Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2014 midterm election

Delay Can’t Avert ObamaCare Crackup

After years of critics predicting that ObamaCare was too cumbersome and intrusive to implement without causing major dislocations for the American economy and workers, that opinion was finally confirmed by what we in the media would, in another context, probably term a highly placed government source: the Obama administration. Yesterday afternoon’s announcement that implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to require businesses with more than 50 employees to offer them health insurance or face crippling fines will be put off for a full year until 2015 rather than being rolled out in January 2014 is the first official signal that even the White House is now aware that ObamaCare is a disaster that can only be managed rather than averted. Though the administration says the rest of the president’s signature health care plan—including the individual mandate to buy insurance and the creation of state insurance exchanges—will still be put into effect on schedule, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that even its supporters are coming to grips with the fact that the law is a mess.

It should be remembered that the original schedule for ObamaCare implementation was wisely crafted with an eye on the president’s reelection. Though passed in 2010, the law was not to be put into effect until after President Obama was safely reelected in 2012, meaning that the devastating impact on employment and on the cost of insurance for many Americans was not an issue last year. Instead, Obama was able to claim that he had merely pushed for a measure that would ensure more people were insured without having to be held accountable for the impact this system had on everyone else. The same political motivation appears to be behind the decision to put off the business mandate since a postponement will make it harder for Republican critics to claim that ObamaCare is sinking the economy and causing layoffs during next year’s midterm elections.

It’s not clear whether that will help many Democrats next year. Nor can we be certain just how effective a campaign focused on stopping ObamaCare will be for the GOP. But we do know that the ObamaCare crackup is inevitable and will be felt throughout the economy once it is in place. What this first official indication of distress tells us is that no delay in implementation will be long enough to avert the looming economic disaster that is ObamaCare.

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After years of critics predicting that ObamaCare was too cumbersome and intrusive to implement without causing major dislocations for the American economy and workers, that opinion was finally confirmed by what we in the media would, in another context, probably term a highly placed government source: the Obama administration. Yesterday afternoon’s announcement that implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to require businesses with more than 50 employees to offer them health insurance or face crippling fines will be put off for a full year until 2015 rather than being rolled out in January 2014 is the first official signal that even the White House is now aware that ObamaCare is a disaster that can only be managed rather than averted. Though the administration says the rest of the president’s signature health care plan—including the individual mandate to buy insurance and the creation of state insurance exchanges—will still be put into effect on schedule, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that even its supporters are coming to grips with the fact that the law is a mess.

It should be remembered that the original schedule for ObamaCare implementation was wisely crafted with an eye on the president’s reelection. Though passed in 2010, the law was not to be put into effect until after President Obama was safely reelected in 2012, meaning that the devastating impact on employment and on the cost of insurance for many Americans was not an issue last year. Instead, Obama was able to claim that he had merely pushed for a measure that would ensure more people were insured without having to be held accountable for the impact this system had on everyone else. The same political motivation appears to be behind the decision to put off the business mandate since a postponement will make it harder for Republican critics to claim that ObamaCare is sinking the economy and causing layoffs during next year’s midterm elections.

It’s not clear whether that will help many Democrats next year. Nor can we be certain just how effective a campaign focused on stopping ObamaCare will be for the GOP. But we do know that the ObamaCare crackup is inevitable and will be felt throughout the economy once it is in place. What this first official indication of distress tells us is that no delay in implementation will be long enough to avert the looming economic disaster that is ObamaCare.

The excuse we’re hearing from the administration is that the extra year will somehow make it easier for businesses to comply with a system that is so complex that few have much confidence that they can navigate it with assurance. Given the potentially catastrophic penalties that the government can assess against a business that it deems to be not in compliance with the law, it is little surprise that many are contemplating changes that may drastically reduce the number of full-time employees, thus dealing a devastating blow to employment in the name of granting insurance to all.

Rather than this move being, as Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett claimed yesterday, merely an effort to “get this right,” there’s little doubt the decision was based on the idea that postponing implementation will function as a reprieve for Democrats next year. Americans are not likely to fully grasp just how intrusive the law is or how badly it will affect the economy until all parts of it are enforced. But whether that realization comes before the midterms or after them, the day when most Americans understand just how badly this massive expansion of government power will impact their lives is not long in coming. Putting off the moment when the backlash against ObamaCare is truly felt in Washington until after 2014 will not make it any less potent.

This move should encourage Republicans to keep chipping away at the law and to try and stop it via funding cuts or any other measure (such as preventing the Internal Revenue Service from being placed in control of much of the penalties to be assessed) they can try to pass. The assumption on the part of the administration has always been that once this law is functioning it will be too late to repeal it no matter how angry it makes some people. But what yesterday’s announcement tells us is that even the White House is starting to understand that they may have made a drastic miscalculation about how awful the reality of life under ObamaCare will be.

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Will Grief and Rage on Guns Help Dems?

At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

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At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

For all the talk being heard today about the anger of the American people about their will being thwarted by the nefarious maneuverings of the NRA, the news landscape the day after the defeat of the gun bill illustrates the problem with assuming that one issue can dominate the public consciousness. As much as the president and his media cheerleaders would like to assume that a Newtown victims-fueled fury can transform American politics, less than 24 hours later the gun issue is competing with other stories that are more compelling, such as the Boston terror attack and the massive deaths and damage that resulted from the fertilizer factory explosion in Texas. As much as many Americans are still deeply moved by Newtown and most think Manchin-Toomey made sense, the lines on gun issues are still largely drawn on regional and ideological lines that have not budged much in the past few months.

As Josh Kraushaar points out in the National Journal today, the electoral math in 2014 favors gun rights advocates, not President Obama and his allies. With so many Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states where guns remain popular, it’s hard to see how liberals will be able to harness the emotions of Newtown to elect people who will change the numbers on such issues. The fact that the amendment to the bill proposed by Texas Senator John Cornyn about states respecting each other’s concealed carry permits won more bipartisan support than Manchin-Toomey–although it, too, failed–is telling.

Red state Democrats, including the four who opposed Manchin-Toomey, may face primary challenges from the left. But the prospects of those senators being replaced by pro-gun control liberals are virtually non-existent, no matter how much money Bloomberg pours into those races. Nor is it likely that Republicans in the south or west are spending too much time worrying about Democrats beating them by waving the bloody shirt of Newtown.

But Republicans should not be too sanguine about the political landscape next year. They have been underestimating Obama’s appeal for years and next year may be no exception. What the president may be able to do next year in a campaign that will in part be aided by gun-violence victims’ families is to help increase turnout among the Democratic base that might change races in some states and hurt the GOP’s chances of winning back the Senate while holding onto the House.

The right is right to point out that many of the arguments being used by the president on guns are specious. The idea that al-Qaeda terrorists will be enabled to buy guns without background checks is pure baloney. And the premise that the Newtown victim families have the standing to impose their views on guns on the country even if the measures they support would not have made a difference in stopping the murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is also unfair.

However, conservatives would do well to get used to seeing those families, as they will be a constant presence on the campaign trail in the next two years. Any assumption that they will not help the president make political hay with his orchestrated rage may prove premature.

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Obama, NRA Big Winners in Gun Vote

The Senate voted this afternoon on the Manchin-Toomey bipartisan compromise amendment on background checks for weapon purchases, and the result was no surprise. The measure got 54 votes, six short of the total needed for an amendment to be tacked onto the existing Democratic bill. While the Senate will go on talking about the issue, this vote closes the chapter on the four-month-long push for gun control that was launched by President Obama after the Newtown massacre. The concept pushed by moderate West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and conservative Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey was the only possible addition to the roster of existing gun laws that had a prayer of becoming law. But if even this idea couldn’t be passed in the Democrat-run Senate, it’s self-evident that there is no possible proposal that could be agreed upon by both houses of Congress.

That means the National Rifle Association, which vowed to fight to the last against even a moderate expansion of background checks, let alone a ban on assault weapons or large ammunition clips that Democrats want, will have a valid claim to be the big winner of this legislative battle. But they need to make room in the winner’s circle for their arch foe, President Obama. By convincing all but four of the Senate Republican caucus to oppose Manchin-Toomey, the NRA spiked an inoffensive measure that could have given the GOP cover against charges that it obstructed any movement on guns after Newtown. That’s a gift that President Obama, who is hoping to grab back control of Congress next year, will gratefully accept.

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The Senate voted this afternoon on the Manchin-Toomey bipartisan compromise amendment on background checks for weapon purchases, and the result was no surprise. The measure got 54 votes, six short of the total needed for an amendment to be tacked onto the existing Democratic bill. While the Senate will go on talking about the issue, this vote closes the chapter on the four-month-long push for gun control that was launched by President Obama after the Newtown massacre. The concept pushed by moderate West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and conservative Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey was the only possible addition to the roster of existing gun laws that had a prayer of becoming law. But if even this idea couldn’t be passed in the Democrat-run Senate, it’s self-evident that there is no possible proposal that could be agreed upon by both houses of Congress.

That means the National Rifle Association, which vowed to fight to the last against even a moderate expansion of background checks, let alone a ban on assault weapons or large ammunition clips that Democrats want, will have a valid claim to be the big winner of this legislative battle. But they need to make room in the winner’s circle for their arch foe, President Obama. By convincing all but four of the Senate Republican caucus to oppose Manchin-Toomey, the NRA spiked an inoffensive measure that could have given the GOP cover against charges that it obstructed any movement on guns after Newtown. That’s a gift that President Obama, who is hoping to grab back control of Congress next year, will gratefully accept.

It is true that, as I wrote yesterday, liberals like Obama deserve some of the credit for helping convince conservatives to stay away from Manchin-Toomey. By making it clear that they would never stop pushing for weapons bans and other efforts that can be construed as an attack on the Second Amendment, Democrats provided useful ammunition to an NRA campaign that treated any measure, no matter how reasonable, as the thin edge of the wedge toward infringement of gun rights. It was this belief that lent weight to the efforts of the lobby and its allies to convince Republicans that the benefits of backing Manchin-Toomey wouldn’t be worth the electoral risk it represented, especially in pro-gun red states.

But the Republican decision not to embrace Manchin-Toomey is a strategic mistake that won’t help them next year.

While the NRA is right to assert that Manchin-Toomey wouldn’t have ended the push for gun control, it would have effectively shelved the issue until a new Congress takes office in January 2015. And it would have enabled Republicans to say they had protected Second Amendment rights while also giving the lie to any Democratic assertion that they had obstructed a post-Newtown consensus about doing something about guns.

Will this make a crucial difference in November 2014? We can’t know yet, and it should be admitted that the NRA and its backers have reason to claim that no Republican will be defeated in an otherwise red state because they opposed an assault weapons ban or even by closing the gun show loophole on background checks that Manchin-Toomey would have achieved. The midterm electorate may resemble that of 2010 more than 2012, and the large number of vulnerable or open Democratic Senate seats also tilts the math in the GOP’s favor.

But Republicans should understand that by stonewalling a background checks law, they have handed the Democrats a cudgel with which they will be beaten relentlessly for the next year and a half. The GOP can complain all it wants about media bias, the exploitation of the Newtown victims by the president and the fact that none of the proposed new gun laws would have prevented another Newtown. The use of the victims of the Newtown victim families — as President Obama did again this afternoon after the vote — may seem exploitive to Republicans but it is also the sort of thing that cannot be directly answered by gun control opponents.

Instead of taking the air out of the Democratic balloon, they’ve re-inflated it. Their assumption that there will be no political cost to this decision may be a mistake. If 2014 turns out to be as dismal as 2012, Republicans may look back on this day and realize that they’ve made an unforced error.

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