Commentary Magazine


Topic: middle class

The Middle-Class ObamaCare Conundrum

A funny thing is happening on the way to universal popularity and acceptance for the president’s signature health-care legislation. No, I’m not referring to the dysfunctional website that turned ObamaCare and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius into a laughingstock. As bad as the website’s problems have been and continue to be, the growing coverage of Americans who have lost their coverage as a result of the new law, as well as the higher costs many, if not most of them are now facing, poses a far greater danger to ObamaCare’s supporters.

The key to understanding the strategy employed by the administration is their total faith in the idea that although the rollout might be problematic, once it is implemented the new benefits granted to poor Americans would become so popular as to make it untouchable. Like Social Security and Medicare, they reasoned that the reality of ObamaCare would render it invulnerable to criticism, let alone repeal. That was a belief shared by Republicans who feared the same thing and clearly impelled Tea Party supporters to back a government shutdown as a last-ditch attempt to derail the law. But the drip-drip of stories about those who are ObamaCare losers is showing that both liberals and conservatives may have been dead wrong about the bill’s staying power.

An example of this comes today from, of all places, the New York Times op-ed page where psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb writes about the misfortune of being a self-employed person whose insurance was dropped and then replaced with a new plan that cost her a whopping $5,400 extra per annum. As she writes, her new coverage is “better” as President Obama and his apologists keep insisting, but that comes with a few caveats:

Now if I have Stage 4 cancer or need a sex-change operation, I’d be covered regardless of pre-existing conditions. Never mind that the new provider network would eliminate coverage for my and my son’s long-term doctors and hospitals.

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A funny thing is happening on the way to universal popularity and acceptance for the president’s signature health-care legislation. No, I’m not referring to the dysfunctional website that turned ObamaCare and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius into a laughingstock. As bad as the website’s problems have been and continue to be, the growing coverage of Americans who have lost their coverage as a result of the new law, as well as the higher costs many, if not most of them are now facing, poses a far greater danger to ObamaCare’s supporters.

The key to understanding the strategy employed by the administration is their total faith in the idea that although the rollout might be problematic, once it is implemented the new benefits granted to poor Americans would become so popular as to make it untouchable. Like Social Security and Medicare, they reasoned that the reality of ObamaCare would render it invulnerable to criticism, let alone repeal. That was a belief shared by Republicans who feared the same thing and clearly impelled Tea Party supporters to back a government shutdown as a last-ditch attempt to derail the law. But the drip-drip of stories about those who are ObamaCare losers is showing that both liberals and conservatives may have been dead wrong about the bill’s staying power.

An example of this comes today from, of all places, the New York Times op-ed page where psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb writes about the misfortune of being a self-employed person whose insurance was dropped and then replaced with a new plan that cost her a whopping $5,400 extra per annum. As she writes, her new coverage is “better” as President Obama and his apologists keep insisting, but that comes with a few caveats:

Now if I have Stage 4 cancer or need a sex-change operation, I’d be covered regardless of pre-existing conditions. Never mind that the new provider network would eliminate coverage for my and my son’s long-term doctors and hospitals.

This complaint is acknowledged by yet another pro-ObamaCare editorial published by the same newspaper that finally acknowledged that millions of Americans are going to be adversely affected by the plan. The Times assures us that those who are being inconvenienced by liberal largesse are better off in the long run, but even if they are not, they are confident that “not all … will necessarily be upset” about it. But as the number of ObamaCare losers grows as the effects are gradually felt throughout the health-care system, that faith may prove to be misplaced. As more people like Gottlieb voice their grievances, the notion that the law is irrevocable may prove to be a myth.

Gottlieb, who clearly is part of a liberal milieu, complains that few in her circle are particularly sympathetic. Most seem to think that helping the poor is worth the cost of bilking those who are somewhat better off. Judging by the reaction of her 1,000-plus Facebook friends, her statement that “the president should be protecting the middle class, not making our lives substantially harder” isn’t getting much traction. But it would be foolish for anyone, especially those working hard to silence such complaints, to think that public opinion, which polls show has always viewed ObamaCare negatively, will react in the same way.

This is a critical point. So long as the discussion about ObamaCare was one pitting conservative complaints about an unconstitutional power grab by the federal government and the perils of moving a step closer to socialized medicine against the well being of the poor and the uninsured, both Democrats and Republicans were probably right to think that implementation would be the effective end of the debate. But, to the surprise of both the left and the right, the discussion has moved from economic and constitutional principles to something more visceral and far more dangerous to the president’s plans. Once those opposing ObamaCare are able to use that magic phrase, “protecting the middle class” in the context of opposing liberal projects rather than in defense of them, a tipping point may have been reached.

Lori Gottlieb’s liberal Facebook friends may not think her plight is worth caring about. But the critical mass of voters will always be moved to anger against anything that is perceived as an attack on the vast middle class that forms the majority of the electorate and the backbone of American society.

Americans are a goodhearted and generous people. That’s why the Times thinks they will absorb this blow without much complaint because creating a new federal “health care safety net” is worth it. But unlike previous federal entitlements that expanded benefits for many and hurt few, ObamaCare is predicated on a very different formula that may, despite the Times’s assurances, hurt as many, if not more, people than it helps. That is something very different from Social Security or even Medicare. Like the corruption and the social pathologies bred by the welfare state that liberals have also urged Americans to accept whether they like it or not, this makes ObamaCare a subject for permanent debate and possible repeal. Conservatives who acted rashly out of despair this fall need to understand that when Obama loses the Lori Gottliebs of this world, liberalism starts to lose.

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Biden: Middle Class ‘Buried’ Under Obama

The Romney campaign is calling Joe Biden’s comment about the middle class being “buried for the past four years” a gaffe, and it does fit the criteria of “accidental-honesty.” There’s no doubt the middle class has been hit hard under the current administration, which is why the Obama campaign is having such a difficult time cleaning up after Biden’s comment. They can’t claim Biden is wrong (or they’ll seem out of touch), but they obviously can’t acknowledge he’s right.

The solution? Agree with Biden’s assessment that the middle class has been buried for the past four years, but blame it all on Bush:

“As the Vice President has been saying all year and again in his remarks today, the middle class was punished by the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy – and a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is a return to those failed policies,” an Obama campaign official said. “With more than five million private-sector jobs created since 2010, the Vice President and President Obama will continue to help the middle class recover and move the nation forward.”

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The Romney campaign is calling Joe Biden’s comment about the middle class being “buried for the past four years” a gaffe, and it does fit the criteria of “accidental-honesty.” There’s no doubt the middle class has been hit hard under the current administration, which is why the Obama campaign is having such a difficult time cleaning up after Biden’s comment. They can’t claim Biden is wrong (or they’ll seem out of touch), but they obviously can’t acknowledge he’s right.

The solution? Agree with Biden’s assessment that the middle class has been buried for the past four years, but blame it all on Bush:

“As the Vice President has been saying all year and again in his remarks today, the middle class was punished by the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy – and a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is a return to those failed policies,” an Obama campaign official said. “With more than five million private-sector jobs created since 2010, the Vice President and President Obama will continue to help the middle class recover and move the nation forward.”

No surprise, Biden’s comment is barely registering with the mainstream press, except as evidence of how desperate the Romney campaign must be to make an issue out of it. After the media let Biden slide for his blatant racial pandering, what else would we expect? If Paul Ryan had made a similar allusion to slavery, the press would still be talking about it today (if he hadn’t been forced to drop out of the race, that is). Instead, Biden gets front-page investigations into whether he’s a “sex symbol.” Because, you know, it’s not like there’s any serious news to cover this week.

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Obama Won’t Keep Middle Class Tax Vow

In a transparent effort to pre-empt Republican arguments about tax cuts, President Obama unveiled a proposal today for a one-year cut for all Americans making less than $250,000 per year. While calculated to play well with his faux working class campaign rhetoric, the president’s plan makes no economic sense. Implementing a massive tax increase on those with the capital to invest it and therefore create jobs is not the sort of thing that will help a flagging economy. Nor will it do anything to stem the bleeding that creates job reports such as the one released last Friday that illustrated the country’s unemployment problem. But, as James Pethokoukis writes at the American Enterprise Blog, the president’s dare to Congress to pass such a plan or to implement a simpler tax code is pure political baloney.

As Pethokoukis points out, had he really wished to push through a simplification of the tax code, he could have endorsed the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations. More to the point, Obama’s predilection has always been to eliminate all the Bush-era tax cuts, including those on the middle class. If he is re-elected, he may well implement his promise of the continuation of the current rates on those making less than $250,000. But the significant element of this stance is that he is not promising to keep them for his entire second term but only for the first year.

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In a transparent effort to pre-empt Republican arguments about tax cuts, President Obama unveiled a proposal today for a one-year cut for all Americans making less than $250,000 per year. While calculated to play well with his faux working class campaign rhetoric, the president’s plan makes no economic sense. Implementing a massive tax increase on those with the capital to invest it and therefore create jobs is not the sort of thing that will help a flagging economy. Nor will it do anything to stem the bleeding that creates job reports such as the one released last Friday that illustrated the country’s unemployment problem. But, as James Pethokoukis writes at the American Enterprise Blog, the president’s dare to Congress to pass such a plan or to implement a simpler tax code is pure political baloney.

As Pethokoukis points out, had he really wished to push through a simplification of the tax code, he could have endorsed the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations. More to the point, Obama’s predilection has always been to eliminate all the Bush-era tax cuts, including those on the middle class. If he is re-elected, he may well implement his promise of the continuation of the current rates on those making less than $250,000. But the significant element of this stance is that he is not promising to keep them for his entire second term but only for the first year.

The key point here is the same one that concerns those who worry about American foreign policy in a second Obama administration: flexibility. Just as the president will be able to implement more “flexible” policies that may please Russia and displease Israel, so, too, he is more likely than not to do what he has always planned on doing if re-elected: raise everybody’s taxes.

Indeed, once his job-killing health care bill is implemented in the next four years and the economy is mired in the doldrums without the White House putting forward any ideas other than to spend more, the president will have no choice but to raise taxes. And because soaking the rich will only get him so far, the middle class he is currently romancing is certain to be next in line.

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“Feel Your Pain” Strategy Won’t Work

Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert issued a new memo late yesterday, warning the Obama campaign that its current strategy is doomed to fail. And they seem right about one thing: the Obama campaign is going to have a hard time convincing the public that the economy is on the path to recovery, especially with greater economic pitfalls looming.

The strategists argue that the Obama campaign should forget trying to make the case that the president’s economic policies are working. Instead, it should focus on its support and empathy for the middle class, and highlight how Mitt Romney’s policies would leave struggling Americans vulnerable during tough economic times:

It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong, and that will fail. The voters are very sophisticated about the character of the economy; they know who is mainly responsible for what went wrong and they are hungry to hear the president talk about the future. They know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle – and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool’s errand. They want to know the plans for making things better in a serious way – not just focused on finishing up the work of the recovery. …

But we underscore the sentiment they expressed in the postcards to the president they wrote at the end of the exercise: overwhelmingly, these voters want to know that he understands the struggle of working families and has plans to make things better.

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Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert issued a new memo late yesterday, warning the Obama campaign that its current strategy is doomed to fail. And they seem right about one thing: the Obama campaign is going to have a hard time convincing the public that the economy is on the path to recovery, especially with greater economic pitfalls looming.

The strategists argue that the Obama campaign should forget trying to make the case that the president’s economic policies are working. Instead, it should focus on its support and empathy for the middle class, and highlight how Mitt Romney’s policies would leave struggling Americans vulnerable during tough economic times:

It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong, and that will fail. The voters are very sophisticated about the character of the economy; they know who is mainly responsible for what went wrong and they are hungry to hear the president talk about the future. They know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle – and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool’s errand. They want to know the plans for making things better in a serious way – not just focused on finishing up the work of the recovery. …

But we underscore the sentiment they expressed in the postcards to the president they wrote at the end of the exercise: overwhelmingly, these voters want to know that he understands the struggle of working families and has plans to make things better.

This is the opposite of “hope and change.” The message proposed in the memo is inherently pessimistic: Economic struggle is the new normal. You need to be protected from it. President Obama will provide a safety net, while Mitt Romney will not.

It’s also inherently reactionary: Mitt Romney wants to bring change. His reforms pose a risk to your social welfare programs during dangerous economic times.

Carville, Greenberg, and the gang seem to want Obama to channel Clinton’s “I feel your pain” message. But there are a few problems. First, Obama isn’t Clinton when it comes to personal connection with voters. The focus group members in this memo wanted to know that Obama empathizes with them. But Obama has played plenty of lip service to the concerns of the middle class during the past year. If the public is wondering whether he understands their pain, that seems to suggest a deeper connection problem. Why aren’t they already convinced?

Second, focusing on empathy seems like it would be less effective for an incumbent, particularly one whose policies have utterly failed to revive the economy. Romney has a clean rebuttal: Obama may feel your pain, but what has he done about it? Maybe the president sympathizes with you in a campaign speech, but at the end of the day, where is he? Jetting off to fundraisers, with rich people and celebrities.

And when Obama had a chance to help you, what did he do? He pushed through ObamaCare, which will rack up more debt and kill more jobs. And he jammed through a failed stimulus, stuffed with billions in funding for pet projects. He might feel your pain, but he clearly has no clue what to do about it.

Sure, the economy may tank and we may be teetering on a fiscal cliff — but at least Obama will be there to hold your hand when we finally step over the edge.

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