Prisoners of Our Own Device

By Bill Maher

The sudden furor to repeal Obamacare's medical device tax doesn't just illustrate that businesses can't be trusted (they can't), and that Republicans are corporate shills (they are), it also brings up a larger point: In any standoff between Congress and the President, the President is the only person who can honestly say he's representing the American people as a whole.

First, let's stipulate that a 2.3 percent excise tax on the sale of devices inside the US is chicken feed. No jobs will be lost, no companies shuttered. The cost can and will be passed on. No foreign, cheaper sources of latex gloves or MRI machines are going to pop up and use the tax to wipe out American business, nor does the tax apply to US exports.

But the fight over the tax shows how local politics can be leveraged even among Obamacare's staunchest supporters. Thirty-three Democratic senators have voted for repeal, including Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren. The reason isn't mysterious -- the biggest medical device makers are in Democratic states: Medtronic in Minnesota, Boston Scientific in Massachusetts, and Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey.

That's not to say Franken and Warren are corrupt. Congressmen have to represent the interests of their districts. So Franken and Warren will "stand up to big business" unless the business is a big part of their constituency, and "stand up to the military industrial complex" unless the base or manufacturer is in their state. It's not even necessarily dishonest or fear-based: It's just how representative democracy works.

But it does mean is that despite how often Congressmen say they're acting in the best interests of the American people, by definition what they are saying is "the best interests of the American people unless it affects my shit." The President is the only one who can truly claim to have a job without a built-in conflict of interest.