Better UTAH Beat Episode 58 – July 30, 2013

This is Maryann Martindale of the Alliance for a Better UTAH and welcome to this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.

Petulant is a word English inherited from the French. The word is used to describe a person who is childish, sulky, or bad-tempered. Lately it’s being tossed around a lot to describe Utah’s own junior senator, Mike Lee. But the word petulant originally came to the French from Latin, where it means to aim at or seek something. Perhaps that original meaning ought to be given greater weight when considering Lee’s most recent tantrum.

Lee’s latest hand-waving, headline-grabbing stunt has been a call to shut down the federal government as a way of forestalling the implementation of Obamacare. Though Mike Lee’s antics are certainly childish, they don’t seem to play out the same way as the innocent, naive actions of a toddler. Lee’s designs are far more selfish.

Lee’s current attempt at blocking Obamacare centers around stopping the individual mandate that is set to go into effect at the beginning of next year. The mandate, one of the signature pieces of the Affordable Care Act, requires that all U.S. citizens obtain health insurance. In exchange for the mandate, insurance companies agreed to eliminate the lifetime cap on insurance benefits, allow children to stay on their parent’s coverage until they turn 26, and to eliminate exclusion from health care benefits based on pre-existing conditions. The individual mandate gave insurance providers sufficient protection from the risk of insuring the sick by requiring that the healthy also be insured.

But Lee wants to block this last element of the Affordable Care Act. He has said before that he is fine with the other, more popular provisions of the act going into effect. He just won’t abide by the act’s signature piece of compromise, the individual mandate.

What explains Lee’s behavior? Despite appearances, we’re not so sure he is simply a true-believing ideologue like his newest partner-in-obstruction, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. In fact, Lee worked for the moderate Jon Huntsman while Huntsman was governor of Utah and even managed to keep his job. But then again, perhaps Lee was just in it for the paycheck. This, perhaps, provides a better understanding of our junior Senator. It isn’t that he’s incapable of being moderate; rather, it’s that he’s capable of doing whatever it takes to reach his true goal.

For example, Lee and his family got a huge reprieve last year on the short-sale of his million-dollar home. We’ve commented before that Lee’s failure to keep his own financial house in order undercuts his arguments for a balanced budget and his out-of-hand dismissal of the Keynesian economic projects that have saved the U.S. from an even deeper recession. At first blush, Lee’s insistence that the federal government’s budget be run like an American family’s budget–just not his own family’s budget–sounds clearly hypocritical. But maybe he isn’t a hypocrite at all.  At the end of the day, Lee is just doing what it is in his own best interest, the rest of us be damned.

His attempt to block the individual mandate by threatening a shutdown of the federal government will fortunately fail because most of his Republican colleagues remain firmly against the idea. But Lee’s antics were likely never really designed to block the healthcare bill. The truth is, Lee’s main aim is attention and power. And he’s calculated, that, for the time being, obstructing Obamacare is the most politically expedient path to that aim. Petulant, indeed.

This is Maryann Martindale with this week’s edition of the Better UTAH Beat.

Have a great week, and remember, together, we can make a better Utah.

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