When It Comes to Benefits, Give Government the Boot

The Senate defeated the Blunt amendment today on a 51-48 vote that was almost entirely along party lines. Democrats Joe Manchin, Bob Casey and Ben Nelson voted for the amendment–Manchin and Casey must face the voters in November–and Republican Olympia Snowe, having announced that she will not seek re-election in the fall, felt free to vote with the Democrats.

As usual, the Democrats characterized the issue posed by the amendment in profoundly stupid terms:

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday, for example, said the amendment amounted to a “contraception ban”….

No, Chuck: a “ban” means you aren’t allowed to buy something, not that you have a choice as to whether to buy it or not. What a dope! I am embarrassed to admit that this doofus was a law school classmate of mine.

The Obama administration’s attack on religious institutions is an affront to the First Amendment, but I want to make a more fundamental point: why on Earth is the government in the business of telling any employers, not just religious institutions, what benefits they must offer their employees? Employers offer benefits solely in order to attract qualified workers. Employees, in turn, have various preferences about benefits and cash wages. Some employees don’t want any benefits at all; they prefer to take all of their compensation in cash. Other employees want bare-bones benefits (e.g., catastrophic health coverage only), so that they can take the difference in cost between such a plan and a gold-plated health care plan in cash, and apply it to other needs. (This is what I would do if I were an employee.) Still other employees want to maximize the pre-tax dollars that go to health care, and are content to receive lower cash wages as a result.

There is nothing wrong with any of these choices, and employers and employees ought to be free to agree on whatever combination of cash and benefits serves the employees’ needs and allows the employer to attract qualified workers. Why is this any of the government’s business? It isn’t. When government, at any level, dictates what benefits all employers must offer to their employees, thereby minimizing employee choice and decreasing employees’ wages, everyone loses. If government would simply butt out of matters in which it has no proper role, the infringement of the First Amendment would never arise.