Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obamacare

Obama’s Still In Charge But Also Still Failing

President Obama used the opening statement for his end of year press conference to boast of his achievements even if many of the questions revolved around his lackluster response to the North Korean cyber terror attack on Sony. But the main theme of most of the coverage of the president today centered on the theme that he has responded to his party’s landslide defeat in the midterm elections by seeking to revive his presidency with unilateral actions. These initiatives, such as his opening to Cuba and executive orders on immigration show he’s still in charge and capable of using his power and establishing his legacy despite the opposition of Congress and even the majority of Americans. But while the mainstream media is applauding the signs of life out of White House that appeared dead in the water last month, this recent surge of activity should not be mistaken for policy success. Though any president has the ability to act whenever he wants, the same failures that have dogged him during his first six years in office haven’t disappeared.

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President Obama used the opening statement for his end of year press conference to boast of his achievements even if many of the questions revolved around his lackluster response to the North Korean cyber terror attack on Sony. But the main theme of most of the coverage of the president today centered on the theme that he has responded to his party’s landslide defeat in the midterm elections by seeking to revive his presidency with unilateral actions. These initiatives, such as his opening to Cuba and executive orders on immigration show he’s still in charge and capable of using his power and establishing his legacy despite the opposition of Congress and even the majority of Americans. But while the mainstream media is applauding the signs of life out of White House that appeared dead in the water last month, this recent surge of activity should not be mistaken for policy success. Though any president has the ability to act whenever he wants, the same failures that have dogged him during his first six years in office haven’t disappeared.

There’s no doubt that those who were completely writing off the president’s ability to influence events after the beating Democrats took were exaggerating. Though his policies, which he said were on the ballot, were repudiated, Congress in the hands of Republicans and his personal favorability ratings continuing to head south, the president remains the most powerful man in the world. With the vast power of the federal government at his disposal and no limits on his ability to act, save those specifically charted out by the Constitution and Congress, any president can dominate any news cycle or make a wide variety of decisions that can not easily be reversed by either the legislature or the judiciary.

Moreover, unlike some of his predecessors, Obama’s personality is such that he views checks on his actions, whether in the form of Congressional action or the verdict of the ballot box, as challenges to be met rather than judgments that must be respected. Just as this is a top-down administration in which the Cabinet acts as a body of sycophants and middlemen rather than advisors, this is not a president who listens to advice or criticism that doesn’t conform to his original ideas. It should therefore come as no surprise that now that he is faced with a Congress controlled by his opponents, Obama should come to the conclusion that Constitutional boundaries should be ignored in his zeal to do, as he likes.

But his ability to act on his own should not be mistaken for actual policy successes.

On immigration, the president has finally done what some of his supporters wanted in terms of granting amnesty to more than 5 million illegal aliens and there is very little that is effective that his critics can do about it.

On Cuba, the new Congress can block funding for a new embassy in Havana, refuse to lift the embargo or confirm a new ambassador. But much of the new opening to the despotic regime will go one no matter what Congress says.

Looking ahead to other possible presidential actions, if he makes enough concessions and the Iranians are feeling generous, Obama may get a nuclear deal with the Islamist state. That, too, will be interpreted as a sign of life in what would otherwise be considered a lame duck presidency.

But none of this will change the fact that Obama’s ideological fixation with outreach to tyrants has not made the world better or increased America’s security or influence. To the contrary, with ISIS on the rise in the Middle East, Iran successfully challenging for regional hegemony via its successes in Syria, its alliance with Hamas and its intimidation of moderate Arab nations, and likely to gain U.S. acquiescence to it becoming a nuclear threshold state, Obama is leaving the world a more dangerous place than when he entered the White House. Nor will his Cuban gambit make the island a more democratic or free place.

On domestic policy, his admirers cite his immigration executive orders as a sign that he can govern despite the opposition of Congress. But by acting in this extralegal fashion, Obama has actually doomed for the foreseeable future any chance of working out a compromise with Republicans to pass some kind of immigration reform. Flexing his muscles in this fashion and showing his contempt for the law has convinced even many moderate Republicans that he can’t be trusted to enforce any legislation that he doesn’t like or benefit from. Nor will the problems that he postponed in the implementation of ObamaCare but which will begin to be felt in 2015 do much to bolster confidence in his judgment or the wisdom of his efforts.

So while the last month has been full of presidential sound and fury, these actions only mask a deeper malaise that won’t be fixed by Obama’s characteristic hubris about his actions. The failures of his first six years still hang over this presidency and are why he remains deeply unpopular. He will retain the ability to impact the country until the moment his successor takes the oath of office. But no one should mistake this flurry of activity for presidential success. As the months wind down in what he termed today the fourth quarter of his time in the White House, Obama will be relevant but his failures will continue to haunt the nation and cloud his legacy.

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Governing Solo? Two Can Play That Game

President Obama is making no secret of his intentions to go it alone in the last two years of his presidency. After insisting his policies were on the ballot in the midterms, he and his presidency received a monumental drubbing. Obama asked the people to vote based on his agenda, and the people complied, unambiguously rejecting it. But neither the voters nor the system of checks and balances–to say nothing of constitutional precedent–have played much of a role in his actions, and they won’t start now. There is a difference, however, in how Congress can push back.

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President Obama is making no secret of his intentions to go it alone in the last two years of his presidency. After insisting his policies were on the ballot in the midterms, he and his presidency received a monumental drubbing. Obama asked the people to vote based on his agenda, and the people complied, unambiguously rejecting it. But neither the voters nor the system of checks and balances–to say nothing of constitutional precedent–have played much of a role in his actions, and they won’t start now. There is a difference, however, in how Congress can push back.

In Bob Gates’s first (and, frankly, more enlightening) memoir of his service at the CIA and National Security Council during the Cold War, he writes of the battles between the Nixon administration and Congress after the Watergate scandal broke. Gates describes it as a last straw for Congress’s patience with the increasing power of the presidency, but in the process makes a key observation about the separation of powers:

Our system of “checks and balances” by which each of the three branches of government keeps the other two from becoming too powerful works wonderfully, but it is neither a gentle nor a subtle process. Nor does it function normally as a routine, frequent series of minor adjustments. It is more comparable to the swings of a pendulum than a balancing scale—and one branch (or the mood of the country as a whole) reacts usually only when another branch has acted so stupidly or so egregiously to expand its power as to compel a response. Vietnam and the way Lyndon Johnson escalated and fought the war provoked the congressional attack on the powers of the Presidency. Dislike of Nixon, the way in which he and Kissinger negotiated secretly and deviously, and finally Watergate and Nixon’s cover-up greatly magnified the intensity of the attack.

In this period of presidential weakness, Congress sought to capture for itself and from the President a coequal (and, at times, dominant) role in foreign affairs that it had not had since before World War II and America’s emergence as a superpower.

Gates’s description of the “pendulum” is accurate. Presidents accumulate power incrementally, sometimes setting new precedents and sometimes merely expanding on previous encroachments. Especially in wartime, Congress tends to give the president a fair amount of latitude. Additionally, there isn’t all that much Congress can do, since most of Congress rarely wants to be seen as undercutting the war effort or not supporting the troops. Eventually, however, it becomes clear that too many lines have been crossed.

And his assertion that Congress was seeking not merely to punish Nixon but also to reclaim its own proper place in the American system of government is highly relevant to the looming battle between a Republican-controlled Congress and President Obama, especially with a restive conservative flank that believes the troubling expansion of presidential power predates Obama and thus has a long list of objections.

When the Republicans were a minority in the Senate and only controlled the House, their attempts to rein in the president were legalistic. They could sue the president, as Speaker John Boehner announced they would over delays in ObamaCare implementation. They can challenge the president in the courts, where judges have found various Obama power grabs to be unconstitutional. And they can hold oversight hearings, as they have with the IRS corruption scandal, Benghazi, and others.

All this enables the minority party to make its voice heard. The hearings play on the fact that the president’s bully pulpit makes it easier for him to get through to the American people than it is for Republicans in Congress, who have the additional obstacle of a media seeking to protect the president. And judicial challenges can be effective too in undoing policy.

But there hasn’t been much room for Congress to reassert its authority because Democrats held the majority in the Senate. This meant that Harry Reid, who was happy to cede Congress’s authority to the president, relied on gridlock and parliamentary schemes to enable Obama. Republicans couldn’t get bills to the floor for a vote, and they weren’t allowed amendments on bills that Reid would bring to the floor.

But now they’re in the majority. And as the Wall Street Journal hints in a story about Obama’s solo act, that changes the calculus:

Mr. Obama’s actions have signaled a lack of concern about damaging congressional relations, [Ari Fleischer] said. And the next Congress could respond by taking actions the White House opposes, such as approving sanctions on Iran over the objections of the president.

“If the president disregards Congress, then Congress can disregard the president,” Mr. Fleischer said.

Indeed it can. That’s not to say it can simply legislate whatever it wants. It’ll need Democratic votes in some cases, especially if the GOP puts the filibuster back in its place after Reid removed it. And Obama can always veto such bills.

But the reason Reid wouldn’t allow a vote on so many of the Republicans’ ideas is that they are popular enough to pass and to put pressure on the president to sign. Either way, by actually passing legislation, the Republicans will be doing what Reid and the Democrats refused to: protect the system of checks and balances and reclaim some of Congress’s territory that has been annexed by Obama.

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The Medicaid Scam and ObamaCare Lies

Yesterday’s congressional oversight hearing on ObamaCare was, to those interested enough to watch, mostly about Jonathan Gruber, the ObamaCare architect who was caught on video repeatedly bragging to audiences about the level of dishonesty required to pass ObamaCare. Yet the hearing was also called for another reason: the Obama administration had been caught falsifying more enrollment numbers.

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Yesterday’s congressional oversight hearing on ObamaCare was, to those interested enough to watch, mostly about Jonathan Gruber, the ObamaCare architect who was caught on video repeatedly bragging to audiences about the level of dishonesty required to pass ObamaCare. Yet the hearing was also called for another reason: the Obama administration had been caught falsifying more enrollment numbers.

To that end Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was also at the hearing to be questioned by the committee. When the enrollment numbers were not meeting their benchmark, the government simply fudged the stats by counting dental plans, thus boosting the numbers by hundreds of thousands of enrollees. There won’t be any real consequences for the government repeatedly lying to the people, and so it won’t stop: central planners cannot keep honest records and still convince the people they are on the right track. Never have, never will.

But Tavenner’s appearance coincided with another revelation that will give her heartburn. The New York Times reports that the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general has concluded his investigation into the availability of doctors for those covered under Medicaid–a major source of insurance coverage expansion under ObamaCare. What he found won’t shock you: enrollees are being lied to, again. The Times explains:

Large numbers of doctors who are listed as serving Medicaid patients are not available to treat them, federal investigators said in a new report.

“Half of providers could not offer appointments to enrollees,” the investigators said in the report, which will be issued on Tuesday.

Many of the doctors were not accepting new Medicaid patients or could not be found at their last known addresses, according to the report from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The study raises questions about access to care for people gaining Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The health law is fueling rapid growth in Medicaid, with enrollment up by nine million people, or 16 percent, in the last year, the department said. Most of the new beneficiaries are enrolled in private health plans that use a network of doctors to manage their care.

Patients select doctors from a list of providers affiliated with each Medicaid health plan. The investigators, led by the inspector general, Daniel R. Levinson, called doctors’ offices and found that in many cases the doctors were unavailable or unable to make appointments.

It’s worth reading the whole story, because it’s just filled with such tidbits. Some are absurd, like the fact that “More than one-third of providers could not be found at the location listed by a Medicaid managed-care plan.” One-third of providers can’t even be found! The rest of the details, though, evince mostly outrage.

What is the result of the fact that Medicaid only pretends to offer health care? Well, the report, summarized by the Times and scheduled for release on Tuesday, offers the kind of brilliant insight we all have come to expect from a federal bureaucracy whose management would have to improve greatly just to be considered mediocre:

“When providers listed as participating in a plan cannot offer appointments, it may create a significant obstacle for an enrollee seeking care,” Mr. Levinson said. “Moreover, it raises questions about the adequacy of provider networks. It suggests that the actual size of provider networks may be considerably smaller than what is presented by Medicaid managed-care plans.”

Yes, when you can’t see your doctor, it “may”–may!–be an obstacle for you. The government apparently believes that Medicaid enrollees consider medical appointments roughly on par with social calls. It “may” be an obstacle to seeking care because, perhaps, the appointment with your doctor was to watch the game together, or some such. If you are actually seeking medical attention, however, the government’s disappearing doctor is always an obstacle.

And I’m not sure it “raises questions about the adequacy of provider networks” so much as it makes declaratory statements about the provider networks, such as: The networks are terrible.

Here’s another one: “a number of obstetricians had wait times of more than one month, and one had wait times of more than two months for an enrollee who was eight weeks pregnant. Such lengthy wait times could result in a pregnant enrollee receiving no prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy.” Completely unacceptable.

The Times, of course, gets a quote from Tavenner in response. Behold: “Inaccurate provider directory data may unnecessarily delay an enrollee from selecting a provider.” Tavenner is, just as a reminder, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. So enrollees are in great hands.

Medicaid is rife with such problems. The government is failing those who come to it for health care. So of course, under Obama, the government decided to put itself in charge of far more of the health sector. It is a general problem that the administration doesn’t know what it’s doing. When that incompetence is applied to health care, it becomes exponentially more dangerous for the citizens the government is supposed to be protecting. Heads should roll. They won’t, but they should.

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Dem Civil War and Demographic Destiny

Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Schumer’s political analysis is must reading for both conservatives and liberals. Though he insists that tackling health care was a good idea in principle, he points out that although the plight of uninsured and rising health-care costs are important problems, 85 percent of Americans were getting their insurance from either their employers or the government (via Medicare or Medicaid). Since most of the uninsured are either not registered or don’t vote even if they are:

To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense. So when Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, the Democrats are not paying enough attention to “me.”

But Schumer shouldn’t have stopped with his second-guessing of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. The same argument can be made about President Obama’s executive orders mandating amnesty for five million illegal immigrants.

Though this measure is assumed, with reason, to be popular among Hispanic voters, the notion that it will ensure their monolithic support for Democrats in the future is a theory, not a certainty. But even if we are prepared to make that assumption, by investing so heavily in a measure that is focused on appealing only to minorities and which, at the same time, has the potential to alienate large numbers of working class and middle class voters who worry about the nation’s inability to control its borders and intensely dislike the president’s end run around the Constitution to accomplish this goal, they increased their demographic weakness in other areas.

Republicans have spent the years since their 2012 loss in the presidential election pondering their problems with Hispanics, African-Americans, unmarried women, and young voters. The ensuing debate has created an ongoing argument between those who urge greater outreach to these constituencies and those who believe the GOP has to concentrate on mobilizing its base. One needn’t choose either option to the exclusion of the other, but this discussion has become a keynote of the simmering conflict between the party establishment and its Tea Party and conservative base.

But while the mainstream press has obsessed about this Republican civil war, it ignores the looming battle among Democrats. That civil war pits people like Schumer, who may be hardcore liberals but understand that ideological policies carry a hefty price tag, against left-wingers like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who appears to speak for the Democratic base in the same way that Ted Cruz represents Tea Partiers. Democrats paid the price that Schumer spoke of in the form of two midterm election landslides even if Barack Obama’s historic status and personal popularity enabled them to hold onto the White House in 2012.

The two presidential wins interspersed with two midterm losses has led many pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle to conclude that the two parties are fated to continue this pattern because of the larger turnout of Democratic constituencies in presidential years. That has led many to embrace the notion that demography is destiny, which holds that the increasingly larger share of votes cast by non-whites will not only ensure that the pattern continues but that Republicans will never again win the presidency until they become more attractive to minorities. That’s not an idea that the GOP should ignore, but it may be that the Democrats’ decision to embrace policies that alienate a far larger group—white middle class and working class male voters—will be as much of handicap in 2016 as it was in 2014.

All indications are that, like that ultimate weathervane Hillary Clinton, many Democrats prefer to follow Warren’s example and steer to the left. That may endear them to minorities as well as their liberal base. But in doing so they may be the ones dooming themselves to future disasters, not Republicans who understand that so long as they avoid looking foolish or extreme they are well positioned to reap the benefits of opposition to both ObamaCare and amnesty for illegals. Having spent the last six years branding their opponents as extremists, it seems Democrats have forgotten that the same problem exists on the left as it does on the right.

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More ObamaCare Lies Matter

Two weeks after the country first digested the revelation that one of the architects of ObamaCare confessed that its passage was largely the product of a series of deceptions aimed at deceiving the Congressional Budget Office, Congress, and an American public that was too “stupid” to grasp what was going on, it turned out the falsehoods haven’t ended. As open enrollment began for a new year of ObamaCare policies, it was revealed that some of the numbers promoted by the administration as proof of the Affordable Care Act’s success were falsified. While in and of itself this latest problem is not proof that the ACA is doomed, with the law’s existing credibility gap growing and more problems looming ahead in the coming year in which the balance between those who gain from the law may be matched by those who lose from it, perhaps its time for the administration to stop pretending this isn’t a pattern.

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Two weeks after the country first digested the revelation that one of the architects of ObamaCare confessed that its passage was largely the product of a series of deceptions aimed at deceiving the Congressional Budget Office, Congress, and an American public that was too “stupid” to grasp what was going on, it turned out the falsehoods haven’t ended. As open enrollment began for a new year of ObamaCare policies, it was revealed that some of the numbers promoted by the administration as proof of the Affordable Care Act’s success were falsified. While in and of itself this latest problem is not proof that the ACA is doomed, with the law’s existing credibility gap growing and more problems looming ahead in the coming year in which the balance between those who gain from the law may be matched by those who lose from it, perhaps its time for the administration to stop pretending this isn’t a pattern.

As Politico reported:

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s committee revealed Thursday that nearly 400,000 dental plans were included in recent enrollment figures that made it appear — wrongly — that the administration had hit the 7 million target for ObamaCare’s first year. The panel has called CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and former ObamaCare adviser Jonathan Gruber— the center of a separate flare-up over the law’s passage — to testify next month about the “repeated transparency failures and outright deceptions.”

The second season of ObamaCare began last Saturday, and there’s been no enrollment update since Sunday morning, when HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell tweeted that there were more than half a million log-ins on HealthCare.gov on the first day and that 100,000 applications were submitted. By contrast, several of the 13 health insurance exchanges run by states have been regularly releasing traffic and enrollment-related data. Massachusetts is issuing daily traffic counts.

If this kind of fibbing seems familiar, it should be. From its inception, the ACA has been passed and sold to the American people in the way that Gruber described in his offensive video clips: as something that it was not. And whenever figures have been needed to analyze what was going on, it seems that the administration treats the public like a first grade arithmetic class: every figure gets rounded up.

While Obama, let alone the signature health-care legislation that is informally named for him, did not invent government falsehoods, this predilection for lying is not a minor issue given that these numbers are being used to defend its success as well as its legitimacy. And though its advocates think its acceptance is a done deal, what will happen in 2015 will make any further fibbing even more important. With the imposition of individual and employer mandates looming, the importance of the number of ObamaCare policies sold will be matched by the impact of the bill on employment as well as the insurance rates that may skyrocket in the new year.

In its initial enrollment periods the only significant figures about the ACA were the total of enrolled and throughout the process we have seen these numbers manipulated to include unpaid policies and now plans that are unrelated to the actual legislation. If this continues as the accounting becomes more complex, then it will be impossible for anyone to know what is going on or whether it is helping or hurting more Americans. In the first year, we know millions lost their insurance or their doctors despite promises from the president that this wouldn’t happen. In the second, the toll will extend to different groups that may soon find themselves counted among the growing numbers of ACA losers to be matched up against the millions who have benefited by receiving insurance that they might not otherwise have obtained.

A government with a credibility gap is always in trouble. But an Obama administration that can be counted on to tell the truth about ObamaCare is a government with an approval rating that will not only sink lower in the polls but also be unable to justify the president’s main legislative achievement. If its honesty does not improve, don’t count on its health-care law being able to move smoothly into a period of greater acceptance.

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What Jonathan Gruber Didn’t Say

Despite the unmasking of ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber as a dishonest advisor hired by the Obama administration to mislead the public about the law, far too many commentators have still let Gruber set the terms of the debate about the lies used to pass ObamaCare. For example, an actual discussion over the “stupidity of the American voter” has ensued to pin down what exactly Gruber was saying. This requires putting words in Gruber’s mouth, so it’s worth pointing out what Gruber wasn’t saying.

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Despite the unmasking of ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber as a dishonest advisor hired by the Obama administration to mislead the public about the law, far too many commentators have still let Gruber set the terms of the debate about the lies used to pass ObamaCare. For example, an actual discussion over the “stupidity of the American voter” has ensued to pin down what exactly Gruber was saying. This requires putting words in Gruber’s mouth, so it’s worth pointing out what Gruber wasn’t saying.

Last week Dan Drezner made the absolutely correct argument that, in Gruber’s defense, social scientists broadly agree with the premise that voters are “rationally ignorant.” Fair enough, but rational ignorance results from a kind of prioritization of a voter’s time and resources. What Gruber was saying was that he and the Obama White House had to design policy to fool voters who were invested in understanding the issue. He wasn’t really saying “stupid” as a stand-in for “rationally ignorant”; he was saying that the Obama administration had to be particularly dishonest and opaque because voters were making the very rational decision to invest their energy in the health-care debate and thus they had to be intentionally confused, misdirected, and in some cases out and out lied to.

Drezner’s point about voters is valid. It’s just not the same point Gruber was making.

What else wasn’t Gruber saying? Well, he wasn’t really saying the voters are stupid in the traditional sense of the word either. To see what I mean, I recommend Jake Tapper’s post today at CNN about the so-called Cadillac tax–the tax on expensive employer-provided health plans.

Tapper starts out by recalling Obama’s 2009 attempts to sell health-care reform by assuring voters that any tax on insurance plans would be aimed at high-end plans and not at average Americans. Crucially, he said, he had “taken off the table” getting rid of the tax deduction on employer-provided plans so that employers wouldn’t stop providing insurance.

And yet, Tapper points out, “That promise is completely at odds with how Gruber describes not only that provision of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, but the intention of that provision.” One of the videos, for example, has Gruber explaining that they sought to get rid of that subsidy but had to be creative about it, since the subsidy is popular. So they had to trick Americans into thinking they weren’t going to lose the subsidy Gruber was purposely taking away from them.

Here’s Tapper:

Gruber said the only way those pushing for Obamacare could get rid of the tax subsidy for employer provider health insurance was to tax the more generous, or Cadillac, plans — “mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people when we all know it’s a tax on people who hold those insurance plans.”

The second way was have the tax kick in “late, starting in 2018″ and have its rate of growth tied to the consumer price index instead of to the much higher rate of medical inflation. Eventually, the 40% tax on the more expensive plans would impact every employer-provided insurance plan.

“What that means is the tax that starts out hitting only 8% of the insurance plans essentially amounts over the next 20 years essentially getting rid of the exclusion for employer sponsored plans,” Gruber said. “This was the only political way we were ever going to take on one of the worst public policies in America.”

Now, the voter who didn’t crunch the numbers and plan out how a consumer price index-tied tax would, over twenty years, slowly eat up all the other plans as well by mapping out the complicated financial landscape of health costs, taxes, and government spending over two decades: does he sound “stupid” to you? Not exactly, right? The administration needed an MIT economist to devise this scheme; it’s not like Nancy Pelosi put this together on the back of a napkin.

Gruber didn’t outsmart the voters so much as con them. He made loads of cash by tricking non-economist Americans into losing their health insurance. (He’s a heck of a guy, isn’t he?)

What else didn’t Gruber say? Here’s a post from the Fix’s Chris Cillizza (hat tip to Kevin Williamson) in which Cillizza says that conservatives are so outraged about Gruber’s comments because “it’s not just that the Obama administration is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. It’s that they think you, conservative American, are too stupid to even notice.”

You may notice that what Cillizza said is exactly the opposite of the truth. Gruber wasn’t saying conservative voters were stupid; they were against the bill, as were independents. They understood that it was a scam. If Gruber was calling anyone stupid, it could only possibly have been liberal voters. The scam didn’t work on non-liberals; it worked just well enough on liberals to get the bill through Congress.

Perhaps that gives us some clue as to why there’s so much debate about what Gruber really meant. Because what he said, essentially, was this: the people who supported this bill, the people who voted for this bill, and the people in the press who parroted the administration’s talking points about this bill–they’re idiots. It’s not a reality leftists want to accept, but the infamously evasive Gruber couldn’t be clearer this time.

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Obama’s Shattered Credibility

National Journals Ron Fournier, a journalist whom I respect, is hardly a conservative. He’s said before he supported passage of the Affordable Care Act. And so it’s worth noting when someone like Mr. Fournier says, as he did the other night, that “the central attribute you have to have as any leader, in any walk of life and certainly in government is trust — and this president has destroyed the credibility of his administration, himself and government itself.”

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National Journals Ron Fournier, a journalist whom I respect, is hardly a conservative. He’s said before he supported passage of the Affordable Care Act. And so it’s worth noting when someone like Mr. Fournier says, as he did the other night, that “the central attribute you have to have as any leader, in any walk of life and certainly in government is trust — and this president has destroyed the credibility of his administration, himself and government itself.”

Mr. Fournier’s judgment is a harsh one, but an entirely appropriate one. I take no joy in saying the president lies and then lies about his lies. But that is what the record shows, indisputably; and those lies have now caught up with Mr. Obama. They are having a corrosive effect on trust between him and the people he was elected to serve. It’s one thing to be inept, as the president surely is. It’s quite another to deceive and dissemble, to govern with the philosophy that the ends justify the means, and to act in ways that show contempt for the truth and for the American polity. This has been a hallmark of the Obama years, and it’s done irreparable damage to him, and great damage to our political and civic culture.

This is not what hope and changer were supposed to be.

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What Should Republicans Do to Stop This Aggressively Unconstitutional President?

It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

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It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

By now none of this should  surprise us. Yet on some level it’s hard to believe an American president would do something that is, as a friend of mine puts it, “constitutionally unconscionable”–and so at odds with what Obama himself has said repeatedly. Yet we are where we are, and Republicans need to prepare to respond to the president’s provocations.

What to do?

Some of the same people who embraced the stratagem that led to the government shutdown in 2013–they thought it would be a marvelous, can’t-miss, the-nation-will-rally-to-our-side idea–are eager to do the same thing again. The problem, of course, is that the government shutdown was a failure, for reasons I sketched out here. It didn’t achieve its purpose (repealing the Affordable Care Act), the public hated the shutdown, and by an overwhelming number Americans blamed Republicans for it. We know as an empirical fact that the GOP badly hurt its reputation with the public, and it took time to repair it. It doesn’t help that the same people who were so sure of the Ted Cruz-led gambit now refuse to admit it turned out much different, and much worse, they they said it would. In fact, some of them are even claiming it worked, which is simply silly.

That said, I’m not in principle opposed to creating a series of showdowns over funding the government to try to force the president to back down on his expected plan to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants (just as I wasn’t opposed to it as a means to defund the Affordable Care Act). The issue for me is one of efficacy and prudence. Will it work–or will it backfire? Will it help strengthen the conservative cause or set it back? Will Mr. Obama be forced to back down, or will he emerge stronger and Republicans weaker?

The issue has nothing to do with how much one opposes ObamaCare or is troubled by the president’s unconstitutional actions related to illegal immigrants. The most vocal advocates for government shutdowns often frame this as if they’re strongly opposed to the president’s agenda whereas those who are wary of the shutdown are not. That’s simply not the case. The difference has to do with tactics, not with the end goals. (Representative Paul Ryan thought the steps Republicans took that eventually led to the shutdown were unwise, and he’s done far more than almost anyone you can name to undo ObamaCare and advance a conservative governing agenda.) The mistake is to assume that simply because you support a particular approach the rest of America will, too; that because you think the nation should see things just as you do means it will.

Because I believe that what the president is about to do is egregious–constitutionally and institutionally, as an aggressive attack on the role of Congress and the separation of powers–I’m open to all sorts of recourses. Certainly Republicans in Congress need to respond in some manner. Those advocating a government shutdown aren’t being moronic or irresponsible; they want to protect our constitutional form of government. But neither are those who are warning against a shutdown being weak, impotent, or cowardly. It’s a matter on which intelligent people can disagree.

If you believe as I do that a government shutdown would in the end hurt more than help the conservative cause–that it simply won’t achieve its aim and it will cause collateral damage in the process–the obvious thing to do is to shift the fight onto terrain that is more favorable to the GOP. Republicans should therefore amass all the actions at their disposal to inflict maximum damage on Mr. Obama while not walking into his government shutdown trap. I wonder, for example, whether Republicans might simply refuse to act on the president’s judicial and Cabinet nominees unless and until he undoes his (forthcoming) executive action. Can similar steps be taken on a range of other issues? Can Republicans basically hit the “off” switch when it comes to the normal procedures and cooperation that takes place between a president and Congress, regardless of which party is in control?

It does strike me that we are facing an exceptional situation; that the president is inviting this needless confrontation and that he needs to pay quite a high price for it. It won’t be as high as many of us wish, but we have to adjust around that fact. The challenge for conservatives is to act in ways that are wise and realistic; that are guided not by fury but by clear thinking; and that ultimately persuade people to our point of view. We need calm, sober, intelligent, and enlightened individuals who can advance the arguments for constitutionalism and the rule of law. Because right now we have a president who is subverting both.

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Obama Is Now Lying About His Lies

This is getting pathological. According to this story in Politico, President Obama, when asked whether he had intentionally misled the public in order to get the law passed, he replied: “No. I did not.” He actually did, repeatedly. Here’s just one example–on the president’s pledge that “If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period”–that comes to us courtesy of Glenn Kessler, who works for that well-known right-wing outlet the Washington Post.

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This is getting pathological. According to this story in Politico, President Obama, when asked whether he had intentionally misled the public in order to get the law passed, he replied: “No. I did not.” He actually did, repeatedly. Here’s just one example–on the president’s pledge that “If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period”–that comes to us courtesy of Glenn Kessler, who works for that well-known right-wing outlet the Washington Post.

Mr. Obama added this: “I would just advise every press outlet here: Pull up every clip and every story. I think it’s fair to say there was not a provision in the health care law that was not extensively debated and was fully transparent. It was a tough debate.”

Mr. Obama is confusing some things. The issue isn’t whether there was an extensive and tough debate. There was. The issue is whether the president and his White House, during that debate, intentionally misled us. He and they did, all the time, on all sorts of matters related to the ACA. The conservative criticisms of the president were entirely on the mark. They were the truth-tellers; the president was not.

No American can take joy in saying this, but the evidence clearly warrants it: We have a president who is lying about his lies. It’s not good for him, for the office of the presidency, or for our political culture. He might try telling the truth. At this point it won’t salvage his presidency, but it might begin to repair some of the extraordinary damage to his credibility.

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The Gruber Blackout and a Partisan Media

It will be some time before we know for certain whether the fallout from Jonathan Gruber’s embarrassingly candid revelations about the deceptions at the heart of ObamaCare will have a substantive impact on its future. Given the relevance of much of what he’s said to the Supreme Court’s deliberations about a challenge to the legality of its crucial subsidies, don’t bet against what some are calling Grubergate being considered a turning point in the history of this misbegotten legislation. But no matter what happens in the Court or in Congress, the story has already provided us with a fascinating insight into another kind of pretense: the supposed objectivity of the mainstream media which has, for the most part, ignored this story.

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It will be some time before we know for certain whether the fallout from Jonathan Gruber’s embarrassingly candid revelations about the deceptions at the heart of ObamaCare will have a substantive impact on its future. Given the relevance of much of what he’s said to the Supreme Court’s deliberations about a challenge to the legality of its crucial subsidies, don’t bet against what some are calling Grubergate being considered a turning point in the history of this misbegotten legislation. But no matter what happens in the Court or in Congress, the story has already provided us with a fascinating insight into another kind of pretense: the supposed objectivity of the mainstream media which has, for the most part, ignored this story.

The virtual blackout of coverage of Gruber’s remarks in the broadcast networks and major newspapers such as the New York Times is, on its face, astonishing. That so many of these outlets that generally fall under the rubric of liberal mainstream media to have all come to the same conclusion that the Gruber story wasn’t news speaks to the way that members of this herd all tend to walk in lockstep on major political issues. But the defense of these decisions doesn’t wash.

As Howard Kurtz, former media columnist at the Washington Post and CNN said from his current perch at Fox:

On what planet is this kind of embarrassing admission not news? Maybe on that comet where the spaceship just landed.

Even Brian Stelter, his successor at CNN, conceded that the decision to ignore the story was wrong even as he, a liberal as opposed to the more centrist Kurtz, sought to rationalize the decision:

Whenever you think there is a conspiracy it is really just something much more mundane, in this case I think it is the fact that this is a video that is a year plus old, and it is something that, we’re talking about a story that has been debated and debated and debated and so covered endlessly, I think oftentimes in newsrooms, there’s a sense that well, what’s actually new here? But, that said, the quote, the word stupid, that is news. And the way it is being used by conservatives, that is news, so that is why it should be covered by the nightly newscasts and CNN.

As for the idea that there is nothing new, let’s unwrap that contention. Gruber was well known to be a major player on ObamaCare and his statements about deceiving the Congressional Budget Office and counting on the “stupidity” of the American people would, in any context, be considered newsworthy. Anything that casts further doubt on the legality of the legislation—especially since some of Gruber’s comments contradict the liberal position on the King v. Burwell lawsuit—or provide fodder for congressional opponents who will seek to chip away at the Affordable Care Act is in and of itself also newsworthy.

The only reason why editors would chose not to treat it as worthy of coverage would be their desire to help the administration end the debate about its signature legislative achievement. To those who would say that critics of the mainstream media’s blackout on Gruber are indulging in conspiracy theories, I would answer by simply asking them to imagine a similar case in which a Republican administration with popularity ratings as low as those of President Obama in which a key figure in the formation of one of that government’s policies were found to have spoken in such a manner in public on video.

It is simply impossible to imagine that the New York Times would have treated such statements as a non-story. But that’s what they did this week. Search the New York Times website and, as of Friday afternoon, there isn’t a single mention of the Gruber controversy save for one opinion article in its Upshot section in which the significance of the story is downplayed. But there is nothing in the news sections or in the print edition of any part of the paper. Even if, as Neil Irwin wrote in the Upshot, this sort of thing were business as usual in Congress and the government, the Times would not have hesitated to treat evidence of such misconduct—let alone lies told to facilitate an attempt to remake one sixth of the American economy—by conservatives as front-page news.

The broadcast networks similarly shut down the story over the course of the week with no references until the last day and then only in passing. As for the cable networks, Fox has predictably run with it but with the exception of Jake Tapper’s show, CNN also largely kept away from it for days while MSNBC granted Gruber a softball interview with its least journalistic host—Ronan Farrow—whose only intent was to dismiss the whole thing.

That conservative outlets would treat Grubergate as earthshaking and liberal ones would say there’s nothing to talk about is understandable since there are partisan implications to the story. But while Fox and MSNBC are understood to be sources whose political slant is well known and the same is true for print and online publications that make no secret of their editorial missions, newspapers like the Times and networks like ABC, NBC, and CBS still hold themselves out as representatives of objective journalism. That this is an easily exposed pretense has not been much of a secret for a long time. The networks and the Times are as ideologically biased as the Rush Limbaugh Show on radio. The only difference is that Rush and other political talkers and writers don’t pretend to be sitting on Mount Olympus impartially giving the people the news.

Even in the world of opinion writing it is necessary to acknowledge the other side’s arguments if only to disprove them. But for liberals in the mainstream media, news that works against their side is something that must be contained if not simply thrown down an Orwellian memory hole. While President Obama and the Democrats should be ashamed of their role in lying to the American people about ObamaCare, their cheerleaders in the mainstream press should be just as embarrassed. That apologies won’t be forthcoming from either tells us all we need to know about the contempt for democracy and truth that is now routine in these precincts.

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Pelosi’s Bad Memory and ObamaCare Lies

Reacting today to the furor caused by the revelations about the administration’s ObamaCare lies, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did her best to dismiss the controversy. As far as the woman who rammed the Affordable Care Act through Congress on a party-line vote was concerned, Jonathan Gruber is a nobody who had no role in its passage. But unfortunately for her, a C-Span archival tape from 2009 was quickly uncovered that shows the former speaker citing Gruber as an authority on the bill. Ouch. But after we’re done chuckling at Pelosi’s chutzpah and calculating the impact of this latest Democratic fib on the course of the debate, this might be another moment for us to ponder just how much damage the cynical push for ObamaCare did to the fabric of American democracy.

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Reacting today to the furor caused by the revelations about the administration’s ObamaCare lies, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did her best to dismiss the controversy. As far as the woman who rammed the Affordable Care Act through Congress on a party-line vote was concerned, Jonathan Gruber is a nobody who had no role in its passage. But unfortunately for her, a C-Span archival tape from 2009 was quickly uncovered that shows the former speaker citing Gruber as an authority on the bill. Ouch. But after we’re done chuckling at Pelosi’s chutzpah and calculating the impact of this latest Democratic fib on the course of the debate, this might be another moment for us to ponder just how much damage the cynical push for ObamaCare did to the fabric of American democracy.

Just to put this in perspective, here’s what Pelosi said today about Gruber while refusing to answer a question about his admissions:

I don’t know who he is and he didn’t help write our bill.

Here’s what she said in November 2009:

We’re not finished getting all of our reports back from CBO, but we’ll have a side by side to compare. But our bill brings down rates. I don’t know if you have seen Jonathan Gruber of MIT’s analysis of what the comparison is to the status quo versus what will happen in our bill for those who seek insurance within the exchange. And our bill takes down those costs, even some now, and much less preventing the upward spiral.

Judging by Pelosi’s convenient memory loss today, the conviction among those who foisted ObamaCare on the nation that they can always count on “the stupidity of the American voter” wasn’t just something invented by Gruber.

But as with Gruber’s comments, there will be plenty of people on the left who will dismiss this as nothing but a minor kerfuffle, a footnote to the achievement of the great liberal dream of a national health-care act. But words and deeds have consequences.

The problem with ObamaCare was, as Gruber has acknowledged, that if the voters or even the Congress that voted on it had understood what was in the bill, it could not have succeeded in gaining a majority, even one without a single Republican vote. Throughout the debate over the bill and its implementation, the one consistent theme has been dishonesty. From Pelosi’s own statement that the law had to be passed for members to know what was in it, to the president’s lies about consumers keeping their coverage and doctors, to the delay in enforcing the individual mandate and other provisions, to the current debacle over Gruber, advocates of the misnamed Affordable Care Act have never stopped lying or talking down to the American people.

In the last 60 years, we have seen confidence in government and politics decline bit by bit to the current situation where politicians of both parties are about as well respected as street walkers. This was the result of a series of unfortunate decisions and scandals that started with Vietnam, continued with Watergate (and every other subsequent scandal that generally is referred to by adding the word “gate” to something), was compounded by the distorted debate about Iraq, and now seems to be reaching a crescendo with ObamaCare.

One doesn’t have to hold a particular position on any of these issues to understand that when the American people perceive they have been deceived, it hurts more than the party caught lying. It hurts confidence in democracy and the rule of law. President Obama came into office and even reelected in 2012 buoyed by a wave of optimism about the nation that his historic election as our first African-American president created. But instead of building on the confidence placed in him, he resorted to the lowest and most cynical tactics to get his way on health care. Like Gruber and Pelosi, he undoubtedly felt the ends justified the means and that if it took a few lies to get his bill passed, it would be worth it. In the course of that campaign, he and his supporters called their Tea Party opponents who had raised up in protest against this massive expansion of federal power every vile name in the book and branded them as racists. Now today, unashamed, they look back on the lies they told and tell us to just move on since the debate is supposedly over.

But whether or not it is over—and, as I argued earlier, it is far from over—the damage they’ve done to the country and the government will live on. Leader Pelosi doesn’t have amnesia but she and everyone else who took part in this disgraceful episode should be deeply ashamed.

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Don’t Underestimate Gruber’s OCare Impact

Liberals are in retreat this week as they recover not only from the historic defeat suffered by Democrats in last week’s midterms but also from the fallout from Jonathan Gruber’s confessions about the deceit at the heart of the effort to pass ObamaCare. The three videos that have surfaced in which Gruber strips away the veil of lies from the campaign to pass the misnamed Affordable Care Act is a major embarrassment for the administration. But while many on the right are treating this as a smoking gun that should doom President Obama’s health-care legislation to repeal, liberals are confident that this storm will pass and that the law will survive. But while they are right that nothing—not even a similar admission from the president himself—could wipe it away, they are wrong to think Gruber’s statements haven’t significantly altered the debate and may yet play a crucial role in its destruction.

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Liberals are in retreat this week as they recover not only from the historic defeat suffered by Democrats in last week’s midterms but also from the fallout from Jonathan Gruber’s confessions about the deceit at the heart of the effort to pass ObamaCare. The three videos that have surfaced in which Gruber strips away the veil of lies from the campaign to pass the misnamed Affordable Care Act is a major embarrassment for the administration. But while many on the right are treating this as a smoking gun that should doom President Obama’s health-care legislation to repeal, liberals are confident that this storm will pass and that the law will survive. But while they are right that nothing—not even a similar admission from the president himself—could wipe it away, they are wrong to think Gruber’s statements haven’t significantly altered the debate and may yet play a crucial role in its destruction.

Writing for the Washington Post’s The Fix column, Aaron Blake writes to claim that no matter how much they scream about the videos of Gruber in which he acknowledges that the law was drafted so as to deceive members of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, and the American people (whose “stupidity” ensured its passage), it won’t have an impact of the future of ObamaCare.

Blake is probably right when he says the debate about the law is already so polarized that nothing will alter the opinions of those who are for or against it. However, in citing the consistency of the polling on the legislation, he should also note that a majority of Americans have always opposed it. This runs contrary to the expectation of both hopeful liberals and fearful conservatives that once implemented, the ACA would become as popular as Social Security or Medicare.

That didn’t happen because unlike those government programs, which were controversial when first suggested but ultimately accepted by everyone, not everyone benefits from ObamaCare. Indeed, there may ultimately be as many, if not more Americans who are net losers from the law than there are winners who now have health insurance. While the disastrous rollout of the law and the exposure of President Obama’s lies about allowing consumers to keep their insurance and doctors if they liked them has already done damage to its reputation, once the more unpopular individual mandates are imposed in 2015 (they were postponed by the president in order to avoid more damage to Democrats in the midterms) and insurance rates start to skyrocket, ObamaCare isn’t going to be winning more fans.

Blake’s also right that this isn’t the first evidence of deceit on the part of the Democrats who passed the law in a party-line vote. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s infamous line about the law having to be passed in order “to find out what’s in it” is probably just as bad as anything Gruber said.

Moreover, his conclusion that the law will, in one form or another, remain on the books until 2017 at the earliest, is also inarguable. Repeal or a complete restructuring of the scheme will require a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican in the White House, something that can’t happen until President Obama’s term in office is over.

But, even if we acknowledge all of this, it must be understood that Gruber’s comments illustrate one basic fact of American political life that liberals have a hard time accepting: the debate about ObamaCare is not only not over, it’s just getting started.

The president and other Democrats have been fond of mocking the GOP-controlled House of Representatives’ repeated votes on repeal. Each such vote was a futile exercise in symbolism since the Democrats still had the Senate and the White House. Further, such votes won’t be any more useful as long as Obama remains in office and Republicans lack a veto-proof majority.

But the impact of the law’s full implementation will, like it or not, generate plenty of debate about how to fix a scheme that is bound to cause more damage in the next two years. This will keep the ObamaCare debate alive and well. And anyone who thinks the Gruber comments won’t be endlessly thrown in the faces of the law’s defenders isn’t paying attention. That matters because whatever the American people think about the law, and most have always rightly disliked it, they don’t like being played for saps by elitist liberals. That means the Gruber admissions will be a gift that keeps on giving for Republicans right through the 2016 elections.

However, the greatest impact of this may be, as Blake acknowledges in passing, on the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, the lawsuit that alleges that federal subsidies given in states that don’t have their own insurance exchanges as mandated by the law are illegal. Gruber’s comments illustrate that the insistence on each state having one isn’t, as Paul Krugman alleged earlier this week, a mere “typo” but a glaring flaw in the law that could sink the whole scheme.

In 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberals and ruled ObamaCare constitutional in an opinion that led many to believe he thought it best to keep the Supremes out of a health-care debate that should be decided by the voters and Congress. What the White House should be most worried about is not the way Gruber’s candor is playing on the cable news channels but in Roberts’ mind. The open talk about the lies that led to the legislation’s passage might be enough to convince the chief justice to go along with conservatives who rule against the government and bring the ACA crashing down long before the GOP is able to finish the job.

If so, Gruber will have earned himself a place in American political history as the man whose honesty about his lies took down Obama’s greatest accomplishment.

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RE: ObamaCare Lies and Democracy

Jonathan’s post details how the advocates of ObamaCare hid the truth behind a bodyguard of lies (to use Churchill’s marvelous phrase) in order to fool the people and get the bill passed. No wonder it has been deeply unpopular from the beginning.

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Jonathan’s post details how the advocates of ObamaCare hid the truth behind a bodyguard of lies (to use Churchill’s marvelous phrase) in order to fool the people and get the bill passed. No wonder it has been deeply unpopular from the beginning.

This is not how democracy (from the Greek demos, meaning people, and kratos, meaning power) is supposed to work. But modern-day liberals and progressives (like those who run “people’s republics”) have never been in favor of people power. They want power to be exercised by fiduciaries for the people, which is to say themselves. They regard the common man as too stupid to know what is good for him. In explaining his now regretted remarks, Jonathan Gruber defended himself by saying they were off-the-cuff remarks made at an academic conference. Translation: The peasants weren’t supposed to have heard them. And he could only bring himself to say that the remarks had been “inappropriate,” not that they were incorrect.

He then proceeded to tell another lie in hopes of duping the people (and a Supreme Court justice or two) again. He repeatedly referred to the phrase in the law saying that subsidies could only be given to those who purchased insurance on the exchanges created by states as a “typo.” Well, thanks to Power Line here’s the text of the law:

The premium assistance amount determined under this subsection with respect to any coverage month is the amount equal to the lesser of—

(A) the monthly premiums for such month for 1 or more qualified health plans offered in the individual market within a State which cover the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, or any dependent (as defined in section 152) of the taxpayer and which were enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under 1311 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act…. [emphasis added]

That sure doesn’t look like a typo to me. And it didn’t look like one to Gruber either until it became convenient for it to be one. As I pointed out the day before yesterday, Gruber himself, in 2012, stated that the whole purpose of that phrase was to coerce states into establishing exchanges so as not to deprive their citizens of subsidies.

At the heart of all the isms of the left lies a profound contempt for the common man. The reason is not hard to discern. Those isms were all created by intellectuals and there is no snob like an intellectual snob. Just ask Jonathan Gruber.

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ObamaCare Lies and Democracy

In a video that has gone viral over the last few days, one of the principal architects of ObamaCare confessed at an academic conference that the law was drafted in such a manner as to deliberately deceive both the Congressional Budget Office and the American people. MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber tried to walk back his October 2013 remarks in a softball interview with Ronan Farrow on MSNBC this afternoon yet there’s no denying that his embarrassing moment of candor in which he said the bill passed because of a “lack of transparency” and the “stupidity of the American voter” will influence the ongoing debate about the law. But while the mainstream media has spent the years since the misnamed Affordable Care Act passed mocking its conservative opponents, this ought to be a moment when Americans take stock of the corrosive impact on our democracy of the cynicism to which the president and his congressional allies sank during the campaign for his signature health-care legislation.

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In a video that has gone viral over the last few days, one of the principal architects of ObamaCare confessed at an academic conference that the law was drafted in such a manner as to deliberately deceive both the Congressional Budget Office and the American people. MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber tried to walk back his October 2013 remarks in a softball interview with Ronan Farrow on MSNBC this afternoon yet there’s no denying that his embarrassing moment of candor in which he said the bill passed because of a “lack of transparency” and the “stupidity of the American voter” will influence the ongoing debate about the law. But while the mainstream media has spent the years since the misnamed Affordable Care Act passed mocking its conservative opponents, this ought to be a moment when Americans take stock of the corrosive impact on our democracy of the cynicism to which the president and his congressional allies sank during the campaign for his signature health-care legislation.

In a sense, Gruber’s statement doesn’t exactly break new ground. After all, if then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could say that ObamaCare had to be passed before its contents could be understood, it’s not much of a revelation if one of its designers fesses up about the deceptions involved in the project and the breathtaking cynicism of its Democratic backers. Like the president’s repeated lies about consumers being able to keep their existing health insurance and doctors if they liked them, Gruber’s confession makes it clear that deception was at the heart of the debate on a law that overturned a key sector of the American economy.

For those who haven’t yet read or seen it, here’s what Gruber said at a University of Pennsylvania conference last year:

This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure that the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay. So it was written to do that. In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law that said healthy people are going to pay in — if you made it explicit that healthy people pay in, sick people get money, it would not have passed. Okay.

Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical in getting the thing to pass, and, you know, it’s the second best argument. And I wish Mark was right, we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not. So there are things I’d wish I could change, but I’d rather have this law than not.

These remarks should weigh heavily on the consciences of the Obama administration and its allies who rammed it through Congress on a narrow party-line vote without knowing what was in it. Nor should it escape the notice of the Supreme Court as it weighs the arguments in King v. Burwell this session as it struggles with the question of whether the text of the law should be ignored in order to justify the administration’s efforts to roll out the health-care scheme. Liberals argue that the true intentions of the law’s authors should trump the fact that it was drafted so sloppily that it can easily be interpreted in such a way as to render the implementation of the legislation illegal. But since those who did the drafting are now being revealed as having deliberately lied about its contents, it seems quite appropriate that the Court stick to the text and the public arguments made at the time, not the secret agenda behind the law.

But leaving aside the debate about ObamaCare, Gruber’s quote and even his recent mea culpa in which he says he “spoke inappropriately” indicates that for Obama’s acolytes, winning means never having to say you’re sorry. Since they believed that this massive expansion of federal power that may wind up hurting as many people as it helps was the key goal of the administration, like Gruber, its apologists aren’t apologizing for having lied. What they regret is Gruber’s moment of weakness in which he foolishly told the truth about it.

Seen in that light, this is not so much about a gaffe as it is about the theory of politics that animates the Obama administration.

Though he came into office pledging the most transparent administration in history, what he has presided over is the one that is the most opaque, both in terms of its attitude toward the press as well as its belief that it can lie to the American people with impunity. Nations often believe that ends justify the means. Indeed, it would be impossible for wars to be fought otherwise. But however questionable such practices may be, it is one thing to rationalize wartime decisions, quite another to turn a blind eye to a philosophy that treats the American people as the enemy to be deceived.

They were not the first administration to lie to the American people about a policy question. But in passing ObamaCare, the president and his minions reached an all-time low in mendacity in order to get the desired result. Yet while some have benefited from ObamaCare, others have not. The administration and its supporters may believe all the lies are justified because of the expansion of health care to some. Yet in the coming year, as the individual mandate is implemented, more will suffer as the law wreak havoc on employment and the costs of premiums may skyrocket.

But the true legacy of ObamaCare may not just be the mess it has made of the health-care industry or the benefits some may have derived from it. It may instead mark another watershed moment in the history of American politics in which citizens came to understand that those who claim to have their best interests at heart would not scruple about lying to them about their intentions. The ends here not only did not justify the means but they also degraded American democracy in a way that we may never entirely recover from.

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Paul Krugman at It Again

Paul Krugman is shocked that the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case regarding ObamaCare subsidies in states that have not set up their own exchanges, King v. Burwell, which I wrote about here. Krugman writes:

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Paul Krugman is shocked that the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case regarding ObamaCare subsidies in states that have not set up their own exchanges, King v. Burwell, which I wrote about here. Krugman writes:

Last week the court shocked many observers by saying that it was willing to hear a case claiming that the wording of one clause in the Affordable Care Act sets drastic limits on subsidies to Americans who buy health insurance. It’s a ridiculous claim; not only is it clear from everything else in the act that there was no intention to set such limits, you can ask the people who drafted the law what they intended, and it wasn’t what the plaintiffs claim. But the fact that the suit is ridiculous is no guarantee that it won’t succeed — not in an environment in which all too many Republican judges have made it clear that partisan loyalty trumps respect for the rule of law.

This, of course, is vintage Krugman. While many Republican judges are all too willing for partisan loyalty to trump the rule of law, heaven forefend that a liberal judge would do any such thing. But it is the notoriously liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in—where else?—San Francisco, that holds the record for 9-0 reversals by the Supreme Court. More than once they have been reversed 9-0 twice on the same day. And Krugman, typically, is also lying. He writes, “you can ask the people who drafted the law what they intended, and it wasn’t what the plaintiffs claim.”

OK, let’s do that and ask Jonathan Gruber, one of the main architects of ObamaCare. In 2012, long before this controversy arose, he was asked at a public forum about subsidies being limited to the exchanges set up by the states. He says that limiting the subsidies to state exchanges was entirely on purpose, in order to coerce the states into setting up the exchanges. “I think what’s important to remember politically about this,” he says, “is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”

As a side note, a new video has just surfaced in which Gruber says that the “most transparent administration ever” deliberately used a lack of transparency in order to get ObamaCare passed. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” he said. “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” And he calls the American electorate stupid. Saying things like that in public, video cameras rolling, is about as politically stupid as politically stupid gets.

Nobody, except the liberal choir to whom the New York Times editorial page preaches, reads Krugman’s agitprop masquerading as an opinion column, but even by his standards this is pathetic.

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ObamaCare: Live by a Typo. Die By It.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman thinks it’s outrageous. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear King v. Burwell, the case in which the state of Oklahoma, joined by numerous other groups, challenged the constitutionality of the government’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act, puts, as our John Steele Gordon noted yesterday, the entire future of the ObamaCare apparatus in jeopardy. Krugman’s point in his latest column is that the case rests on what he refers to as a “typo”—the fact that the text of the ACA said that the federal subsidies that prop up the scheme could only go to state-run exchanges and not to federal marketplaces set up to accommodate those who live in states that did not create such exchanges. But for those who remember the technicality invented by Chief Justice John Roberts to ensure that ObamaCare survived a much more substantive constitutional challenge, the answer is clear: live by a typo, die by it as well.

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New York Times columnist Paul Krugman thinks it’s outrageous. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear King v. Burwell, the case in which the state of Oklahoma, joined by numerous other groups, challenged the constitutionality of the government’s interpretation of the Affordable Care Act, puts, as our John Steele Gordon noted yesterday, the entire future of the ObamaCare apparatus in jeopardy. Krugman’s point in his latest column is that the case rests on what he refers to as a “typo”—the fact that the text of the ACA said that the federal subsidies that prop up the scheme could only go to state-run exchanges and not to federal marketplaces set up to accommodate those who live in states that did not create such exchanges. But for those who remember the technicality invented by Chief Justice John Roberts to ensure that ObamaCare survived a much more substantive constitutional challenge, the answer is clear: live by a typo, die by it as well.

Let’s specify up front that Krugman isn’t entirely wrong that the substance of this case rests entirely on a technicality. As I noted in October when a federal court in Oklahoma ruled against the ACA on this issue, the anomaly by which the law granted subsidies only for state exchanges was not necessarily intended by those who drafted the law although there was some dispute about funding for the subsidies. But the Democratic majorities that crammed this legal monstrosity through both houses of Congress were not that interested in its content. As then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said, the law had to be passed before anyone would know what was in it.

The idea that it could be scuttled by a drafting error strikes Krugman as a terrible injustice that would not be permitted if sensible people were staffing the judiciary. He likens the prospect of ObamaCare’s destruction on such a seemingly minor point to the discovery of a mistake made in the filing of the deed of his parent’s home which might have left his mother’s garden outside of their property. But there are two points that serve to render his complaint both hypocritical as well as insubstantial.

The first is that the ACA was judged to be constitutional on a technicality that was far more bogus than the one about state and federal exchange subsidies. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the constitutionality of the law on a narrow 5-4 vote. But the deciding fifth vote cast by Chief Justice Roberts was based on his belief that the entire thing could be construed as a tax and that this allowed the federal government to act in this manner. The other eight justices had divided evenly on the question that both the plaintiffs and those defending the government had thought was at issue: whether ObamaCare was an unconstitutional breach of the Commerce Clause that would have unlawfully forced citizens to engage in commerce. Roberts agreed with the four other conservative judges that the challenge to its constitutionality on this point was valid but concocted the tax argument in order to keep the high court out of an issue that he appears to believe should only be decided by Congress and the voters.

At the time, conservatives howled at the absurd nature of Roberts’s argument that allowed a blatantly unconstitutional piece of legislation to survive. In response, liberals merely crowed at their victory and reminded their opponents to respect the rule of law whether they liked the outcome or not.

Two years later, it appears the shoe is on the other foot and all of a sudden liberals like Krugman no longer think it’s right for laws to be narrowly decided in an arbitrary manner that hangs on legal technicalities or bizarre interpretations of the law. But there is more here at play than turnabout being fair play.

Krugman falsely argues that the law is working well, something that is given the lie by the fact that much of its substance has been delayed until next year so as to give Democrats a better chance in the midterms as well as its rollout. Contrary to the president’s false promises, Americans were not allowed to keep their insurance or their doctors, if they liked. The increases that many will suffer next year, as well as the potentially devastating impact on employment, once the individual mandate begins to be enforced also destroys his premise. But even if we accept that some will lose benefits they have been given under the law, that shouldn’t motivate the court to ignore the contradiction in the text.

At the heart of the current case is a question of what it means to pass a law. Laws are not merely amorphous notions but actual documents that must be drafted carefully lest some odd anomaly in their language allow governments to exploit the citizens or individuals to profit unfairly. If the text doesn’t actually matter, then the government may interpret them in any way it likes to the detriment of the rights of all Americans.

Seen in that light, Krugman’s railing at the “typo” and the “corruption” involved in this case that should—if Roberts doesn’t invent some even more absurd rationale to save ObamaCare again—destroy the president’s principal legislative achievement doesn’t seem so reasonable. At stake here is not just the future of health care or a president’s legacy, but also the rule of law.

Without the rule of law, there is no individual liberty or democracy. It is on that ground, if nothing else, that the Supreme Court should rule against the government. If it doesn’t, the corruption will not so much be liberal hypocrisy but their agenda that seeks to trash this basic principle of accountability.

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SCOTUS and ObamaCare: Round Two

The Supreme Court today granted certiorari in the case of King v. Burwell, in which several senators and congressmen and an assortment of non-governmental organizations such as the Cato Institute and several states sued, claiming that the IRS interpretation of the Affordable Care Act was contrary to the plain text of the law.

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The Supreme Court today granted certiorari in the case of King v. Burwell, in which several senators and congressmen and an assortment of non-governmental organizations such as the Cato Institute and several states sued, claiming that the IRS interpretation of the Affordable Care Act was contrary to the plain text of the law.

The ACA grants subsidies to people with lower incomes who buy insurance through the exchanges “established by the states.” Since only 16 states set up such exchanges, the federal government stepped in and set up exchanges in the other 34 states. But the IRS has ruled that the subsidies are available through these exchanges as well.

The plaintiffs lost in both the district court and in the 4th Circuit, which sits in Richmond.  Both courts argued that the act as a whole shows that Congress’s intent was not to limit subsidies only to state exchanges. The fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case does not necessarily mean that it disagrees with the lower court, only that at least four justices want the Supreme Court to finally decide the case.

But it is very interesting indeed that the Court did not wait for the en banc hearing in the D.C. Circuit Court in the Halbig v. Sebelius case. In that case, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit threw out the subsidies, saying the plain language of the statute prevailed. But Harry Reid threw out the filibuster rule in the Senate in order to pack that court, and the whole court voided that decision and agreed to hear the case en banc—i.e. with the whole court sitting. Whether the Supreme Court wants to get the issue settled, or whether it was annoyed at the D.C. Circuit Court for not following its own rules regarding en banc hearings we cannot know. The Supreme Court is just about the only institution in Washington that doesn’t leak like a sieve.

Should the high court go with the plaintiffs, it is hard to see how ObamaCare could survive. With no subsidies, many people could not afford the insurance and only the sickest would sign up. That would send premiums skyrocketing, sending the whole program into what the administration has dubbed a “death spiral.”

Since the court grants a writ of certiorari in only about one percent of the cases that appeal to the court, there is at least a substantial chance that the court will reverse the circuit court decision and thus effectively kill the Obama administration’s signature accomplishment. It doesn’t have a lot of other accomplishments to call its own.

President Obama is not having a good week.

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How Mitch McConnell Outsmarted Obama

Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

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Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

As Jonathan Tobin mentioned late last night, McConnell belongs at the top of the list of winners, while Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid is second only to Obama in the losers column. Yet the efforts of both men to bring about that result are still widely–and in some cases, probably purposely–misunderstood. A perfect distillation of how to get the McConnell strategy exactly wrong comes via Vox, unsurprisingly. There, Matt Yglesias sums up the Democratic spin on how the Senate has been run by both Reid and McConnell. The spin is unambiguously false, but it does show the extent to which Reid’s mendacious propaganda actually convinced many liberals who don’t grasp the granular details of the Senate. Here’s Yglesias:

A Republican comeback of this scale was by no means guaranteed. In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren’t even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

McConnell’s counter plan was to prevent those deals. As McConnell told Josh Green, the key to eroding Obama’s popularity was denying him the sheen of bipartisanship, and that meant keep Republicans united in opposition[.]

Yglesias then quotes McConnell as saying “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” and adds himself:

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It’s quite possible Yglesias actually believes this. Many on the left have been thoroughly confused by how the Senate works, and they are almost always eager to believe the most negative portrayal of Republicans out there. But rather than Obama being generously and genuinely bipartisan, what happened was that he took his election to be a mandate for his own plans–“I won,” as he famously said.

And so the Obama strategy, with Reid’s help in the Senate, was to get what Yglesias calls the “sheen” of bipartisanship: get a very liberal bill that consists mostly of handouts to liberal interest groups and greatly increases presidential power on an issue, and pretend it’s the work of both parties by offering token, vote-buying concessions to convince a few Republicans to put their names on the overall bill. McConnell wasn’t buying it, because he understood that Obama had no intention of actually crafting bills that would prominently feature conservative ideas–the two sides were too far apart anyway.

McConnell also understood that Obama’s ideas were terrible, and would be unpopular. In some cases, we knew the bills were unpopular before they even went up for vote. Obama wanted an insurance policy (no ObamaCare pun intended): to have his name on the “achievement” if it turned out to be popular but to have Republicans own its passage in case it wasn’t. It was cynical and dishonest, and it didn’t succeed because Obama fooled his fans in the media but not McConnell.

Additionally, as anyone who follows the Senate closely knows, Reid’s strategy was to put unprecedented limits on the minority (Republicans) in the legislating process. Republicans were shut out of the traditional bipartisan role and also shut out of the amendment process. Reid didn’t want Republican input at all and didn’t want debate either. The plain fact is that it was Reid who “decided to break” the Senate, since Republicans weren’t willing to simply add their names to Obama’s legislative wish lists. And in order to protect constitutionally suspect legislation in the courts, Reid tossed out the filibuster as well.

Last night was a resounding victory for McConnell not because he sabotaged the Senate but because it confirmed what he already knew: Obama’s ideas are naïve and destructive, and therefore unpopular. McConnell’s refusal to allow his GOP minority caucus to be a rubber stamp for the disastrous liberal agenda was what stopped the midterms from being a pox on both houses and instead a referendum on those responsible for the wreckage: the Democrats.

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Faltering Obama Still Blaming Messenger

Fox News may be demolishing its more liberal cable news rivals in the ratings but to Democrats it’s still the bogeyman. That’s why President Obama took the opportunity to criticize the network during a speech defending his economic record at Northwestern University today. But in doing so, the president not only demonstrated the weakness of his position but also why he doesn’t understand Fox’s appeal.

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Fox News may be demolishing its more liberal cable news rivals in the ratings but to Democrats it’s still the bogeyman. That’s why President Obama took the opportunity to criticize the network during a speech defending his economic record at Northwestern University today. But in doing so, the president not only demonstrated the weakness of his position but also why he doesn’t understand Fox’s appeal.

During his speech, the president said this about Fox and its audience:

A true opposition party should have the courage to lay out their agenda. Hopefully also grounded in facts. There’s a reason fewer Republicans are preaching doom on the deficits – because the deficits have come down at almost a record pace and they’re now manageable. There’s a reason fewer are running against ObamaCare – because while good, affordable health care might still be a fanged threat to freedom of the American people on Fox News, it turns out it’s working pretty well in the real world.

There’s a lot to unwrap in just one paragraph but let’s try to hit the major points.

First, the notion that Republicans are not running on their party’s principles on spending, taxes, and the deficit is the sort of thing only a person living inside the White House echo chamber could believe. Across the country, GOP candidates are doing just that as they continue to capitalize on the voters’ disillusionment with the president’s liberal agenda and failed leadership.

Though, due to the faltering economy and the nation’s focus on the president’s foreign-policy failures, ObamaCare is not as potent an issue this fall as it was in the past, he’s kidding himself if he thinks it is going away. As I noted yesterday, successful court challenges will ensure that it remains on the agenda in the coming year. And if the courts don’t eviscerate the law, skyrocketing insurance costs and the possibly devastating impact on employment as the employer mandate goes into effect will put it back on the national agenda.

If anybody is running away from their party and its leader this year, it’s Democrats. Most Democrats locked in tough fights are not only avoiding Obama like the plague; they are also denying any connection to him. In what may be a new low point of embarrassment for the Democrats, Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes refused to answer when repeatedly asked if she had voted for the president’s reelection in 2012.

But let’s forget about the specifics of the president’s boasts about the economy or his faux confidence on the staying power of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. Instead, let’s contemplate the dismaying spectacle of a sitting president of the United States obsessing about a cable network and treating it and its audience as if they were his enemy.

As Greg Gutfeld, one of the hosts of Fox’s The Five program quipped in response: “He [Obama] bashes FNC [Fox News Channel] more than ISIS, and we don’t behead anybody.” But jokes aside, the president’s continuing obsession with Fox is itself an interesting commentary on his disconnect with much of the nation.

The difference between Fox’s coverage of ObamaCare and that of much of the mainstream media is not so much that the network portrays ObamaCare as a “fanged threat to freedom” but that on MSNBC and CNN, not to mention the broadcast networks and the New York Times, critiques of the law or even discussions about its effectiveness, its impact on the economy, or on individual rights are often hard to find. Fox has become the dominant cable news network not so much because it is conservative as because it is the one place viewers know they can go to find alternative views to that of the liberal media establishment that has so often acted as the president’s unpaid cheering section.

The president may get a laugh from his liberal base and media sycophants when he attacks Fox but every time he does so he only betrays his weakness and his lack of comfort with opposing views. As his party heads toward a disastrous midterm defeat that will officially seal his fate as a powerless lame duck, the president would do better to stop blaming the media messengers and start pondering his own failures.

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Court Ensures ObamaCare Debate Is Just Getting Started

Even amid a spate of bad news about their Senate candidate’s chances in November, Democrats have been celebrating the way ObamaCare seems to have fallen off the country’s political radar recently. Though the president’s signature health-care law is still deeply unpopular, the issue has been largely eclipsed by general concerns about presidential leadership and scandals in the midterms. But the confidence on the part of the administration and its supporters that this issue was finally settled had to be shaken by a federal court decision yesterday that essentially eviscerated the ability of the law to function in most of the country. If it holds up on appeal, the ruling will not only largely undo the president’s legislative triumph but also set the stage for a new spirited debate on health care that Democrats were hoping to avoid.

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Even amid a spate of bad news about their Senate candidate’s chances in November, Democrats have been celebrating the way ObamaCare seems to have fallen off the country’s political radar recently. Though the president’s signature health-care law is still deeply unpopular, the issue has been largely eclipsed by general concerns about presidential leadership and scandals in the midterms. But the confidence on the part of the administration and its supporters that this issue was finally settled had to be shaken by a federal court decision yesterday that essentially eviscerated the ability of the law to function in most of the country. If it holds up on appeal, the ruling will not only largely undo the president’s legislative triumph but also set the stage for a new spirited debate on health care that Democrats were hoping to avoid.

A federal judge in Oklahoma ruled yesterday in Oklahoma v. Burwell that the government could not extend subsidies to ObamaCare customers in the 36 states where no state exchange currently exists. Judge Ronald A. White rightly decided that the president’s policy of giving the subsidies in all states flatly contradicted the wording of the Affordable Care Act which states that the tax credits could only apply to insurance purchased “through an exchange established by the state.” The administration had claimed it was “standing in the shoes” of the states that refused to set up their own insurance marketplaces, but this was correctly dismissed as an abuse of power with no basis in law.

Who’s to blame here? Democrats will blame Republican judges, but they should be castigating themselves. This is, after all, the bill that then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said had to be passed before it could be understood. But in their rush to force it down the throats of the country in 2010, they made a fatal drafting error.

While the attorney general of Oklahoma, which challenged the Department of Health and Human Services in this case, praised the decision as “a victory for the rule of law,” there is more at stake here than the question of whether the administration can change an existing law by presidential fiat. This is no technicality. If upheld (other federal courts have split on the question), the ruling will cut off federal subsidies for more than 4.5 million of those who have enrolled in ObamaCare essentially gutting the effectiveness of the law. It cannot function without the subsidies. Since complying with the ruling would require Congress to amend the ACA to cope with the fact that a majority of states wouldn’t set up exchanges, this could end its implementation for the foreseeable future.

This means ObamaCare is heading back to the U.S. Supreme Court where Chief Justice John Roberts’ illogical decision allowed it to survive a challenge to its constitutionality. Would Roberts somehow step in again to save ObamaCare? There’s no telling which way he would jump. But no matter what he does, the president’s supporters can’t feel comfortable once again placing the future of the law in Roberts’ hands.

Just as important, this will also mean that the debate over ObamaCare will be heating up again in 2015. The expected skyrocketing of insurance rates caused by the law as well as what may be a disastrous impact on the economy when the employer mandate is put into effect already made Democratic predictions of its acceptance look foolish. But with the fate of the entire project now up in the air, the debate (which Democrats predicted would already be over) about the merits of this still unpopular law will be heating up next year.

Far from being consigned to the dustbin of history as the president and his fans have often claimed, the ObamaCare debate not only isn’t dead, but the flawed nature of the legislation has ensured it will be bedeviling Democrats in 2015 as much if not more than before.

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