Commentary Magazine


Topic: insurance

The Summit to Nowhere? (UPDATED)

This morning Obama, Democrats, and Republicans will gather to discuss an approach to health care — a comprehensive, massive tax-and-spend scheme — that by all accounts is going nowhere and that the public has rejected. A savvy reader asks me, “Isn’t this shining a light on Obama’s own failure?” Well, that may well be the case, for Obama has finally put out a proposal, gathered the players in one room, and gotten the whole country to watch. But unless a dramatic shift in public and congressional opinion occurs, he will not get his bill. Indeed, we now see signs that he realizes this.

This report explains that Obama is preparing an alternative plan to cover 15 million people and do a small fraction of what his ObamaCare scheme envisioned:

It would do that by requiring insurance companies to allow people up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ health plans, and by modestly expanding two federal-state health programs, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, one person said. The cost to the federal government would be about one-fourth the price tag for the broader effort, which the White House has said would cost about $950 billion over 10 years. …

Such a move would disappoint many Democrats, including Mr. Obama. They have worked for more than a year to pass comprehensive legislation like the plan the president unveiled Monday, which would cover the bulk of the 46 million uninsured people in the U.S., set new rules for health insurers and try to control spiraling health-care costs.

Which leads us back to the central question: why the summit? It seems to have been about as well thought out as the two trips to Copenhagen. But let’s see. Perhaps there’s a devilishly clever plot at work by the Obami to come out victorious. If so, they have certainly concealed it from view.

UPDATE: Obama certainly doesn’t have the public on his side going into this. By a 52 to 39 percent margin, Americans oppose reconciliation to jam health care through. Only 25 percent want a bill similar to the one Obama has proposed to pass, while 25 percent want no more health-care legislation, and 48 percent want the lawmakers to start over. Obama has tried to convince Congress to ignore the voters, but post–Scott Brown, and in an election year, that’s a tall order.

This morning Obama, Democrats, and Republicans will gather to discuss an approach to health care — a comprehensive, massive tax-and-spend scheme — that by all accounts is going nowhere and that the public has rejected. A savvy reader asks me, “Isn’t this shining a light on Obama’s own failure?” Well, that may well be the case, for Obama has finally put out a proposal, gathered the players in one room, and gotten the whole country to watch. But unless a dramatic shift in public and congressional opinion occurs, he will not get his bill. Indeed, we now see signs that he realizes this.

This report explains that Obama is preparing an alternative plan to cover 15 million people and do a small fraction of what his ObamaCare scheme envisioned:

It would do that by requiring insurance companies to allow people up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ health plans, and by modestly expanding two federal-state health programs, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, one person said. The cost to the federal government would be about one-fourth the price tag for the broader effort, which the White House has said would cost about $950 billion over 10 years. …

Such a move would disappoint many Democrats, including Mr. Obama. They have worked for more than a year to pass comprehensive legislation like the plan the president unveiled Monday, which would cover the bulk of the 46 million uninsured people in the U.S., set new rules for health insurers and try to control spiraling health-care costs.

Which leads us back to the central question: why the summit? It seems to have been about as well thought out as the two trips to Copenhagen. But let’s see. Perhaps there’s a devilishly clever plot at work by the Obami to come out victorious. If so, they have certainly concealed it from view.

UPDATE: Obama certainly doesn’t have the public on his side going into this. By a 52 to 39 percent margin, Americans oppose reconciliation to jam health care through. Only 25 percent want a bill similar to the one Obama has proposed to pass, while 25 percent want no more health-care legislation, and 48 percent want the lawmakers to start over. Obama has tried to convince Congress to ignore the voters, but post–Scott Brown, and in an election year, that’s a tall order.

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The Latest Same ObamaCare Bill

Obama has put forth another version of ObamaCare, but it’s not even sufficient to be scored by the CBO. The CBO website explains:

This morning the Obama Administration released a description of its health care proposal, and CBO has already received several requests to provide a cost estimate for that proposal. We had not previously received the proposal, and we have just begun the process of reviewing it—a process that will take some time, given the complexity of the issues involved. Although the proposal reflects many elements that were included in the health care bills passed by the House and the Senate last year, it modifies many of those elements and also includes new ones. Moreover, preparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.

We do have some idea what’s in it, however. Matt Continetti explains: “Obama’s new, improved plan is more expensive than the Senate bill, does not address the concerns of pro-life House Democrats over the Senate’s abortion language, maintains the tax exemption for the Democrats’ union friends, and will effectively turn insurance companies into heavily regulated public utilities.”

What we do know is that under ObamaCare’s latest incarnation, you really don’t get to keep your existing health-care plan. And we know that it seeks to federalize the regulation of the health-insurance industry. (“The big new idea in the president’s plan is to federalize regulation of health insurance, creating a Health Insurance Rate Authority to conduct ‘reviews of unreasonable rate increases and other unfair practices of insurance plans.’ This reflects the overall strategy to give more and more control over the health sector to Washington.”) And it seems that there are $136B worth of new taxes to be imposed on the people Obama said he’d never tax, namely those families making less than $250,000.

What we don’t know is why anyone who opposed the last version(s) of ObamaCare would accept this one. It is still a mammoth tax-and-spend bill and still seeks to federalize health care. If Nancy Pelosi has 218 votes for this, I’d be surprised. If Senate Democrats want to walk the plank for a retread of the bill that voters in Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate to oppose, I’d be surprised. But I suppose we’ll find out.

Obama has put forth another version of ObamaCare, but it’s not even sufficient to be scored by the CBO. The CBO website explains:

This morning the Obama Administration released a description of its health care proposal, and CBO has already received several requests to provide a cost estimate for that proposal. We had not previously received the proposal, and we have just begun the process of reviewing it—a process that will take some time, given the complexity of the issues involved. Although the proposal reflects many elements that were included in the health care bills passed by the House and the Senate last year, it modifies many of those elements and also includes new ones. Moreover, preparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.

We do have some idea what’s in it, however. Matt Continetti explains: “Obama’s new, improved plan is more expensive than the Senate bill, does not address the concerns of pro-life House Democrats over the Senate’s abortion language, maintains the tax exemption for the Democrats’ union friends, and will effectively turn insurance companies into heavily regulated public utilities.”

What we do know is that under ObamaCare’s latest incarnation, you really don’t get to keep your existing health-care plan. And we know that it seeks to federalize the regulation of the health-insurance industry. (“The big new idea in the president’s plan is to federalize regulation of health insurance, creating a Health Insurance Rate Authority to conduct ‘reviews of unreasonable rate increases and other unfair practices of insurance plans.’ This reflects the overall strategy to give more and more control over the health sector to Washington.”) And it seems that there are $136B worth of new taxes to be imposed on the people Obama said he’d never tax, namely those families making less than $250,000.

What we don’t know is why anyone who opposed the last version(s) of ObamaCare would accept this one. It is still a mammoth tax-and-spend bill and still seeks to federalize health care. If Nancy Pelosi has 218 votes for this, I’d be surprised. If Senate Democrats want to walk the plank for a retread of the bill that voters in Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate to oppose, I’d be surprised. But I suppose we’ll find out.

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“It’s My Fault, but Not Really”

As Politico reports, Obama tip-toed up to an admission of error in the health-care debate and then, realizing what he had done, reverted to form, blaming the scoundrels in Congress. First, the feint:

“We had to make so many decisions quickly in a very difficult set of circumstances that after awhile, we started worrying more about getting the policy right than getting the process right,” Obama told ABC’s Diane Sawyer Monday. “But I had campaigned on process—part of what I had campaigned on was changing how Washington works, opening up, transparency. … The health care debate as it unfolded legitimately raised concerns not just among my opponents, but also amongst supporters that we just don’t know what’s going on. And it’s an ugly process and it looks like there are a bunch of back room deals.”

Then the passivity (“The process didn’t run the way I ideally would like it to and that we have to move forward in a way that recaptures that sense of opening things up more”) — as he suggested the “process” ran itself or that his own spokesperson was doing someone else’s bidding when he refused to respond to queries about the broken C-SPAN pledge. And finally the finger-pointing:

“Let’s just clarify. I didn’t make a bunch of deals,” Obama told ABC. “There is a legislative process that is taking place in Congress and I am happy to own up to the fact that I have not changed Congress and how it operates the way I would have liked.”

It’s a bit pathetic, the inability to simply say what everyone knows to be the case: The deal was unpopular and unworkable. Bribes were needed to lure wary lawmakers. The White House cheered the process on and defended the result. The White House spokesperson refused to even answer questions on the lack of transparency. The net result was to further undermine support for his signature piece of legislation and give Scott Brown one more reason for Massachusetts to make him the 41st vote against ObamaCare. To make matters worse, as the report notes, some of those deals were made directly by the White House. (“As the process unfolded last year, critics complained not just about closed Congressional negotiations on health care, but about deals the White House worked out behind closed doors with pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, hospitals and unions.”)

All in all, it’s what we’ve come to expect from Obama, who ran as a new-style politician and is proving to be a drearily familiar old-style one.

As Politico reports, Obama tip-toed up to an admission of error in the health-care debate and then, realizing what he had done, reverted to form, blaming the scoundrels in Congress. First, the feint:

“We had to make so many decisions quickly in a very difficult set of circumstances that after awhile, we started worrying more about getting the policy right than getting the process right,” Obama told ABC’s Diane Sawyer Monday. “But I had campaigned on process—part of what I had campaigned on was changing how Washington works, opening up, transparency. … The health care debate as it unfolded legitimately raised concerns not just among my opponents, but also amongst supporters that we just don’t know what’s going on. And it’s an ugly process and it looks like there are a bunch of back room deals.”

Then the passivity (“The process didn’t run the way I ideally would like it to and that we have to move forward in a way that recaptures that sense of opening things up more”) — as he suggested the “process” ran itself or that his own spokesperson was doing someone else’s bidding when he refused to respond to queries about the broken C-SPAN pledge. And finally the finger-pointing:

“Let’s just clarify. I didn’t make a bunch of deals,” Obama told ABC. “There is a legislative process that is taking place in Congress and I am happy to own up to the fact that I have not changed Congress and how it operates the way I would have liked.”

It’s a bit pathetic, the inability to simply say what everyone knows to be the case: The deal was unpopular and unworkable. Bribes were needed to lure wary lawmakers. The White House cheered the process on and defended the result. The White House spokesperson refused to even answer questions on the lack of transparency. The net result was to further undermine support for his signature piece of legislation and give Scott Brown one more reason for Massachusetts to make him the 41st vote against ObamaCare. To make matters worse, as the report notes, some of those deals were made directly by the White House. (“As the process unfolded last year, critics complained not just about closed Congressional negotiations on health care, but about deals the White House worked out behind closed doors with pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, hospitals and unions.”)

All in all, it’s what we’ve come to expect from Obama, who ran as a new-style politician and is proving to be a drearily familiar old-style one.

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Obama Misses the Populist Message

Mara Liasson on Fox News Sunday makes a key point that the Obami aren’t likely to appreciate:

This is not a revolt of special interests killing the health care bill like with Hillary-care. You have big pharma, you have the insurance companies basically inside the tent, bought into this idea that they’re going to get a big new market in exchange for being highly regulated.

This is not only accurate but also highlights the phoniness of Obama’s newfound populism. The populists — yes, including those “angry” tea party protesters whom Obama pretended to ignore — are arrayed against Obama and his statist, big-government agenda. They aren’t protesting that special interests have blocked health care; they’re mad that an unholy alliance of big business, big labor, and big government has formed with little concern for the interests of seniors (whose Medicare would get slashed) or middle-class voters (who would be taxed on Cadillac plans, forced to buy insurance, etc.). Obama may be donning the lingo of those who elected Scott Brown, but he’s missing the point.

Obama’s own agenda is fundamentally anti-populist. What could be worse for the little guy than to be told to go buy a big, expensive health-care plan from a big insurance company? It’s the sort of thing Democrats would rightly mock Republicans for coming up with, had the GOP the nerve to come up with such a scheme in the first place.

So when Obama now hollers about the “little guy” and expresses outrage over big, powerful forces in Washington, perhaps he should have looked more closely at the bill he was attempting to foist on the American people. A cushy deal for Big Pharma. New customers mandated by the federal government for Big Insurance. A sweetheart deal for Big Labor.

As with so much else that has gone wrong in the past year for Obama, we once again see that he mistakes (or thinks we will mistake) rhetoric for substance. He wants to get on the side of the ordinary voters? Listen to Scott Brown’s message:

Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the wrong agenda for our country. What I’ve heard again and again on the campaign trail, is that our political leaders have grown aloof from the people, impatient with dissent, and comfortable in the back room making deals.

That’s what has the public riled up — and Obama would do well to listen to what voters are saying rather than simply imitate the tone of the other side’s victory rallies.

Mara Liasson on Fox News Sunday makes a key point that the Obami aren’t likely to appreciate:

This is not a revolt of special interests killing the health care bill like with Hillary-care. You have big pharma, you have the insurance companies basically inside the tent, bought into this idea that they’re going to get a big new market in exchange for being highly regulated.

This is not only accurate but also highlights the phoniness of Obama’s newfound populism. The populists — yes, including those “angry” tea party protesters whom Obama pretended to ignore — are arrayed against Obama and his statist, big-government agenda. They aren’t protesting that special interests have blocked health care; they’re mad that an unholy alliance of big business, big labor, and big government has formed with little concern for the interests of seniors (whose Medicare would get slashed) or middle-class voters (who would be taxed on Cadillac plans, forced to buy insurance, etc.). Obama may be donning the lingo of those who elected Scott Brown, but he’s missing the point.

Obama’s own agenda is fundamentally anti-populist. What could be worse for the little guy than to be told to go buy a big, expensive health-care plan from a big insurance company? It’s the sort of thing Democrats would rightly mock Republicans for coming up with, had the GOP the nerve to come up with such a scheme in the first place.

So when Obama now hollers about the “little guy” and expresses outrage over big, powerful forces in Washington, perhaps he should have looked more closely at the bill he was attempting to foist on the American people. A cushy deal for Big Pharma. New customers mandated by the federal government for Big Insurance. A sweetheart deal for Big Labor.

As with so much else that has gone wrong in the past year for Obama, we once again see that he mistakes (or thinks we will mistake) rhetoric for substance. He wants to get on the side of the ordinary voters? Listen to Scott Brown’s message:

Raising taxes, taking over our health care, and giving new rights to terrorists is the wrong agenda for our country. What I’ve heard again and again on the campaign trail, is that our political leaders have grown aloof from the people, impatient with dissent, and comfortable in the back room making deals.

That’s what has the public riled up — and Obama would do well to listen to what voters are saying rather than simply imitate the tone of the other side’s victory rallies.

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In Big Trouble

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

John Judis at the New Republic doesn’t mince words:

Bill Clinton didn’t know he was in big trouble until the very eve of the November 1994 election. Barack Obama knows now, barely a year into his presidency. While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party. Yes, a less inept candidate might have beaten Scott Brown, but if Obama and his program had been more popular in Massachusetts, even Coakley could have won–and by ten points or more.

He makes a smart observation that most liberals refuse to recognize: it’s the substance of the health-care bill and the backroom dealings that have driven the enthusiasm gap on the other side and dispirited Obama’s own base:

Obama’s health care plan has provoked a combination of right-wing and left-wing populism. The middle class and senior citizens see it as a program that taxes and takes benefits away from them in order to help those without insurance–the out groups–and to enrich the insurance companies themselves. They didn’t invent this perception out of thin air: It derived in part from the plan to tax “Cadillac” health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance, and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies. Undoubtedly, the prior perception of Obama’s financial policies reinforced these suspicions about his health care plan, which is now as unpopular as the bank bailout.

Oblivious White House spinners and equally dense lefty bloggers keep insisting that the answer is “More of the same!” But there’s a price to be paid for rushing through behind closed doors a bill so atrocious that it has brought together Jane Hamsher and Bill Kristol, the Nation and National Review, and other political odd couples.

Judis connects the health-care debacle to a more fundamental failing of Obama: his inability to speak to and connect with Middle America. Really, how could a Democratic president push for a bill in which middle-class Americans are required under threat of prosecution to buy expensive health-care policies they don’t want from Big Insurance? We got there because Obama never put forth a coherent plan for what he wanted, and the bill that emerged was the remnants, the lowest common denominator, of what remained after the Senate had discounted the views of Republicans and given up on the pipe dream of the Left (i.e., the public option). The White House convinced itself that middle-class voters were dupes and fools who would celebrate this awful legislation.

Instead, Obama’s sloth (or was it lack of skill and know-how?) in ceding his key policy initiative to the Congress and his contempt for the intelligence of voters — who were expected to be “sold” on a bill so bad that it required closed-door bribery to pass — has cost him dearly. Judis is right: Obama is in big trouble, as are his Democratic allies in Congress. (How long before Harry Reid announces his retirement?) Martha Coakley was a victim, not the cause, of the debacle last night. Had Obama not mishandled a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, she’d be heading to the Senate.

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Two Speeches in Massachusetts

Scott Brown’s speech yesterday in Massachusetts deserves not only to be read but also remembered. It was simultaneously straightforward and sophisticated, understated and eloquent, perfectly presented with Boston heroes surrounding him. It was, for the reasons enumerated by Scott Johnson, a classic speech.

Barack Obama’s speech yesterday was vintage 2008 Obama, as he leaned into the microphone to push waves of applause higher as he sought to energize a base. He seemed happy to be back in campaign mode, where everything is aspiration, hope, and the promise of change. But this time he spoke against a backdrop of actually existing Obamanism, a president who turned out to be a liberal in a hurry, pushing the most partisan piece of legislation within memory, railing yesterday against “fat cats,” “Wall Street,” and “big banks … big insurance companies … big drug companies.” It was unpresidential.

It is fitting that in Massachusetts tomorrow, Obamanism will face a test that cannot be met by a Louisiana Purchase, or a Cornhusker Kickback, or a Collective Bargaining Kickback, or convening a vote at one in the morning or on a Saturday night. It will be a plebiscite that the president himself has nationalized — conducted on the last day of his first year, in the most liberal state in the nation, in the place where the original tea party occurred. If two polls taken yesterday are accurate (both showing Brown up by 9.6 points), it will be a shot heard ’round the world.

Scott Brown’s speech yesterday in Massachusetts deserves not only to be read but also remembered. It was simultaneously straightforward and sophisticated, understated and eloquent, perfectly presented with Boston heroes surrounding him. It was, for the reasons enumerated by Scott Johnson, a classic speech.

Barack Obama’s speech yesterday was vintage 2008 Obama, as he leaned into the microphone to push waves of applause higher as he sought to energize a base. He seemed happy to be back in campaign mode, where everything is aspiration, hope, and the promise of change. But this time he spoke against a backdrop of actually existing Obamanism, a president who turned out to be a liberal in a hurry, pushing the most partisan piece of legislation within memory, railing yesterday against “fat cats,” “Wall Street,” and “big banks … big insurance companies … big drug companies.” It was unpresidential.

It is fitting that in Massachusetts tomorrow, Obamanism will face a test that cannot be met by a Louisiana Purchase, or a Cornhusker Kickback, or a Collective Bargaining Kickback, or convening a vote at one in the morning or on a Saturday night. It will be a plebiscite that the president himself has nationalized — conducted on the last day of his first year, in the most liberal state in the nation, in the place where the original tea party occurred. If two polls taken yesterday are accurate (both showing Brown up by 9.6 points), it will be a shot heard ’round the world.

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Wait Till the ObamaCare “Selling” Starts

Juan Williams says of ObamaCare, which contains, at least in the Senate version, the Cadillac tax on generous benefits that’s likely to smack many union workers, who certainly aren’t rich:

I think it passes, and, it’s interesting, the Democrats are the ones at this point who can stop it, and this kind of discussion doesn’t help. And the question is do the unions get so mad at President Obama and say you didn’t live up to the promises you made to us on the campaign trail. You said this would help the working man, and in fact, this may in a very obvious way penalize working people in the country.

Whoa! I thought that as soon as this thing passes, the Democrats are going to be able to explain what’s in it and “sell” Americans on the wonders of ObamaCare. If discussion about what’s in the bill — an excise tax on those making less than $250,ooo, for example – isn’t helpful, then how’s the sales job going to work? Well, they can tout the millions who are going to be insured. But some of those soon-to-be-insured are young voters who don’t want to buy insurance or are principled liberals and conservatives who don’t think we should be marched into the arms of  big insurance companies to buy something under government coercion. Well, they could talk about all those Medicare “savings.” Oh, yikes — seniors might get the idea that their Medicare benefits are getting slashed. It gets tricky, as you can see.

Simply telling voters that something “historic” has been passed isn’t going to wash with most of them. The Reid-Obama-Pelosi triumvirate has convinced itself that Americans will learn to love the bill once they learn what’s in it. But what if they already know, and that’s why they so dislike it and Obama’s handling of the issue?

Juan Williams says of ObamaCare, which contains, at least in the Senate version, the Cadillac tax on generous benefits that’s likely to smack many union workers, who certainly aren’t rich:

I think it passes, and, it’s interesting, the Democrats are the ones at this point who can stop it, and this kind of discussion doesn’t help. And the question is do the unions get so mad at President Obama and say you didn’t live up to the promises you made to us on the campaign trail. You said this would help the working man, and in fact, this may in a very obvious way penalize working people in the country.

Whoa! I thought that as soon as this thing passes, the Democrats are going to be able to explain what’s in it and “sell” Americans on the wonders of ObamaCare. If discussion about what’s in the bill — an excise tax on those making less than $250,ooo, for example – isn’t helpful, then how’s the sales job going to work? Well, they can tout the millions who are going to be insured. But some of those soon-to-be-insured are young voters who don’t want to buy insurance or are principled liberals and conservatives who don’t think we should be marched into the arms of  big insurance companies to buy something under government coercion. Well, they could talk about all those Medicare “savings.” Oh, yikes — seniors might get the idea that their Medicare benefits are getting slashed. It gets tricky, as you can see.

Simply telling voters that something “historic” has been passed isn’t going to wash with most of them. The Reid-Obama-Pelosi triumvirate has convinced itself that Americans will learn to love the bill once they learn what’s in it. But what if they already know, and that’s why they so dislike it and Obama’s handling of the issue?

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How to Save Themselves

Conservatives are debating whether ObamaCare is a done deal yet. I tend to be in the Yogi Berra club (“It ain’t over till it’s over”). In addition to the infirmities in the bill that might make it difficult for Nancy Pelosi to round up the needed votes (to replace those of Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats who won’t buy the Ben Nelson/Harry Reid abortion-subsidy language), consider the dynamic in the Senate. The Cornhusker Kickback has become an embarrassment, the bill is a fiscal train wreck for the country at large and specifically for Blue states (whose governors are now complaining loudly), and incumbent senators are heading for the hills because the political environment is so toxic.

So perhaps it is time for a Senate Democrat to step forward to save his or her own skin and that of some colleagues. It might be a liberal like Kirsten Gillibrand who has figured out that she could be a hero to home-state taxpayers and the new darling of the Left by voting against the bill and its ensuing bonanza for big insurance companies. (Sure, she voted for it the first time, but she’s now had time to think it over.) It might be an imperiled Red State senator like Blanche Lincoln, who has been taking pot-shots at Ben Nelson’s wheeling and dealing and needs to get out of her polling death spiral. Or maybe it is someone like Evan Bayh, who needs to fend off a serious challenge at a time voters are noticing the significant gap between his fiscal “conservative” message and his voting record.

Sure, Rahm Emanuel would go on an obscenity shout-a-thon, but he is not on the ballot in 2010. And really, wouldn’t the brave senator who finally stood up to the politically suicidal Senate leadership and the tone-deaf White House get the quiet praise of many of his or her colleagues?

There is a way out of this policy and political train wreck. All it requires is a clearheaded Democratic senator. Surely there is one, right?

Conservatives are debating whether ObamaCare is a done deal yet. I tend to be in the Yogi Berra club (“It ain’t over till it’s over”). In addition to the infirmities in the bill that might make it difficult for Nancy Pelosi to round up the needed votes (to replace those of Bart Stupak and other pro-life Democrats who won’t buy the Ben Nelson/Harry Reid abortion-subsidy language), consider the dynamic in the Senate. The Cornhusker Kickback has become an embarrassment, the bill is a fiscal train wreck for the country at large and specifically for Blue states (whose governors are now complaining loudly), and incumbent senators are heading for the hills because the political environment is so toxic.

So perhaps it is time for a Senate Democrat to step forward to save his or her own skin and that of some colleagues. It might be a liberal like Kirsten Gillibrand who has figured out that she could be a hero to home-state taxpayers and the new darling of the Left by voting against the bill and its ensuing bonanza for big insurance companies. (Sure, she voted for it the first time, but she’s now had time to think it over.) It might be an imperiled Red State senator like Blanche Lincoln, who has been taking pot-shots at Ben Nelson’s wheeling and dealing and needs to get out of her polling death spiral. Or maybe it is someone like Evan Bayh, who needs to fend off a serious challenge at a time voters are noticing the significant gap between his fiscal “conservative” message and his voting record.

Sure, Rahm Emanuel would go on an obscenity shout-a-thon, but he is not on the ballot in 2010. And really, wouldn’t the brave senator who finally stood up to the politically suicidal Senate leadership and the tone-deaf White House get the quiet praise of many of his or her colleagues?

There is a way out of this policy and political train wreck. All it requires is a clearheaded Democratic senator. Surely there is one, right?

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Bringing Us Together

Mickey Kaus lists the people who don’t like ObamaCare: old people, young people, and opponents of the bill. As for supporters of the bill, he explains:

Two subgroups here: i) Those who wanted more (like a public option or single payer) are disappointed and maybe angry and demoralized. But at least they have a good reason to show up at the polls (to elect liberals who will help them achieve what they want). ii) Those who didn’t necessarily want more–who are happy with the Pelosi/Reid product–have far less incentive to show up. For them, the deed is done. Unless, that is, Dems can somehow bait the Republicans into making repeal of Reid/Pelosi a hard-core pledge.

But even with those voters, he may be overestimating their support for the Democrats. The principled proponents of the Left, who think this is a giant sellout to big insurance companies, might very well stay home – or try to run primary opponents against establishment Democratic incumbents (remember Nick Lamont?), vote for third-party candidates, and refuse to donate to the incumbents who sold them down the river. They can be very disruptive, which is why Obama, on everything from Afghanistan to health care, has gone to great pains to try to soothe their hurt feelings (e.g., give them a withdrawal deadline on the Afghanistan surge).

And then there are many other groups (some overlapping) that hate the bill: independents, deficit hawks, pro-lifers, good-government types, taxpayers in Blue states getting the short end of the stick, union members with Cadillac plans (which are about to be taxed), small-business people, the “rich,” and those who thought the president meant it when he said he wasn’t going to tax the non-rich. Seems like lots and lots of people.

So who is going to gain from ObamaCare? The uninsured. But do they vote in great numbers? Not as much as seniors, certainly. And certainly not in numbers equal to all the anti-ObamaCare groups. Plus, remember the timeline: the uninsured don’t get anything from this bill until 2014. They are supposed to race to the polls to defend something they won’t see, if ever, until after the 2012 presidential race? Somehow I don’t see it.

The bill is really a political wonder, a tribute to the ability to forge alliances with disparate groups. It just happens to have done that for the opposition.

Mickey Kaus lists the people who don’t like ObamaCare: old people, young people, and opponents of the bill. As for supporters of the bill, he explains:

Two subgroups here: i) Those who wanted more (like a public option or single payer) are disappointed and maybe angry and demoralized. But at least they have a good reason to show up at the polls (to elect liberals who will help them achieve what they want). ii) Those who didn’t necessarily want more–who are happy with the Pelosi/Reid product–have far less incentive to show up. For them, the deed is done. Unless, that is, Dems can somehow bait the Republicans into making repeal of Reid/Pelosi a hard-core pledge.

But even with those voters, he may be overestimating their support for the Democrats. The principled proponents of the Left, who think this is a giant sellout to big insurance companies, might very well stay home – or try to run primary opponents against establishment Democratic incumbents (remember Nick Lamont?), vote for third-party candidates, and refuse to donate to the incumbents who sold them down the river. They can be very disruptive, which is why Obama, on everything from Afghanistan to health care, has gone to great pains to try to soothe their hurt feelings (e.g., give them a withdrawal deadline on the Afghanistan surge).

And then there are many other groups (some overlapping) that hate the bill: independents, deficit hawks, pro-lifers, good-government types, taxpayers in Blue states getting the short end of the stick, union members with Cadillac plans (which are about to be taxed), small-business people, the “rich,” and those who thought the president meant it when he said he wasn’t going to tax the non-rich. Seems like lots and lots of people.

So who is going to gain from ObamaCare? The uninsured. But do they vote in great numbers? Not as much as seniors, certainly. And certainly not in numbers equal to all the anti-ObamaCare groups. Plus, remember the timeline: the uninsured don’t get anything from this bill until 2014. They are supposed to race to the polls to defend something they won’t see, if ever, until after the 2012 presidential race? Somehow I don’t see it.

The bill is really a political wonder, a tribute to the ability to forge alliances with disparate groups. It just happens to have done that for the opposition.

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Behind Closed Doors

Shocking, I know, but the Democrats are going to dispense with a real conference committee on health care and hammer out a quickie (they hope) deal behind closed doors. As this report notes, “the maneuver gives Democratic leaders the ability to quickly work through hundreds of differences between the 2,000-page bills and to keep control over the deals they will need to make on politically touchy topics such as abortion, taxes and Medicare cuts.”

Lefties are miffed because they, like the Republicans, will be shut out. Over at the Huffington Post one complains:

You see, if there was even a tiny chance this bill was going to get better in conference committee, that chance was, in part, reliant on progressive pressure on an open process. Ya know, pressuring individual conferees on specific amendments, etc. But if the conference negotiations take place in secret, that progressive public pressure is far harder to muster and to appropriately target.

The media concedes that it is not transparent at all and violates Obama’s campaign promises (however overwrought) about open health-care negotiations. (“An informal conference is likely to reinforce claims that Democrats haven’t upheld Mr. Obama’s campaign pledge to keep the health care reform process transparent — complete with C-SPAN cameras.”)  And once again, it is obvious that the only way lawmakers can pass a noxious bill is by hiding it from the voters.

Just as it was with the contents of the bill, the process is defended by only the Democratic leadership and, presumably, the White House. The closed-door scurrying, like the bill itself, is not defensible as a matter of good governance. It is simply the only viable means for passing a bill the country hates. Liberals, who are whining about their leadership’s lack of openness and the sellout to big insurance companies, can stop this, of course. All they have to do is find some Democratic lawmakers to vote “no.” A dozen in the House would do the trick. One senator is all they need. But as usual, it seems as though the Left has more bark than bite, and the Democrats will shuffle along, consent to secret deal-making, and vote to force Americans to pay bzillions to big insurance companies. No wonder their base is demoralized.

Shocking, I know, but the Democrats are going to dispense with a real conference committee on health care and hammer out a quickie (they hope) deal behind closed doors. As this report notes, “the maneuver gives Democratic leaders the ability to quickly work through hundreds of differences between the 2,000-page bills and to keep control over the deals they will need to make on politically touchy topics such as abortion, taxes and Medicare cuts.”

Lefties are miffed because they, like the Republicans, will be shut out. Over at the Huffington Post one complains:

You see, if there was even a tiny chance this bill was going to get better in conference committee, that chance was, in part, reliant on progressive pressure on an open process. Ya know, pressuring individual conferees on specific amendments, etc. But if the conference negotiations take place in secret, that progressive public pressure is far harder to muster and to appropriately target.

The media concedes that it is not transparent at all and violates Obama’s campaign promises (however overwrought) about open health-care negotiations. (“An informal conference is likely to reinforce claims that Democrats haven’t upheld Mr. Obama’s campaign pledge to keep the health care reform process transparent — complete with C-SPAN cameras.”)  And once again, it is obvious that the only way lawmakers can pass a noxious bill is by hiding it from the voters.

Just as it was with the contents of the bill, the process is defended by only the Democratic leadership and, presumably, the White House. The closed-door scurrying, like the bill itself, is not defensible as a matter of good governance. It is simply the only viable means for passing a bill the country hates. Liberals, who are whining about their leadership’s lack of openness and the sellout to big insurance companies, can stop this, of course. All they have to do is find some Democratic lawmakers to vote “no.” A dozen in the House would do the trick. One senator is all they need. But as usual, it seems as though the Left has more bark than bite, and the Democrats will shuffle along, consent to secret deal-making, and vote to force Americans to pay bzillions to big insurance companies. No wonder their base is demoralized.

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Just a Notch on a Belt

Buried deep inside an angst-filled column complaining that Obama is underappreciated and overly criticized, Richard Cohen concedes what many on both the Right and Left suspect: “He wanted a health-care bill. Why? To cover the uncovered. Maybe. To rein in the insurance companies. Maybe. To lower costs. Maybe. What mattered most was getting a bill, any bill. This is not a cause. It’s a notch on a belt.” We suspect that is true in part because Obama never really told us what he wanted in the bill. He never sent a proposal to Congress. He didn’t spell out specific requirements for his plan in that game-changing (not) speech in September. Each time Congress moved ahead with one version or another, Obama praised the effort without much comment on the content. Some thought it was tactical. But maybe he never really cared what was in it.

That conclusion is reinforced by the bill’s content and timing. As for the content, it doesn’t do what the president in broadest strokes said he wanted to accomplish. James Capretta points out that this isn’t “universal” care:

The House and Senate bills would add 15 million or more people to [Medicaid's] rolls without any guarantee whatsoever that there will be doctors and hospitals that can see them. Ironically, the very Democrats who most frequently tout “universality” as the goal are also the ones who ensure it will never actually come about by insisting that America’s lower-income families enroll in government-run insurance — with no other options. Beyond the Medicaid expansion, Obamacare is really an obligation, not a right. Every citizen would be required to sign up with a government-approved health-insurance plan or pay a tax penalty for going without coverage.

And even its proponents concede there will still be 23 million or so uninsured. Nor does the bill meet the president’s goals of deficit neutrality or cost cutting:

[T]he claim that bill lowers the deficit means that, in addition to cutting Medicare by half a trillion dollars, the Senate would also raise half a trillion in new taxes — during a recession. Only a series of accounting gimmicks — such as implementing benefits beginning in 2014 but raising taxes starting in 2010, and double-counting Medicare savings — allowed Senate majority leader Harry Reid to get a CBO cost estimate that pretends to add “not one dime” to the deficit. Medicare actuary Foster found that the Senate bill would bend the cost curve up, not down, and that the new taxes on drugs, devices, and health-insurance plans would increase prices and health-insurance costs for consumers.

But the telltale sign that Obama doesn’t really much care about the merits of the bill or any of the bill’s promised benefits is the timeline. The Heritage Foundation lays this out in detail:

2010: Physician Medicare payments decrease 21% effective March 1, 2010

2011: “Annual Fee” tax on health insurance, allocated according to share of total premiums. Begins at $2 billion in 2011, then increases to $4 billion in 2012, $7 billion in 2013, $9 billion in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, and eventually $10 billion for 2017 and every year thereafter. Two insurers in Nebraska and one in Michigan are exempt from this tax.

2012: Medicare payment penalties for hospitals with the highest readmission rates for selected conditions.

2013: Medicare tax increased from 2.9% to 3.8% for incomes over $250,000 (joint filers) or $200,000 (all others). (This is stated as an increase of 0.9 percentage points, to only the employee’s share of the FICA tax.)

2014: Individual mandate begins: Tax penalties for not having insurance begin at $95 or 0.5% of income, whichever is higher, rising to $495 or 1% of income in 2015 and $750 or 2% of income thereafter (indexed for inflation after 2016). These penalties are per adult, half that amount per child, to a maximum of three times the per-adult amount per family. The penalty is capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan.

2015: Establishment of Independent Medicare Advisory Board (IMAB) to recommend cuts in Medicare benefits; these cuts will go into effect automatically unless Congress passes, and the President signs, an override bill.

2016: Individual mandate penalty rises to $750 per adult ($375 per child), maximum $2,250 per family, or 2% of family income, whichever is higher (capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan). After 2016, the penalty will be increased each year to adjust for inflation.

2017: Itemized deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses is limited to expenses over 10% of AGI for those over age 65.

Bottom line: nothing but taxes and Medicare cuts begin before 2014. This is not a serious plan to address a health-care “crisis,” is it? No. It is an effort to throw something up against the wall and clean up the mess later. It won’t be proven “not to work” before Obama’s last election because it isn’t designed to really do anything, other than raise taxes, for the next four years. It is the ultimate placeholder that Obama can check off on his to-do list without the responsibility for actually solving the crisis he told us we had to fix urgently – before Christmas 2009.

It is hard, then, to quibble with Cohen. This isn’t a serious effort to reform health care. It’s lazy governance from a president who couldn’t face failure or craft a coherent bill. He and Democrats in the House and Senate imagine that the voters are too dumb to figure this out. We’ll test that proposition in November.

Buried deep inside an angst-filled column complaining that Obama is underappreciated and overly criticized, Richard Cohen concedes what many on both the Right and Left suspect: “He wanted a health-care bill. Why? To cover the uncovered. Maybe. To rein in the insurance companies. Maybe. To lower costs. Maybe. What mattered most was getting a bill, any bill. This is not a cause. It’s a notch on a belt.” We suspect that is true in part because Obama never really told us what he wanted in the bill. He never sent a proposal to Congress. He didn’t spell out specific requirements for his plan in that game-changing (not) speech in September. Each time Congress moved ahead with one version or another, Obama praised the effort without much comment on the content. Some thought it was tactical. But maybe he never really cared what was in it.

That conclusion is reinforced by the bill’s content and timing. As for the content, it doesn’t do what the president in broadest strokes said he wanted to accomplish. James Capretta points out that this isn’t “universal” care:

The House and Senate bills would add 15 million or more people to [Medicaid's] rolls without any guarantee whatsoever that there will be doctors and hospitals that can see them. Ironically, the very Democrats who most frequently tout “universality” as the goal are also the ones who ensure it will never actually come about by insisting that America’s lower-income families enroll in government-run insurance — with no other options. Beyond the Medicaid expansion, Obamacare is really an obligation, not a right. Every citizen would be required to sign up with a government-approved health-insurance plan or pay a tax penalty for going without coverage.

And even its proponents concede there will still be 23 million or so uninsured. Nor does the bill meet the president’s goals of deficit neutrality or cost cutting:

[T]he claim that bill lowers the deficit means that, in addition to cutting Medicare by half a trillion dollars, the Senate would also raise half a trillion in new taxes — during a recession. Only a series of accounting gimmicks — such as implementing benefits beginning in 2014 but raising taxes starting in 2010, and double-counting Medicare savings — allowed Senate majority leader Harry Reid to get a CBO cost estimate that pretends to add “not one dime” to the deficit. Medicare actuary Foster found that the Senate bill would bend the cost curve up, not down, and that the new taxes on drugs, devices, and health-insurance plans would increase prices and health-insurance costs for consumers.

But the telltale sign that Obama doesn’t really much care about the merits of the bill or any of the bill’s promised benefits is the timeline. The Heritage Foundation lays this out in detail:

2010: Physician Medicare payments decrease 21% effective March 1, 2010

2011: “Annual Fee” tax on health insurance, allocated according to share of total premiums. Begins at $2 billion in 2011, then increases to $4 billion in 2012, $7 billion in 2013, $9 billion in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, and eventually $10 billion for 2017 and every year thereafter. Two insurers in Nebraska and one in Michigan are exempt from this tax.

2012: Medicare payment penalties for hospitals with the highest readmission rates for selected conditions.

2013: Medicare tax increased from 2.9% to 3.8% for incomes over $250,000 (joint filers) or $200,000 (all others). (This is stated as an increase of 0.9 percentage points, to only the employee’s share of the FICA tax.)

2014: Individual mandate begins: Tax penalties for not having insurance begin at $95 or 0.5% of income, whichever is higher, rising to $495 or 1% of income in 2015 and $750 or 2% of income thereafter (indexed for inflation after 2016). These penalties are per adult, half that amount per child, to a maximum of three times the per-adult amount per family. The penalty is capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan.

2015: Establishment of Independent Medicare Advisory Board (IMAB) to recommend cuts in Medicare benefits; these cuts will go into effect automatically unless Congress passes, and the President signs, an override bill.

2016: Individual mandate penalty rises to $750 per adult ($375 per child), maximum $2,250 per family, or 2% of family income, whichever is higher (capped at the national average premium for the “bronze” plan). After 2016, the penalty will be increased each year to adjust for inflation.

2017: Itemized deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses is limited to expenses over 10% of AGI for those over age 65.

Bottom line: nothing but taxes and Medicare cuts begin before 2014. This is not a serious plan to address a health-care “crisis,” is it? No. It is an effort to throw something up against the wall and clean up the mess later. It won’t be proven “not to work” before Obama’s last election because it isn’t designed to really do anything, other than raise taxes, for the next four years. It is the ultimate placeholder that Obama can check off on his to-do list without the responsibility for actually solving the crisis he told us we had to fix urgently – before Christmas 2009.

It is hard, then, to quibble with Cohen. This isn’t a serious effort to reform health care. It’s lazy governance from a president who couldn’t face failure or craft a coherent bill. He and Democrats in the House and Senate imagine that the voters are too dumb to figure this out. We’ll test that proposition in November.

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Not as Planned

Obama and the Left more generally expected the financial meltdown of 2008 and the resulting recession to undermine the public’s faith in the private sector. As they pushed the Great Depression narrative, they strived to make way for a new, New Deal, in which the public would be willing to accept (in what had heretofore been private-sector decision-making) a far greater degree of government intervention than had been attempted in decades. Government would be entrusted to seize car companies, regulate executive compensation, and direct lending practices. But the “cure” for what supposedly ailed the American economy would not be limited to economic matters or to financial regulation. Obama spoke of a “new foundation,” meaning that government would also seek to expand its reach into health care, as well as to regulate all industries’ carbon emissions. A larger government, higher taxes, and a shrunken realm of private decision making would ensue.

But the public remained stubbornly resistant to government power grabs. The increase in spending and massive accumulation of debt spooked them. The obvious inability of the government to “create or save” jobs and its scatterbrained rush to pass health-care reform (thus  taking over a sixth of the economy) did not endear to the public the prospect of a bigger, more powerful government. After less than a full year of Democratic control, the public’s faith in big government is on the decline.

It is not only Tea Party protestors and town-hall attendees who have recoiled against the overreach of the Obama agenda. It is the mass of ordinarily nonpartisan independents who have looked upon the corrupt Cash for Cloture deals and the government spend-a-thon with unease. They may not be enamored of big business, but neither are they excited by the prospect of big government, let alone a big government in league with big insurance companies.

Then along comes the Christmas Day bombing plot. The Obama team stumbles about like hapless bureaucrats. First denial that anything much was wrong and then the acknowledgment that yes, they had failed to do their jobs. The “solution” is a flurry of reports and reviews. And we expect to see a series of bureaucratic shuffling, some personnel departures, and some “reforms” that don’t amount to much at all other than vows to do what we thought the government was supposed to be doing since 9/11. Meanwhile, the public sees that the only real line of defense comes from private citizens. Their government is, in its most fundamental task, not to be trusted.

Obama’s new New Deal initiatives have not worked out as planned. Only a fraction of that ambitious agenda has been enacted. The public, including nonpartisan independents, has been jarred by the ambition of Obama’s designs. Large majorities are concerned about the prospect of tax hikes, a massive deficit, and an overactive government. Moreover, there is a growing sense, made worse by the bungling of the Christmas Day bombing, that rather than improve governance, the Obama administration has made things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that Obama has been unable to dazzle the public with his effectiveness and, more generally, to impress Americans with the ability of the government to reorder society and improve their lives. It was, of course, the Democrats’ critique of the Bush administration’s competence – its handling of Katrina, the hapless Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, the Walter Reed scandal, the failure of financial oversight, and the mishandling of the pre-surge Iraq war – that formed the basis of their winning campaign rhetoric in 2006 and 2008. The Left assured us that sloth or distain for governance were at the root of the Bush administration’s failures but that its own candidates, graduated from the finest schools and enthusiastic proponents of government, would spare Americans from incompetence and corruption and would, moreover, rescue us from the excesses of the private sector. Washington was the place where “good ideas went to die,” Obama told us in the campaign. Puffed up with their own credentials and convinced that they were smarter than all who came before them, the members of Obama’s team assured us that this administration would be different. We were to get a cabinet of “geniuses.” Diplomacy was to be “smarter,” science would rule the day, and ideology was out. But alas it was not to be. The basic tasks of government — vetting, not scaring the populace (with a low Air Force One flyover), and rendering a timely decision on war strategy — seemed at times utterly beyond them.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Obama himself showed so little interest in the details of major domestic legislation. It became evident that, really, any health-care bill would do, so long as Obama got his signing ceremony. So we are on the verge of pasing a bill indefensible on the merits and which the public detests. And if Congress wanted to pass a junk-filled stimulus bill, that was alright with Obama as well. Now the public rightly regards it as a failure, a clumsily constructed waste of their tax dollars. We learned that the smart set really didn’t care about getting exquisitely crafted legislation passed; they simply wanted to demonstrate their own political muscle.

But the heart of the problem was not in a lack of competence or attention to detail but in arrogance – the hubris of believing that government bureaucracies could micromanage complex decisions and order the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans without severe adverse consequences. Never do Obama and his minions seem to recognize that centralizing and regulating millions and millions of intricate interactions is fraught with peril. They never do acknowledge that the track record of government in duplicating and supplanting free markets and individual decision-making is a poor one indeed. They certainly don’t seem to grasp the notion that expanding government and adding trillions to expenditures would merely multiply the opportunities for fraud, corruption, and waste.

So in the end the Obama team has not succeeded in persuading Americans that government should do more, spend more, and be trusted more. For decades, conservatives have made principled arguments as to the dangers of avaricious government, but experience is often the best teacher. After a year of governance by the Obama administration, the public has not learned to love big government but instead has relearned that it is wise to be wary of a growing and intrusive federal government. Had the Obama team been more competent and less ambitious, they might have, by small and irreversible steps, made the case for their ambitious agenda and inured the public to the steady expansion of the public sector. That didn’t happen, however, and the result is a new resurgence of anti-government populism and a fair amount of anger. Americans are reaching the conclusion that even when it comes to the most essential function of government, protecting them from foreign enemies, they are being ill-served. Perhaps if government did less, it would attend with greater focus to its most essential tasks.

The Bush administration never recovered the public’s confidence after Katrina. Americans had seen enough and thereafter tuned out. We will see if the Obama team can avoid that fate after its first year. It might help their cause if they tried to do less, focused more on the business of governing, and spent less time and effort attacking political enemies and recycling shopworn campaign rhetoric. They won’t likely again enjoy the level of goodwill and support that greeted them in the initial days of the administration, but they can perhaps recover a measure of the public’s respect by sober, modest, and competent governance.

Obama and the Left more generally expected the financial meltdown of 2008 and the resulting recession to undermine the public’s faith in the private sector. As they pushed the Great Depression narrative, they strived to make way for a new, New Deal, in which the public would be willing to accept (in what had heretofore been private-sector decision-making) a far greater degree of government intervention than had been attempted in decades. Government would be entrusted to seize car companies, regulate executive compensation, and direct lending practices. But the “cure” for what supposedly ailed the American economy would not be limited to economic matters or to financial regulation. Obama spoke of a “new foundation,” meaning that government would also seek to expand its reach into health care, as well as to regulate all industries’ carbon emissions. A larger government, higher taxes, and a shrunken realm of private decision making would ensue.

But the public remained stubbornly resistant to government power grabs. The increase in spending and massive accumulation of debt spooked them. The obvious inability of the government to “create or save” jobs and its scatterbrained rush to pass health-care reform (thus  taking over a sixth of the economy) did not endear to the public the prospect of a bigger, more powerful government. After less than a full year of Democratic control, the public’s faith in big government is on the decline.

It is not only Tea Party protestors and town-hall attendees who have recoiled against the overreach of the Obama agenda. It is the mass of ordinarily nonpartisan independents who have looked upon the corrupt Cash for Cloture deals and the government spend-a-thon with unease. They may not be enamored of big business, but neither are they excited by the prospect of big government, let alone a big government in league with big insurance companies.

Then along comes the Christmas Day bombing plot. The Obama team stumbles about like hapless bureaucrats. First denial that anything much was wrong and then the acknowledgment that yes, they had failed to do their jobs. The “solution” is a flurry of reports and reviews. And we expect to see a series of bureaucratic shuffling, some personnel departures, and some “reforms” that don’t amount to much at all other than vows to do what we thought the government was supposed to be doing since 9/11. Meanwhile, the public sees that the only real line of defense comes from private citizens. Their government is, in its most fundamental task, not to be trusted.

Obama’s new New Deal initiatives have not worked out as planned. Only a fraction of that ambitious agenda has been enacted. The public, including nonpartisan independents, has been jarred by the ambition of Obama’s designs. Large majorities are concerned about the prospect of tax hikes, a massive deficit, and an overactive government. Moreover, there is a growing sense, made worse by the bungling of the Christmas Day bombing, that rather than improve governance, the Obama administration has made things worse.

It is ironic in the extreme that Obama has been unable to dazzle the public with his effectiveness and, more generally, to impress Americans with the ability of the government to reorder society and improve their lives. It was, of course, the Democrats’ critique of the Bush administration’s competence – its handling of Katrina, the hapless Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, the Walter Reed scandal, the failure of financial oversight, and the mishandling of the pre-surge Iraq war – that formed the basis of their winning campaign rhetoric in 2006 and 2008. The Left assured us that sloth or distain for governance were at the root of the Bush administration’s failures but that its own candidates, graduated from the finest schools and enthusiastic proponents of government, would spare Americans from incompetence and corruption and would, moreover, rescue us from the excesses of the private sector. Washington was the place where “good ideas went to die,” Obama told us in the campaign. Puffed up with their own credentials and convinced that they were smarter than all who came before them, the members of Obama’s team assured us that this administration would be different. We were to get a cabinet of “geniuses.” Diplomacy was to be “smarter,” science would rule the day, and ideology was out. But alas it was not to be. The basic tasks of government — vetting, not scaring the populace (with a low Air Force One flyover), and rendering a timely decision on war strategy — seemed at times utterly beyond them.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Obama himself showed so little interest in the details of major domestic legislation. It became evident that, really, any health-care bill would do, so long as Obama got his signing ceremony. So we are on the verge of pasing a bill indefensible on the merits and which the public detests. And if Congress wanted to pass a junk-filled stimulus bill, that was alright with Obama as well. Now the public rightly regards it as a failure, a clumsily constructed waste of their tax dollars. We learned that the smart set really didn’t care about getting exquisitely crafted legislation passed; they simply wanted to demonstrate their own political muscle.

But the heart of the problem was not in a lack of competence or attention to detail but in arrogance – the hubris of believing that government bureaucracies could micromanage complex decisions and order the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans without severe adverse consequences. Never do Obama and his minions seem to recognize that centralizing and regulating millions and millions of intricate interactions is fraught with peril. They never do acknowledge that the track record of government in duplicating and supplanting free markets and individual decision-making is a poor one indeed. They certainly don’t seem to grasp the notion that expanding government and adding trillions to expenditures would merely multiply the opportunities for fraud, corruption, and waste.

So in the end the Obama team has not succeeded in persuading Americans that government should do more, spend more, and be trusted more. For decades, conservatives have made principled arguments as to the dangers of avaricious government, but experience is often the best teacher. After a year of governance by the Obama administration, the public has not learned to love big government but instead has relearned that it is wise to be wary of a growing and intrusive federal government. Had the Obama team been more competent and less ambitious, they might have, by small and irreversible steps, made the case for their ambitious agenda and inured the public to the steady expansion of the public sector. That didn’t happen, however, and the result is a new resurgence of anti-government populism and a fair amount of anger. Americans are reaching the conclusion that even when it comes to the most essential function of government, protecting them from foreign enemies, they are being ill-served. Perhaps if government did less, it would attend with greater focus to its most essential tasks.

The Bush administration never recovered the public’s confidence after Katrina. Americans had seen enough and thereafter tuned out. We will see if the Obama team can avoid that fate after its first year. It might help their cause if they tried to do less, focused more on the business of governing, and spent less time and effort attacking political enemies and recycling shopworn campaign rhetoric. They won’t likely again enjoy the level of goodwill and support that greeted them in the initial days of the administration, but they can perhaps recover a measure of the public’s respect by sober, modest, and competent governance.

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The Health-Care Backlash

Here are some thoughts on where things stand in the aftermath of the certain passage of the Senate health-care bill.

1. Few Democrats understand the depth and intensity of opposition that exists toward them and their agenda, especially regarding health care. Passage of this bill will only heighten the depth and intensity of the opposition. We’re seeing a political tsunami in the making, and passage of health-care legislation would only add to its size and force.

2. This health-care bill may well be historic, but not in the way the president thinks. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like it: passage of a mammoth piece of legislation, hugely expensive and unpopular, on a strict party-line vote taken in a rush of panic because Democrats know that the more people see of ObamaCare, the less they like it.

3. The problem isn’t simply with how substantively awful the bill is but how deeply dishonest and (legally) corrupt the whole process has been. There’s already a powerful populist, anti-Washington sentiment out there, perhaps as strong as anything we’ve seen. This will add kerosene to that raging fire.

4. Democrats have sold this bill as a miracle-worker; when people see first-hand how pernicious health-care legislation will be, abstract concerns will become concrete. That will magnify the unhappiness of the polity.

5. The collateral damage to Obama from this bill is enormous. More than any candidate in our lifetime, Obama won based on the aesthetics of politics. It wasn’t because of his record; he barely had one. And it wasn’t because of his command of policy; few people knew what his top three policy priorities were. It was based instead on the sense that he was something novel, the embodiment of a “new politics” – mature, high-minded and gracious, intellectually serious. That was the core of his speeches and his candidacy. In less than a year, that core has been devoured, most of all by this health-care process.

Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a deeply partisan and polarizing figure. (“I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican,” Senator McCain reported over the weekend.) The lack of transparency in this process has been unprecedented and bordering on criminal. The president has been deeply misleading in selling this plan. Lobbyists, a bane of Obama during the campaign, are having a field day.

President Obama may succeed in passing a terribly unpopular piece of legislation – but in the process, he has shattered his carefully cultivated image. It now consists of a thousand shards.

6. This health-care bill shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s part of a train of events that include the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill (complete with some 8,500 earmarks), and a record-sized budget. In addition, as Jim Manzi points out in the new issue of National Affairs:

[Under Obama] the federal government has also intervened aggressively in both the financial and industrial sectors of the economy in order to produce specific desired outcomes for particular corporations. It has nationalized America’s largest auto company (General Motors) and intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings of the third-largest auto company (Chrysler), privileging labor unions at the expense of bondholders. It has, in effect, nationalized what was America’s largest insurance company (American International Group) and largest bank (Citigroup), and appears to have exerted extra-legal financial pressure on what was the second-largest bank (Bank of America) to get it to purchase the ­country’s largest securities company (Merrill Lynch). The implicit government guarantees provided to home-loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been called in, and the federal government is now the largest de facto lender in the residential real-estate market. The government has selected the CEOs and is setting compensation at major automotive and financial companies across the country. On top of these interventions in finance and commerce, the administration and congressional Democrats are also pursuing both a new climate and energy strategy and large-scale health-care reform. Their agenda would place the government at the center of these two huge sectors of the economy…

Together, these actions tell quite a tale. Mr. Obama has revived the worst impressions of the Democratic party – profligate and undisciplined, arrogant, lovers of big government, increasers of taxes. The issues and narrative for American politics in the foreseeable future has been set — limited government versus exploding government, capitalism versus European style socialism, responsible and measured policies versus reckless and radical ones.

Barack Obama is in the process of inflicting enormous damage to his presidency and his party. And there is more, much more to come.

Here are some thoughts on where things stand in the aftermath of the certain passage of the Senate health-care bill.

1. Few Democrats understand the depth and intensity of opposition that exists toward them and their agenda, especially regarding health care. Passage of this bill will only heighten the depth and intensity of the opposition. We’re seeing a political tsunami in the making, and passage of health-care legislation would only add to its size and force.

2. This health-care bill may well be historic, but not in the way the president thinks. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like it: passage of a mammoth piece of legislation, hugely expensive and unpopular, on a strict party-line vote taken in a rush of panic because Democrats know that the more people see of ObamaCare, the less they like it.

3. The problem isn’t simply with how substantively awful the bill is but how deeply dishonest and (legally) corrupt the whole process has been. There’s already a powerful populist, anti-Washington sentiment out there, perhaps as strong as anything we’ve seen. This will add kerosene to that raging fire.

4. Democrats have sold this bill as a miracle-worker; when people see first-hand how pernicious health-care legislation will be, abstract concerns will become concrete. That will magnify the unhappiness of the polity.

5. The collateral damage to Obama from this bill is enormous. More than any candidate in our lifetime, Obama won based on the aesthetics of politics. It wasn’t because of his record; he barely had one. And it wasn’t because of his command of policy; few people knew what his top three policy priorities were. It was based instead on the sense that he was something novel, the embodiment of a “new politics” – mature, high-minded and gracious, intellectually serious. That was the core of his speeches and his candidacy. In less than a year, that core has been devoured, most of all by this health-care process.

Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a deeply partisan and polarizing figure. (“I have never been asked to engage in a single serious negotiation on any issue, nor has any other Republican,” Senator McCain reported over the weekend.) The lack of transparency in this process has been unprecedented and bordering on criminal. The president has been deeply misleading in selling this plan. Lobbyists, a bane of Obama during the campaign, are having a field day.

President Obama may succeed in passing a terribly unpopular piece of legislation – but in the process, he has shattered his carefully cultivated image. It now consists of a thousand shards.

6. This health-care bill shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s part of a train of events that include the stimulus package, the omnibus spending bill (complete with some 8,500 earmarks), and a record-sized budget. In addition, as Jim Manzi points out in the new issue of National Affairs:

[Under Obama] the federal government has also intervened aggressively in both the financial and industrial sectors of the economy in order to produce specific desired outcomes for particular corporations. It has nationalized America’s largest auto company (General Motors) and intervened in the bankruptcy proceedings of the third-largest auto company (Chrysler), privileging labor unions at the expense of bondholders. It has, in effect, nationalized what was America’s largest insurance company (American International Group) and largest bank (Citigroup), and appears to have exerted extra-legal financial pressure on what was the second-largest bank (Bank of America) to get it to purchase the ­country’s largest securities company (Merrill Lynch). The implicit government guarantees provided to home-loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been called in, and the federal government is now the largest de facto lender in the residential real-estate market. The government has selected the CEOs and is setting compensation at major automotive and financial companies across the country. On top of these interventions in finance and commerce, the administration and congressional Democrats are also pursuing both a new climate and energy strategy and large-scale health-care reform. Their agenda would place the government at the center of these two huge sectors of the economy…

Together, these actions tell quite a tale. Mr. Obama has revived the worst impressions of the Democratic party – profligate and undisciplined, arrogant, lovers of big government, increasers of taxes. The issues and narrative for American politics in the foreseeable future has been set — limited government versus exploding government, capitalism versus European style socialism, responsible and measured policies versus reckless and radical ones.

Barack Obama is in the process of inflicting enormous damage to his presidency and his party. And there is more, much more to come.

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Imagine What His Critics Think

There is no more frenetic or faithful pro-Obama spinner than Marc Ambinder. If there is any conceivable argument, and even if not, for an Obama gambit or position, then he’ll come up with it. So it is noteworthy that this is the best he can do on health care:

Let it be said, at 1:15 a.m. ET, that Democratic Party discipline held, that Republicans failed to kill health-care reform, that the president now has a strong chance to sign into law historic, expensive, and far-reaching health-care reform legislation before his first official State of the Union address in a month from now. The bruising year-long battle has left the Democratic Party divided, has expended virtually all of the president’s political capital, and the legislation’s fidelity to the goals sketched by candidate Obama are questionable.

Well, the bill can’t really be defended on the merits, whether one assesses it from the Left’s perspective (insurance companies make out like bandits!) or the Right’s (what happened to real reform and cost control?). So the idealistic bloggers are reduced to cooing about the brute strength of the Obama-Reid machine. It is something, but not the stuff that inspires voters to elect Democrats. What do they run on? “Keep the strong-arm tactics going!” isn’t much of a message.

There is no more frenetic or faithful pro-Obama spinner than Marc Ambinder. If there is any conceivable argument, and even if not, for an Obama gambit or position, then he’ll come up with it. So it is noteworthy that this is the best he can do on health care:

Let it be said, at 1:15 a.m. ET, that Democratic Party discipline held, that Republicans failed to kill health-care reform, that the president now has a strong chance to sign into law historic, expensive, and far-reaching health-care reform legislation before his first official State of the Union address in a month from now. The bruising year-long battle has left the Democratic Party divided, has expended virtually all of the president’s political capital, and the legislation’s fidelity to the goals sketched by candidate Obama are questionable.

Well, the bill can’t really be defended on the merits, whether one assesses it from the Left’s perspective (insurance companies make out like bandits!) or the Right’s (what happened to real reform and cost control?). So the idealistic bloggers are reduced to cooing about the brute strength of the Obama-Reid machine. It is something, but not the stuff that inspires voters to elect Democrats. What do they run on? “Keep the strong-arm tactics going!” isn’t much of a message.

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When the Chips Are Down, All Democrats Are Liberals

The Senate is moving slowly toward the first cloture vote around 1:00 a.m. on Monday, heading to a final vote on the health-care bill Thursday evening. At this juncture the most realistic avenue for upsetting the freight train is Rep. Bart Stupak, who unlike Sen. Ben Nelson, was not snookered (willingly or otherwise) into abandoning his pro-life constituents. As others have pointed out, Nebraska pro-life voters like voters in every state will, under the Harry Reid “compromise,” have their tax dollars go toward subsidizing abortions in states that choose not to “opt out” of abortion coverage.

There are several noteworthy aspects to all of this. First, we have heard a lot in the last year from some snooty ostensibly-conservative pundits who would like to rearrange the conservative coalition and dump social conservatives overboard. However, the health-care bill is as good an example as we will find as to why this is politically idiotic. Here we see that it is social conservatives who remain the last men and women standing against liberal economic- and social-engineering projects. The numbers may just not be there for Stupak to disrupt the juggernaut, but it is instructive that the final battle is likely to be over abortion subsidies, not taxes or any other economic issue. Perhaps it’s not a good idea for conservatives to tell some of their most stalwart allies to get lost.

Second, the Obama tax pledge — no tax hikes on families making less than $250, 000 — has been eviscerated by the bill. There are no less than seven categories of taxes on the supposedly non-rich and they are not insignificant. Union members with generous benefits, so-called “Cadillac” plans, are going to get smacked with new excise takes –unless of course they lose those generous benefits. This reality is not enough to sway supposedly moderate and conservative Democrats (and can we acknowledge when the chips are down they are all liberals?) to vote “no” when it comes to cloture, but it will certainly come up in the 2010 elections. (Five Democrats, including Nelson, voted to take the under-$250,000 tax provisions out, but their defense of the taxpayers evaporates when it matters.) Taxes are now a front-and-center issue in the run up to the 2010 election.

Third, we are spending of at least $871B (maybe $2.5 trillion over ten years) and raising about $500 billion in taxes. Nevertheless, we will still have, by the CBO’s estimate, some 23 million non-elderly uninsured residents. Insurance companies are no doubt doing the jig with the realization that the government is herding new customers their way. But that’s a huge transfer of wealth for not really solving the problem of the uninsured. We go from 83 percent of the population insured to 94 percent by taking money away from seniors’ Medicare funding and everyone else’s pockets.

We will, if this passes, see a massive sell-job by the administration and Congress to tout this “historic achievement.” But the American people may well recoil in horror. They are going to be taxed and bossed around, have their benefits disrupted and see what happens when government gurus begin to dictate what care they will receive. And it will be crystal clear who, when the chips are down, tried to stop the largest big-government power grab and tax-a-thon in decades and who rolled over. The opponents of those Democrats who rolled over will have a plethora of material for their campaign ads.

The Senate is moving slowly toward the first cloture vote around 1:00 a.m. on Monday, heading to a final vote on the health-care bill Thursday evening. At this juncture the most realistic avenue for upsetting the freight train is Rep. Bart Stupak, who unlike Sen. Ben Nelson, was not snookered (willingly or otherwise) into abandoning his pro-life constituents. As others have pointed out, Nebraska pro-life voters like voters in every state will, under the Harry Reid “compromise,” have their tax dollars go toward subsidizing abortions in states that choose not to “opt out” of abortion coverage.

There are several noteworthy aspects to all of this. First, we have heard a lot in the last year from some snooty ostensibly-conservative pundits who would like to rearrange the conservative coalition and dump social conservatives overboard. However, the health-care bill is as good an example as we will find as to why this is politically idiotic. Here we see that it is social conservatives who remain the last men and women standing against liberal economic- and social-engineering projects. The numbers may just not be there for Stupak to disrupt the juggernaut, but it is instructive that the final battle is likely to be over abortion subsidies, not taxes or any other economic issue. Perhaps it’s not a good idea for conservatives to tell some of their most stalwart allies to get lost.

Second, the Obama tax pledge — no tax hikes on families making less than $250, 000 — has been eviscerated by the bill. There are no less than seven categories of taxes on the supposedly non-rich and they are not insignificant. Union members with generous benefits, so-called “Cadillac” plans, are going to get smacked with new excise takes –unless of course they lose those generous benefits. This reality is not enough to sway supposedly moderate and conservative Democrats (and can we acknowledge when the chips are down they are all liberals?) to vote “no” when it comes to cloture, but it will certainly come up in the 2010 elections. (Five Democrats, including Nelson, voted to take the under-$250,000 tax provisions out, but their defense of the taxpayers evaporates when it matters.) Taxes are now a front-and-center issue in the run up to the 2010 election.

Third, we are spending of at least $871B (maybe $2.5 trillion over ten years) and raising about $500 billion in taxes. Nevertheless, we will still have, by the CBO’s estimate, some 23 million non-elderly uninsured residents. Insurance companies are no doubt doing the jig with the realization that the government is herding new customers their way. But that’s a huge transfer of wealth for not really solving the problem of the uninsured. We go from 83 percent of the population insured to 94 percent by taking money away from seniors’ Medicare funding and everyone else’s pockets.

We will, if this passes, see a massive sell-job by the administration and Congress to tout this “historic achievement.” But the American people may well recoil in horror. They are going to be taxed and bossed around, have their benefits disrupted and see what happens when government gurus begin to dictate what care they will receive. And it will be crystal clear who, when the chips are down, tried to stop the largest big-government power grab and tax-a-thon in decades and who rolled over. The opponents of those Democrats who rolled over will have a plethora of material for their campaign ads.

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After Inevitability Goes, What Then?

It seems that things are not exactly on track with the Obama health-care-gotta-get-it-done-before-Christmas express train. Politico notes:

With the clock ticking down on health care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has until Saturday to strike a 60-vote compromise if Democrats hope to meet a Christmas Eve deadline — but the obstacles kept piling up Thursday.

Reid still had no legislative text and no cost analysis to release. One of the final moderate holdouts, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), rejected compromise language on abortion funding and said he’s doubtful a bill can pass by Christmas. Two powerful unions blasted the bill. House Democrats threatened to undo the Senate bill during a conference committee. And a Democratic war over the bill raged on the Internet and cable news.

The stampede mentality has been momentarily disrupted by the resistance of Ben Nelson. Time, of course, is the kryptonite of health-care reform, the one phenomenon that disrupts the hype and pressure on lawmakers to vote on something, anything, and do it right now. It forces lawmakers to reflect and to worry (Sixty percent of the voters in my state oppose this?), and it reveals that the only thing ReidCare has going for it is an illusion of urgency.

Sen. Robert Casey confirmed the degree to which Democrats are dependent on a Cinderella-like haste to get it done before the clock strikes. Otherwise, everyone might realize what’s in the bill and that the Democratic leaders have little more than artificially induced fear on their side (“We’ll lose if we do nothing!”), as well as their members’ longing to get home for the holidays. As Casey remarked, “If we are going to get a bill out of the Senate, which will be very close to getting a bill enacted, we have to do it in 2009. … Some might not think so, but what I would worry about is losing momentum.” Because all they have is momentum, and once it’s gone, so too might be an ill-conceived and hugely unpopular bill.

Part of the danger here for ObamaCare supporters is that once the inevitability is gone, the senators will start to examine what’s in the bill. Then they might start pulling on the loose thread, the increasingly obvious irritant to both the Right and Left: the individual mandate. Rich Lowry explains the mutual disdain for this provision:

The right hates the governmental fiat and thinks — given the regulations and taxes that add to the cost of insurance — the mandate’s a bad deal. As one wag said of the bill, “First, it transforms insurance into a product that few rational people would buy. Second, it forces them to buy it.” The left hates that the insurance companies get the proceeds.

The Left thinks it makes Obama the “tax collector for the insurance-industrial complex”; the Right thinks it shreds the Constitution. How long before someone on either side can resist the urge to pull on this string, thereby unraveling the deal? With the Daily Kos and Rich Lowry cheering them on, some senators might actually bring an amendment to take it out.

So as Reid loses inevitability, and gives the Left and the Right time to think about their newfound mutual interests, some clever lawmaker might force the Senate to consider a key question: why are we forcing people to buy something they don’t want from companies they don’t like?

It seems that things are not exactly on track with the Obama health-care-gotta-get-it-done-before-Christmas express train. Politico notes:

With the clock ticking down on health care reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has until Saturday to strike a 60-vote compromise if Democrats hope to meet a Christmas Eve deadline — but the obstacles kept piling up Thursday.

Reid still had no legislative text and no cost analysis to release. One of the final moderate holdouts, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), rejected compromise language on abortion funding and said he’s doubtful a bill can pass by Christmas. Two powerful unions blasted the bill. House Democrats threatened to undo the Senate bill during a conference committee. And a Democratic war over the bill raged on the Internet and cable news.

The stampede mentality has been momentarily disrupted by the resistance of Ben Nelson. Time, of course, is the kryptonite of health-care reform, the one phenomenon that disrupts the hype and pressure on lawmakers to vote on something, anything, and do it right now. It forces lawmakers to reflect and to worry (Sixty percent of the voters in my state oppose this?), and it reveals that the only thing ReidCare has going for it is an illusion of urgency.

Sen. Robert Casey confirmed the degree to which Democrats are dependent on a Cinderella-like haste to get it done before the clock strikes. Otherwise, everyone might realize what’s in the bill and that the Democratic leaders have little more than artificially induced fear on their side (“We’ll lose if we do nothing!”), as well as their members’ longing to get home for the holidays. As Casey remarked, “If we are going to get a bill out of the Senate, which will be very close to getting a bill enacted, we have to do it in 2009. … Some might not think so, but what I would worry about is losing momentum.” Because all they have is momentum, and once it’s gone, so too might be an ill-conceived and hugely unpopular bill.

Part of the danger here for ObamaCare supporters is that once the inevitability is gone, the senators will start to examine what’s in the bill. Then they might start pulling on the loose thread, the increasingly obvious irritant to both the Right and Left: the individual mandate. Rich Lowry explains the mutual disdain for this provision:

The right hates the governmental fiat and thinks — given the regulations and taxes that add to the cost of insurance — the mandate’s a bad deal. As one wag said of the bill, “First, it transforms insurance into a product that few rational people would buy. Second, it forces them to buy it.” The left hates that the insurance companies get the proceeds.

The Left thinks it makes Obama the “tax collector for the insurance-industrial complex”; the Right thinks it shreds the Constitution. How long before someone on either side can resist the urge to pull on this string, thereby unraveling the deal? With the Daily Kos and Rich Lowry cheering them on, some senators might actually bring an amendment to take it out.

So as Reid loses inevitability, and gives the Left and the Right time to think about their newfound mutual interests, some clever lawmaker might force the Senate to consider a key question: why are we forcing people to buy something they don’t want from companies they don’t like?

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This Is “Reform”?

Sen. Dick Durbin says Democrats will have 60 votes for health-care legislation by next week. This is revealing in two respects. First, they don’t have the votes now. And second, they don’t have the exact bill on which they are voting. Sen. Evan Bayh said plaintively, “We’re all being urged to vote for something and we don’t know the details of what’s in it.” He seems to have a problem with that.

We are, in general terms (we think — since there is no bill yet and no CBO scoring), going to raise huge amounts of taxes from some Americans (including those promised by candidate Obama that they’d see no tax hike), give it to others, force individuals and businesses to buy really expensive insurance plans, and then take a chunk of money out of Medicare, which will squeeze doctors and hospitals, not to mention patients. This legislation has little to recommend it.

Liberals are angry, fearing that the bill will be shoveling massive subsidies to private insurers. As Politico put it, “More than anything else in Barack Obama’s presidency so far, health reform has exposed a get-a-deal-at-any-cost side of Obama that infuriates his party’s progressives.” So Howard Dean wants to kill it. Conservative James Capretta sees their point: “The Democratic party is on the verge of enacting a requirement, enforced with federal tax penalties, which would effectively require hard-working Americans to hand over even more of their wages to profit-hungry, private insurance companies.”

Conservatives point to the hundreds of billions in new taxes, the mandates, the fines, and the heavy hand of government — in short, a huge, fiscally reckless entitlement:

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader, said the legislation includes “a half a trillion dollars in cuts in Medicare, $400 billion in higher taxes and higher premiums for everyone else.”

We’re about to spend a trillion dollars we don’t have to force many people to buy insurance they don’t want. So there are 60 votes for this monstrosity? Not yet. But next week, we’re told, there will be. Because, as the president says, we’re on the “precipice” of something really big. Well, we can all agree on that.

Sen. Dick Durbin says Democrats will have 60 votes for health-care legislation by next week. This is revealing in two respects. First, they don’t have the votes now. And second, they don’t have the exact bill on which they are voting. Sen. Evan Bayh said plaintively, “We’re all being urged to vote for something and we don’t know the details of what’s in it.” He seems to have a problem with that.

We are, in general terms (we think — since there is no bill yet and no CBO scoring), going to raise huge amounts of taxes from some Americans (including those promised by candidate Obama that they’d see no tax hike), give it to others, force individuals and businesses to buy really expensive insurance plans, and then take a chunk of money out of Medicare, which will squeeze doctors and hospitals, not to mention patients. This legislation has little to recommend it.

Liberals are angry, fearing that the bill will be shoveling massive subsidies to private insurers. As Politico put it, “More than anything else in Barack Obama’s presidency so far, health reform has exposed a get-a-deal-at-any-cost side of Obama that infuriates his party’s progressives.” So Howard Dean wants to kill it. Conservative James Capretta sees their point: “The Democratic party is on the verge of enacting a requirement, enforced with federal tax penalties, which would effectively require hard-working Americans to hand over even more of their wages to profit-hungry, private insurance companies.”

Conservatives point to the hundreds of billions in new taxes, the mandates, the fines, and the heavy hand of government — in short, a huge, fiscally reckless entitlement:

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader, said the legislation includes “a half a trillion dollars in cuts in Medicare, $400 billion in higher taxes and higher premiums for everyone else.”

We’re about to spend a trillion dollars we don’t have to force many people to buy insurance they don’t want. So there are 60 votes for this monstrosity? Not yet. But next week, we’re told, there will be. Because, as the president says, we’re on the “precipice” of something really big. Well, we can all agree on that.

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The Indispensible Senator

There is little doubt these days that Sen. Joe Lieberman is the most important man in the U.S. Senate. In a must-read Wall Street Journal interview he explains his objections to the public option and to ObamaCare more generally. As to the former, he observes:

It was always about how do we make the system more efficient and less costly, and how do we expand coverage to people who can’t afford it, and how do we adopt some consumer protections from the insurance companies . . . So where did this public option come from?. . . It doesn’t help one poor person get insurance who doesn’t have it now. It doesn’t compel one insurance company to provide insurance to somebody who has an illness. And . . . it doesn’t do anything to reduce the cost of insurance.

But it’s not just the public option. He’s not buying the supposed deficit neutrality of the Democrats’ scheme. He’s not buying that the Medicare cuts are for real or that the current bill will control costs. It sure sounds as though he’s going to vote to filibuster the sort of bill moving through the Senate. In short, Lieberman may be the only man, or at least the most resolute one, standing in the way of an atrocious government takeover of health care.

And on Afghanistan, Lieberman addresses concerns about the 18-month deadline to which many conservatives have objected:

But after probing Defense Secretary Bob Gates in a Senate hearing this week, he’s now more confident. “[Gates] compared it to the so-called ‘overwatch,’ which is really what we did in Iraq. As we felt the Iraqis were prepared to take over in certain areas, we pulled back but we didn’t pull out.” Mr. Lieberman believes this “pull back” is what begins in July 2011, and also felt he got assurances that it would start only in “uncontested” areas—and that there is no deadline for when all 30,000 troops must leave.

He cautions, however, that it’s up to the president to rally the country.

On these and other topics — Iran, the KSM trial, and the Patriot Act – Lieberman is once again front and center, arguing for a robust response to the threats America faces and opposing his Democratic former colleagues. One can argue it is only because the Senate generally depends on 60, not 51 votes, that Lieberman has such extraordinary and unique influence. But in truth, Lieberman has that influence because of the serious arguments he presents, his lack of political cant, and the moral clarity he brings to the debate. He has become the indispensable senator.

There is little doubt these days that Sen. Joe Lieberman is the most important man in the U.S. Senate. In a must-read Wall Street Journal interview he explains his objections to the public option and to ObamaCare more generally. As to the former, he observes:

It was always about how do we make the system more efficient and less costly, and how do we expand coverage to people who can’t afford it, and how do we adopt some consumer protections from the insurance companies . . . So where did this public option come from?. . . It doesn’t help one poor person get insurance who doesn’t have it now. It doesn’t compel one insurance company to provide insurance to somebody who has an illness. And . . . it doesn’t do anything to reduce the cost of insurance.

But it’s not just the public option. He’s not buying the supposed deficit neutrality of the Democrats’ scheme. He’s not buying that the Medicare cuts are for real or that the current bill will control costs. It sure sounds as though he’s going to vote to filibuster the sort of bill moving through the Senate. In short, Lieberman may be the only man, or at least the most resolute one, standing in the way of an atrocious government takeover of health care.

And on Afghanistan, Lieberman addresses concerns about the 18-month deadline to which many conservatives have objected:

But after probing Defense Secretary Bob Gates in a Senate hearing this week, he’s now more confident. “[Gates] compared it to the so-called ‘overwatch,’ which is really what we did in Iraq. As we felt the Iraqis were prepared to take over in certain areas, we pulled back but we didn’t pull out.” Mr. Lieberman believes this “pull back” is what begins in July 2011, and also felt he got assurances that it would start only in “uncontested” areas—and that there is no deadline for when all 30,000 troops must leave.

He cautions, however, that it’s up to the president to rally the country.

On these and other topics — Iran, the KSM trial, and the Patriot Act – Lieberman is once again front and center, arguing for a robust response to the threats America faces and opposing his Democratic former colleagues. One can argue it is only because the Senate generally depends on 60, not 51 votes, that Lieberman has such extraordinary and unique influence. But in truth, Lieberman has that influence because of the serious arguments he presents, his lack of political cant, and the moral clarity he brings to the debate. He has become the indispensable senator.

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New York Times, Meet Milton Friedman

Since John has awarded the prize for the most ridiculous headline to the Times, let’s make it a twofer and give the Times the dumbest opening paragraph as well.

The Senate voted Thursday to require health insurance companies to provide free mammograms and other preventive services to women, and it turned back a Republican challenge to Medicare savings that constitute the single largest source of financing for the bill.

Just as there are no free lunches, there are no free mammograms either. The insurance companies will pass the cost along to the policy holders in the form of higher premiums. These politically imposed mandates are a major reason why health insurance is so much more costly in states like New York and New Jersey than it is in neighboring states like Connecticut and Pennsylvania. A family policy that costs $12,250 a year in New York costs only $7,750 a year next door in Connecticut because that state does not have guaranteed issuance (get sick today, buy the policy tomorrow, and still be covered) and many fewer coverage mandates. New York has no fewer than 51 of these, including chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, and — a very big-ticket item — in vitro fertilization. Even if you think chiropractors are quacks, hate needles, and are at a stage in life when you don’t want to make babies even the old-fashioned way, you still must pay for coverage because politicians in Albany have decided you should.

As I have often pointed out, politicians cannot make economic decisions; they can make only political ones. That’s why socialism has never worked — and it never will. For socialized medicine, that goes double.

Since John has awarded the prize for the most ridiculous headline to the Times, let’s make it a twofer and give the Times the dumbest opening paragraph as well.

The Senate voted Thursday to require health insurance companies to provide free mammograms and other preventive services to women, and it turned back a Republican challenge to Medicare savings that constitute the single largest source of financing for the bill.

Just as there are no free lunches, there are no free mammograms either. The insurance companies will pass the cost along to the policy holders in the form of higher premiums. These politically imposed mandates are a major reason why health insurance is so much more costly in states like New York and New Jersey than it is in neighboring states like Connecticut and Pennsylvania. A family policy that costs $12,250 a year in New York costs only $7,750 a year next door in Connecticut because that state does not have guaranteed issuance (get sick today, buy the policy tomorrow, and still be covered) and many fewer coverage mandates. New York has no fewer than 51 of these, including chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, and — a very big-ticket item — in vitro fertilization. Even if you think chiropractors are quacks, hate needles, and are at a stage in life when you don’t want to make babies even the old-fashioned way, you still must pay for coverage because politicians in Albany have decided you should.

As I have often pointed out, politicians cannot make economic decisions; they can make only political ones. That’s why socialism has never worked — and it never will. For socialized medicine, that goes double.

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Who Will Be Left?

Rich Lowry has it right in this observation of the Democrats’ “victory” in moving health care to the Senate for debate:

They’ve talked themselves into the ludicrously self-delusional notion that what ails them and the president is that they haven’t yet passed the hundreds of billions of dollars of tax hikes and Medicare cuts that finance (albeit incompletely) ObamaCare. …

If they pass it, they have tax hikes and Medicare cuts around their necks, as well as the increased insurance premiums the bill is sure to cause. If they fail, they’ve demonstrated their own ineffectual ideological fervor, while still putting themselves on record in favor of tax increases and Medicare cuts.

Like many of us, Lowry wonders why the Democrats don’t abandon the “maximalist” big-government power grab and take up instead a health-care bill that might be popular and obtain bipartisan support. The answer it seems is that the leadership of the Democratic party — Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the president — is ideologically committed to doing this, to reworking health care “permanently” (or so the president imagines). The leadership doesn’t care if it has to sacrifice dozens of House members and some Red State senators along the way. It has grown indifferent to criticism (besides, it’s all the doing of Fox News, talk radio, and insurance companies, right?) and contemptuous of ordinary voters whom it imagines will learn to live with whatever is served up. And frankly, the Democrats haven’t done anything else of note (cap-and-trade, financial reform, and card check are all stalled), so this is it — their claim to fame. As for Obama, he has three years to restore his standing and find other reasons (a revived economy, perhaps) to gain voters’ support.

Well that explains why the Democratic leadership is in thrall to a monstrous health-care bill, but why are the moderates and conservatives in their party following them? Some of the explanation rests in payoffs. (“Landrieu bragged about her swag, calculating that the ‘Lousiana Purchase’ was really worth $300 million.”) Part of it rests in the pressure members always feel from their own leaders and the true believers in their own base. And part of the explanation certainly is arrogance: they think they can get away with it. They imagine that they are so popular or clever that they — unlike the lawmakers sitting next to them — can evade the wrath of the voters.

Lawmakers will now head home and hear from their constituents. Many will be unmoved by what they hear. But some may begin to wonder why it is they are doing something so monstrously irresponsible from a fiscal standpoint and so suicidal from a political one. And then the fun will start — the mad scramble of lawmakers wise enough to know they need to get off the ObamaCare train.

The fate of ObamaCare will boil down to whether there are enough Democrats left on board willing to sacrifice their own careers to gratify the leftist aspirations and egos of their leaders. It’ll be a close call.

Rich Lowry has it right in this observation of the Democrats’ “victory” in moving health care to the Senate for debate:

They’ve talked themselves into the ludicrously self-delusional notion that what ails them and the president is that they haven’t yet passed the hundreds of billions of dollars of tax hikes and Medicare cuts that finance (albeit incompletely) ObamaCare. …

If they pass it, they have tax hikes and Medicare cuts around their necks, as well as the increased insurance premiums the bill is sure to cause. If they fail, they’ve demonstrated their own ineffectual ideological fervor, while still putting themselves on record in favor of tax increases and Medicare cuts.

Like many of us, Lowry wonders why the Democrats don’t abandon the “maximalist” big-government power grab and take up instead a health-care bill that might be popular and obtain bipartisan support. The answer it seems is that the leadership of the Democratic party — Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the president — is ideologically committed to doing this, to reworking health care “permanently” (or so the president imagines). The leadership doesn’t care if it has to sacrifice dozens of House members and some Red State senators along the way. It has grown indifferent to criticism (besides, it’s all the doing of Fox News, talk radio, and insurance companies, right?) and contemptuous of ordinary voters whom it imagines will learn to live with whatever is served up. And frankly, the Democrats haven’t done anything else of note (cap-and-trade, financial reform, and card check are all stalled), so this is it — their claim to fame. As for Obama, he has three years to restore his standing and find other reasons (a revived economy, perhaps) to gain voters’ support.

Well that explains why the Democratic leadership is in thrall to a monstrous health-care bill, but why are the moderates and conservatives in their party following them? Some of the explanation rests in payoffs. (“Landrieu bragged about her swag, calculating that the ‘Lousiana Purchase’ was really worth $300 million.”) Part of it rests in the pressure members always feel from their own leaders and the true believers in their own base. And part of the explanation certainly is arrogance: they think they can get away with it. They imagine that they are so popular or clever that they — unlike the lawmakers sitting next to them — can evade the wrath of the voters.

Lawmakers will now head home and hear from their constituents. Many will be unmoved by what they hear. But some may begin to wonder why it is they are doing something so monstrously irresponsible from a fiscal standpoint and so suicidal from a political one. And then the fun will start — the mad scramble of lawmakers wise enough to know they need to get off the ObamaCare train.

The fate of ObamaCare will boil down to whether there are enough Democrats left on board willing to sacrifice their own careers to gratify the leftist aspirations and egos of their leaders. It’ll be a close call.

Read Less




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