Obamacare

GOP Can't Make Up Its Mind About Mandates

E-verify is just as invasive as Obamacare.

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When the White House announced last week that it was delaying Obamacare's employer insurance mandate by a year, Republicans pounced. For the past four years they have argued the mandate is a disaster waiting to happen, and last week they took the delay as proof they had been right all along.

 "The president's health care law is already raising costs and costing jobs," said House Speaker John Boehner. Sen. Orrin Hatch denounced "this job-killing requirement on employers." Virginia's Eric Cantor warned that "the added costs  and regulations to businesses across our nation mean less jobs and less economic growth," so nothing less than full repeal would suffice.

Critics have been making the same points since before the law was passed. In their Jan. 2011 report calling Obamacare "A Budget-Busting, Job-Killing Health-Care Law," House Republicans cited a 2009 study by the National Federation of Independent Business to warn that "an employer mandate alone could lead to the elimination of 1.6 million jobs . . . with 66 percent of those coming from small businesses."

And since the law took effect, Republicans have gleefully drawn attention to one of its unintended consequences. Because they employer mandate applies only to full-time workers, many companies are shifting to part-time help. So "Americans are seeing their hours cut and their paychecks reduced as a result of the employer mandate," said Indiana Rep Todd Young earlier this month.

Clearly, Republicans hate imposing federal mandates on job-creating American businesses, right?

Wrong. In fact, many insist on a federal employer mandate with just as much passion – as soon as the subject turns to immigration, the subject of a closed-door meeting among House Republicans today.

The immigration bill passed by the Senate would require nearly all U.S. employers to check job applicants against an electronic eligibility verification system known as E-Verify. The use of E-Verify is one of the hard triggers Republicans insist must be pulled before unlawful resident aliens can apply for provisional status. Late last month the House Judiciary Committee approved, along partisan lines, a similar proposal. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte says the measure "balances the need of the American people regarding immigration enforcement with the need of the business community regarding a fair and workable … verification system."

Tell that to employers like Davis Boris. Boris runs a catering business; his payroll of 25 workers more than triples during busy periods, which means a lot of paperwork even if everything goes right. Yet there's a good chance that under E-Verify everything wouldn't. A Homeland Security report predicts a national E-Verify system would create a bureaucratic nightmare so bad "almost 770,000 genuinely legal workers would lose their jobs." Many more would have to jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops to demonstrate they are who they claim to be. Businesses such as his, Boris told The New York Times, "don't have the resources to be catching up with bureaucratic snafus."

What's more, this employer mandate is, equally, an individual mandate. The employer has to verify that you have the government's permission to work. But if any questions come up, the burden of proof falls on you.

Conservatives might respond that once the kinks are worked out, E-Verify will not prove terribly arduous. Setting aside this argument's touching faith in federal efficiency, it raises other questions: Does that mean their objection to Obamacare's insurance mandate is strictly utilitarian? Would they accept it gladly if it cost a little less? Do they believe the government can impose as many mandates as it chooses, so long as none of them is too onerous by itself?

Of course not. Republican orthodoxy holds that government should not endlessly dictate the terms by which private enterprise goes about its business, even when those dictates ostensibly serve "the common good." It doesn't matter how many people might benefit from a mandate forcing Cathy's Cupcakes to provide health insurance; whether to provide it should be up to Cathy. Business decisions are best left to those who have the most knowledge and the most right to make them: Business owners.

By the same reasoning, it doesn't matter how many people might benefit from a mandate telling Cathy whom she can hire; if she would prefer Juan over John, that that ought to be her business and nobody else's. And yet the 2012 GOP platform declared that Republicans "insist upon [immigration] enforcement at the workplace through verification systems . . . Use of the E-Verify system . . . must be made mandatory nationwide." Why? Because "Americans need jobs."

Well, yes. They do. They also need health insurance. But someone's needing something does not give government legitimate grounds to make somebody else provide it.

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.