Obamacare, enacted more than three years ago, has been unraveling for over a year. And there’s a good reason for that: it was never intended to become law at all.
Ordinarily one house of Congress passes a bill and the other house then substantially amends that bill or writes its own from scratch. No one worries too much about the actual language in these bills because they eventually go to a conference committee made up of both senators and representatives. There, the differences are ironed out and legislative draftsmen put the conference bill into final shape. That’s when they worry about the exact language, cross the T’s, dot the I’s, and reconcile conflicting provisions. After both houses pass this final, cleaned up legislation, it goes to the president for signing and becomes law.
But that process was aborted in this case. The Senate passed its version, full of sloppy language, impossible mandates, and contradictory provisions, on Christmas Eve 2009. It could do so because the Democrats at that point had a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority.
But then, the people of Massachusetts stunned the political world by electing a Republican to Teddy Kennedy’s old Senate seat in January 2010. Bye-bye filibuster-proof majority. If the House didn’t pass the exact same bill the Senate had passed, the two bills would have to be reconciled and the final bill sent back to the Senate, where the Republicans now could—and certainly would—filibuster it.
There were only two choices: have the House—where the majority has total control—pass the Senate bill with all its sloppiness, or cut the Republicans in on the deal sufficiently to pick up a couple of Senate Republicans. This being Obama’s Washington, of course, they opted to pass a crudely drafted, legislative horror show into law.
Now these political chickens are coming home to roost. Some provisions have had to be dropped because they were manifestly unworkable and others have been suspended by executive fiat. The language was so sloppy and ill-considered that one provision actually cut Congress members and their staffs off from their very cushy health-care subsidies. Obama waved his hand and said that a provision of the law that clearly says X actually says Y, and subsidies will continue to flow to Capitol Hill, if not to anyone else making $175,000 a year.
None of this, of course, is Obama’s fault. It’s the fault of the Republicans who were told, almost in so many words, to drop dead while the legislation was being drafted.
At his news conference, when he was asked about his unilateral suspension of a provision of the law, the president said that:
Now, what’s true, Ed [Henry, of Fox News], is, is that in a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the Speaker and say, you know what, this is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law — it has to do with, for example, are we able to simplify the attestation of employers as to whether they’re already providing health insurance or not — it looks like there may be some better ways to do this; let’s make a technical change to the law. That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do.
But we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to “Obamacare.” We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so.
As the Wall Street Journal pointed out on Saturday, that is nonsense. No president is going to ask for legislation, always fraught with politics, when he already has the executive authority to act on his own.
But why is there not a normal, let’s-get-the-country’s-business-done political atmosphere in Washington these days? Could it have something to do with a president who says, in a scheduled press conference, such things as:
Now, I think the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail, their number-one priority. The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care and, presumably, repealing all those benefits I just mentioned — kids staying on their parents’ plan; seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs; I guess a return to lifetime limits on insurance; people with preexisting conditions continuing to be blocked from being able to get health insurance.
Republicans, of course, don’t oppose any of those provisions, except, perhaps, for 26-year-old “kids” on their parents’ health insurance. It is pure, unadulterated, unadorned, bald-faced political slander by the president of the United States against the party that controls one house of Congress. It is also political stupidity of a very high order.
Barack Obama is, by far, the most viciously partisan president in American history. Other presidents have been partisan, often deeply so, but were careful to take the high road so as to keep open lines of communication with the other party, without which governance cannot be successful in a democracy. Not Barack Obama. His incompetence in everything political except winning elections is now costing him (and, inevitably, us) big time.
History will not treat this man kindly.