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Health Insurance Deal Destroys Equal Protection Under Law

When our government stops pretending, it's time to stop believing.

At the height of economic hysteria near the end of the Bush years and now through the first Obama year, government leaders tried to pretend all their nonsense-the bailouts, the stimulus, the financial guarantees-was for our own good.

It was all to save our economy, protect our industries, keep our credit flowing, help us.

Some people saw through the pretense, but millions did not. On Thursday, however, the government dropped all pretense. The White House and leading Democrat lawmakers broadcast to the nation and the world that they no longer even pretend to run a government that tries to represent and protect everyone equally and fairly.

They did it in announcing a deal to "save" Obama's immensely unpopular health care overhaul. The deal makes it clear they believe in two Americas: the nonunion private sector and the unionized government sector. They believe, in other words, the public should serve the public servants.

union-thugsOn Monday union leaders visited the White House to protest plans to tax "Cadillac" health insurance plans. These are the lavish benefits usually made available to workers in unions. On Thursday the White House and leading lawmakers announced they would not tax union-negotiated Cadillac plans until 2018, a full five years after everyone else with such plans would be taxed.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us fewer than 8 percent of all private-sector workers are in unions. And among those private-sector union workers, few have Cadillac plans, those costing more than $23,000 a year for family coverage or $8,500 for single coverage. The lucky few are in unions like the United Auto Workers, whose butt was saved by forcing Americans to shovel tens of billions of dollars into General Motors and Chrysler, which are now partly owned by the bailed-out UAW.

Most Cadillac plans belong to unionized government workers-cops, firefighters, teachers, transit workers, etc. More than 40 percent of government workers belong to unions, more than five times the private-sector rate of union membership, according to the BLS.

So this deal is overwhelmingly a sop to government workers, whose salaries and benefits come from taxpayers. And although the old song that government workers trade lower pay for higher benefits might have been true decades ago, it no longer is.

In a report released just a few days ago, tax and budget expert Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute noted, "Public sector pay averaged $39.66 per hour in 2009, which was 45 percent higher than the private sector average. The public sector advantage was 34 percent in wages and 70 percent in benefits."

In an apparent bid to add insult to injury, the administration is considering replacing the revenue that would be lost by not taxing union health plans by raising taxes on nursing homes and medical-device makers and cutting government payments to drug makers. All these moves would shift costs, making drugs, nursing homes and medical devices even more expensive.

The Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, but this deal would put into law unequal, special treatment for union workers.

Fairness? Equal protection? Gone and gone. Government leaders have been eroding these ideals for a long time. They are now so far gone today's leaders don't even pretend to accept them. They give the rest of us no reason to believe in them.

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 Steve Stanek(This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute in Chicago.

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