand its influence (of that of legislators and the employees); it’s time for a wholesale restructuring.

Massive private sector companies, including those with international operations and hundreds of thousands of employees, do this periodically to eliminate redundancy and to implement new efficiencies.

But as Ronald Reagan stated, the only entity in the universe that is immortal is a federal program.

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