Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obamacare

Running on OCare: the Landrieu Test Case

Testing conventional wisdom at the ballot box is often tougher than it looks, and that’s likely to be the case in this year’s congressional midterms, when Democrats either run on or away from ObamaCare. It was widely assumed that Democrats would run away from the unpopular mess of arbitrarily applied regulations, and that it would be a millstone around the necks of Democrats across the country, especially those who voted for it.

Mary Landrieu, however, would appear to be bucking that trend. The Louisiana Democratic senator is, on paper, a perfect candidate to test ObamaCare’s drag on congressional Democrats. Not only did she vote for it, but as a senator her vote took the bill farther than an individual vote in the House, where the bill had a larger margin for error than in the Senate. On top of that, Landrieu was one of the last to throw her support behind the law, magnifying her apparent impact. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the reason she voted for it: the so-called Louisiana purchase, which appeared to put an official price on her vote.

Landrieu, then, can’t exactly avoid her support for it, especially in a year when Republicans won’t let the law’s congressional enablers off the hook. So Landrieu is doing something that should make Democrats pleased, for a few counterintuitive reasons: she’s running on ObamaCare:

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Testing conventional wisdom at the ballot box is often tougher than it looks, and that’s likely to be the case in this year’s congressional midterms, when Democrats either run on or away from ObamaCare. It was widely assumed that Democrats would run away from the unpopular mess of arbitrarily applied regulations, and that it would be a millstone around the necks of Democrats across the country, especially those who voted for it.

Mary Landrieu, however, would appear to be bucking that trend. The Louisiana Democratic senator is, on paper, a perfect candidate to test ObamaCare’s drag on congressional Democrats. Not only did she vote for it, but as a senator her vote took the bill farther than an individual vote in the House, where the bill had a larger margin for error than in the Senate. On top of that, Landrieu was one of the last to throw her support behind the law, magnifying her apparent impact. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the reason she voted for it: the so-called Louisiana purchase, which appeared to put an official price on her vote.

Landrieu, then, can’t exactly avoid her support for it, especially in a year when Republicans won’t let the law’s congressional enablers off the hook. So Landrieu is doing something that should make Democrats pleased, for a few counterintuitive reasons: she’s running on ObamaCare:

Senator Mary Landrieu is one of the most vulnerable of red state Democratic incumbents, and her reelection challenges — like those of other red state Dems — are said to be all about Obamacare.

But in an interview today, Landrieu vowed to campaign aggressively against GOP foe Bill Cassidy’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion in the state, offered a spirited defense of the law — while acknowledging it has some problems — and even insisted he’d be at a “disadvantage” over the issue. …

Landrieu has been a vocal proponent of a “keep and fix” message on Obamacare. But Republicans have argued Dems aren’t actually offering any fixes. Landrieu noted she’s advocating for making the provision of coverage voluntary for businesses with fewer than 100 employees and adding a more affordable “copper” plan. She reiterated her support for the law’s goals — and said Cassidy’s embrace of repeal would be politically problematic for him.

“It’s a solid law that needs improvement,” Landrieu said. “My opponent offers nothing but repeal, repeal, and repeal. And even with all the law’s setbacks, we’re seeing benefits for thousands of people in Louisiana.”

Democrats are probably cheering this decision. Since Landrieu can’t escape her support of the law, she’s going to at least be a loud voice proclaiming the benefits of ObamaCare. If she loses anyway, she’d have infused the debate with pro-ObamaCare talking points that other Democratic candidates, who would rather pretend not to have heard of ObamaCare, would be too timid to use but whose voters might hear them from Landrieu.

Additionally, Landrieu has a lead in the polls. It’s not enough, as it stands, for her to avoid a run-off, but it gives her an early boost. If Landrieu runs on ObamaCare and wins, Democrats will have avoided a major pitfall both in trying to keep the Senate and in pushing back on the narrative that ObamaCare is, broadly, a political loser. Beyond that, Democrats have some reason to be confident: as Jonathan detailed earlier this month, Landrieu is using her access to federal funds to lavish benefits on key voting demographics, which gets her extra votes and prevents local Republican officials in those districts from organizing opposition to her candidacy.

And that aspect of the race is also a good reminder of the difficulty of grading individual state-level elections on national issues. Republicans, however, won’t have much room to back out of their insistence on ObamaCare’s potency if Landrieu wins. Democrats will (accurately) assert that Republicans were the ones who wanted that particular fight, and they’ll be able to argue she ran on ObamaCare and won. If she loses, Republicans will have that argument in their corner, having thus defined the race.

But Democrats will certainly be paying close attention, because Landrieu is setting out the model on how to run on ObamaCare: “Will I defend the good parts of the Affordable Care Act? Yes. Will I urge improvements to parts that can be fixed? Absolutely.” If Democrats can notch a win ostensibly on ObamaCare in what many expect to have been the toughest year for the law since the 2010 midterms, they’ll almost surely export that strategy to future elections. But if it turns out voters merely liked their recently granted federal goodies more than they hated ObamaCare, the unpopular reform law will continue to follow them around election after election, when the goodies stop coming but the bills for their constituents’ insurance premiums don’t.

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ObamaCare Horror Stories Aren’t Lies

Last Thursday, President Obama used the announcement that there were now eight million people signed up for ObamaCare as the excuse for yet another touchdown dance celebrating what he touted as the success of his signature health-care law. The president’s boasts were as unfounded as the numbers are bogus. As I wrote then, not only are the figures for enrollment untrustworthy because so many of those being counted have not paid for their insurance, but they also include many Americans who lost their insurance because of the law and are now saddled with higher costs and coverage that doesn’t suit their needs. These ObamaCare losers may well equal or outnumber the number of those who have actually benefitted from it. Even more to the point, the administration’s delays of many of the provisions of the law have put off the negative impact it will have on jobs and the economy until after the midterm elections.

Americans are bracing for massive health-care cost increases next year. Stories about the hardships faced by many individuals and companies as a result of ObamaCare have been cited by the law’s critics. But the president has denounced them, and other Democratic apologists such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have claimed they are falsehoods or outright inventions cooked up by the Koch brothers and other conservatives. The truth, however, is not hard to discover. After reading the piece I wrote last week about the president’s claims, one Connecticut businessman (who wishes to remain anonymous) whom I know wrote to me to tell the story of his company’s experience with the law and the way his representatives in Washington had responded to his complaints. Here is his story:

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Last Thursday, President Obama used the announcement that there were now eight million people signed up for ObamaCare as the excuse for yet another touchdown dance celebrating what he touted as the success of his signature health-care law. The president’s boasts were as unfounded as the numbers are bogus. As I wrote then, not only are the figures for enrollment untrustworthy because so many of those being counted have not paid for their insurance, but they also include many Americans who lost their insurance because of the law and are now saddled with higher costs and coverage that doesn’t suit their needs. These ObamaCare losers may well equal or outnumber the number of those who have actually benefitted from it. Even more to the point, the administration’s delays of many of the provisions of the law have put off the negative impact it will have on jobs and the economy until after the midterm elections.

Americans are bracing for massive health-care cost increases next year. Stories about the hardships faced by many individuals and companies as a result of ObamaCare have been cited by the law’s critics. But the president has denounced them, and other Democratic apologists such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have claimed they are falsehoods or outright inventions cooked up by the Koch brothers and other conservatives. The truth, however, is not hard to discover. After reading the piece I wrote last week about the president’s claims, one Connecticut businessman (who wishes to remain anonymous) whom I know wrote to me to tell the story of his company’s experience with the law and the way his representatives in Washington had responded to his complaints. Here is his story:

As usual, your column regarding President Obama and the Affordable Care Act was insightful and on target. Here’s a real world example of the future negative effects on businesses and individuals we aren’t likely to hear from the White House.

In November of last year, I met with our health insurance broker and learned that the renewal of our policy for our company’s employees would result in a 53 percent increase in premiums – largely due to increased mandates and other nuances of the Affordable Care Act. We developed a short-term solution by renewing our current policy (pre-ACA) for another year and moving its effective date from January 1, 2014 to December 1, 2013. This adjustment allowed us to avoid the effect of the new ACA requirements that took effect on January 1, 2014. Our premiums under this alternate plan increased, but only by 9%. I realize we’re a small company and this is but a single case. However, our broker indicated this scenario is likely to play out in many organizations next year.

In early January, we sent a letter describing this situation to our Governor, Congressman, and Senators. Finally, last week Senator Chris Murphy responded with what was essentially a staff-drafted form letter. No responses from our other elected officials have been received to date. Sen. Murphy’s letter completely ignored our message — specifically that our premiums were about to increase by 53 percent. Instead, the letter claimed, “research indicated the ACA should stabilize and possibly decrease health care premiums for small businesses and individuals.”

Silly me, I guess the emperor really does have clothes after all.

As I mentioned, the large increase resulted, in part, from certain mandates not previously covered. However, Connecticut already had a lot of mandated benefits in place (thanks primarily to our state’s kind-hearted special interest advocates). The large increase also resulted from a change in the way coverage for dependents will now be rated and priced. Previously, dependents were treated similarly across all age cohorts. Under the ACA, dependent coverage is and will be rated and priced separately for each age – with costs significantly increasing among the 18-26 year age cohorts. So, for people with kids of college age and a few years older, premiums are likely to increase significantly.

The “blame” for this spike can probably be placed more on the insurance industry than specifically the Congressional staffers who drafted the ACA. However, my understanding is the insurance industry was heavily involved with developing the legislation and, of course, the industry was an advocate for the enactment of the ACA. What a surprise that insurers will benefit from the new law.

By backdating its policy, this company saved itself from a devastating increase in 2014. But that won’t be possible in 2015 when it and innumerable other small, mid-sized, and large companies will be faced with the enforcement of more ObamaCare mandates. The impact of these increases on the ability of businesses to maintain their level of employment and benefits will be considerable. So, too, will the effect of this massive federal power grab on the economy. Thus, in addition to the millions of individual ObamaCare losers that lost their coverage, in 2015 we will have countless others who will suffer from the law.

All this means that, contrary to the president’s claims and demands that critics shut up and do as he says, the debate over ObamaCare is far from over. If anything, as this one businessman seems to be telling us, in 2015 it will just be getting started. 

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Obama’s Boasts Won’t End OCare Debate

Two weeks after he first claimed victory after the ObamaCare enrollment deadline, President Obama was spiking the ball again as he demanded that Republicans stop trying to overturn his signature health-care law in an impromptu press conference. The excuse for the president’s appearance in front of the White House press corps today was the claim that the number of those enrolled in the plan has now exceeded eight million. That figure was, he said, enough to not only stop Democrats from seeking to avoid blame for their responsibility in foisting the unpopular law on an unwilling public but also to effectively silence its many vocal critics:

I think we can agree that it is well past time to move on, as a country…The point is, this debate is and should be over. The Affordable Care Act is working. The American people don’t want us re-fighting the battles of the past five years.

But the assumption that the government’s successful efforts to pressure or persuade several million people to sign up for ObamaCare means that it is “working” is completely unwarranted. It’s not just that the figures put forward by the administration are unreliable for a number of reasons. Even if we assumed that there really were eight million ObamaCare policyholders, the real test of this law’s viability and its ability to endure has yet to come. Not until we see just how many of those signed up are young and healthy enough to help pay for the vast number of sick and elderly covered by it will we know if it can pay for itself. And it won’t be until next year when the employer mandate and many other more painful provisions of the law are finally implemented that it will be clear whether the entire scheme can survive and how much damage it will inflict on the economy.

To speak of the debate being over now isn’t merely wishful thinking on the president’s part. It’s a conscious effort to both deceive and distract the American public from the very real problems associated with the misnamed Affordable Care Act. Try as he might, more boasts and attempts to shut up opponents won’t end this debate or ensure ObamaCare’s survival.

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Two weeks after he first claimed victory after the ObamaCare enrollment deadline, President Obama was spiking the ball again as he demanded that Republicans stop trying to overturn his signature health-care law in an impromptu press conference. The excuse for the president’s appearance in front of the White House press corps today was the claim that the number of those enrolled in the plan has now exceeded eight million. That figure was, he said, enough to not only stop Democrats from seeking to avoid blame for their responsibility in foisting the unpopular law on an unwilling public but also to effectively silence its many vocal critics:

I think we can agree that it is well past time to move on, as a country…The point is, this debate is and should be over. The Affordable Care Act is working. The American people don’t want us re-fighting the battles of the past five years.

But the assumption that the government’s successful efforts to pressure or persuade several million people to sign up for ObamaCare means that it is “working” is completely unwarranted. It’s not just that the figures put forward by the administration are unreliable for a number of reasons. Even if we assumed that there really were eight million ObamaCare policyholders, the real test of this law’s viability and its ability to endure has yet to come. Not until we see just how many of those signed up are young and healthy enough to help pay for the vast number of sick and elderly covered by it will we know if it can pay for itself. And it won’t be until next year when the employer mandate and many other more painful provisions of the law are finally implemented that it will be clear whether the entire scheme can survive and how much damage it will inflict on the economy.

To speak of the debate being over now isn’t merely wishful thinking on the president’s part. It’s a conscious effort to both deceive and distract the American public from the very real problems associated with the misnamed Affordable Care Act. Try as he might, more boasts and attempts to shut up opponents won’t end this debate or ensure ObamaCare’s survival.

The problem with the eight million figure is the same as the seven million number he celebrated earlier in the month. We still don’t know how many of these signups are mere computer forms and how many are paid insurance policies. A conservative estimate is that at least 20 percent of them are not paid and thus shouldn’t be counted. Nor is there any credible assurance that most of those being counted are people who didn’t have insurance prior to ObamaCare. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that, far from being satisfied customers whose enrollment constitutes an endorsement of the plan, many are people who lost existing insurance plans because of the advent of ObamaCare and have been forced onto the scheme where they find themselves paying for more expensive policies that aren’t what they wanted in the first place.

The president did point out that it is now believed that 35 percent of those who signed up are young and healthy. That is higher than previous estimates but still below the 40 percent that is thought to be the cutoff point for financial viability. Like the hype about the enrollment numbers, the president is hoping that merely by exceeding expectations he can convince Americans that ObamaCare is here to stay. But when it comes to assessing the law’s success or its long-term survival, expectations are irrelevant.

Nor is there any proof that most of those who stand to benefit from the plan—those without insurance or with pre-existing conditions—are actually signing up in the numbers that we were promised. The president’s challenge to Republicans to come up with an alternative that will help this segment of the population is an empty one and he knows it. If all the government wanted to do was to cover such persons, they could have done so without creating a massive government power grab that threatens to overturn the health-care industry and hurt almost as many people as it will help.

Moreover, it won’t be until next year when the politically motivated delays of the implementation of many of the law’s mandates and provisions are put in place that we will know just how serious that damage will be. Nor will we know until then just how massive the cost increases for insurance will be though even the president acknowledged they will go up. With most of the young and healthy uninsured not signing up, rates will skyrocket as companies are forced to pass on the costs of covering those with pre-existing conditions. The president’s claims that the rate of increases are going down won’t convince many who will be paying more in the coming years that the president’s boasts are justified.

The president is right—at least for the next two and a half years—when he says that ObamaCare can’t be repealed. And he’s also right that any changes will have to take into account the need to cover those who previously had no insurance. The final verdict on ObamaCare’s ability to function and the amount of damage it will do has yet to be heard. But the president is dead wrong to think that merely repeating over and over again that the debate is over will make it so.

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ObamaCare’s Day of Reckoning Can’t Be Postponed

The Obama administration is, along with liberals like Ezra Klein, promoting a new narrative: The Affordable Care Act, after a rough start, is now a raging success. More than 7.5 million Americans have enrolled. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will act as a circuit breaker. Here’s how Mr. Klein put it:

the law has won its survival. The Obama administration can exhale. Personnel changes can be made. A new team — led by Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who the White House calls a proven manager— can be brought in to continue to improve the law. And Sebelius can leave with her head held high. She can leave with the law she helped build looking, shockingly, like a success.

Some of us have a different interpretation, which is that the enrollment figures are dubious, that premiums will rise sharply later in the spring, and that the problems plaguing ObamaCare are systemic and won’t be fixed. The endless number of waivers, exemptions, and delays are evidence of that. The law will, in fact, remain highly unpopular with the public. And this will become most obvious on the night of November 4, when the returns from mid-term elections are in.

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The Obama administration is, along with liberals like Ezra Klein, promoting a new narrative: The Affordable Care Act, after a rough start, is now a raging success. More than 7.5 million Americans have enrolled. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will act as a circuit breaker. Here’s how Mr. Klein put it:

the law has won its survival. The Obama administration can exhale. Personnel changes can be made. A new team — led by Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who the White House calls a proven manager— can be brought in to continue to improve the law. And Sebelius can leave with her head held high. She can leave with the law she helped build looking, shockingly, like a success.

Some of us have a different interpretation, which is that the enrollment figures are dubious, that premiums will rise sharply later in the spring, and that the problems plaguing ObamaCare are systemic and won’t be fixed. The endless number of waivers, exemptions, and delays are evidence of that. The law will, in fact, remain highly unpopular with the public. And this will become most obvious on the night of November 4, when the returns from mid-term elections are in.

What the Obama White House is hoping is that, with the help of the press, which is tired of writing about the failures of ObamaCare, they can not only reframe events but reinvent reality.

I’m rather doubtful it will work. The debate over the ACA has gone from an abstract one to a real one, one negatively affecting the lives of millions upon of Americans. And when you have a facts-on-the-ground problem, as the president and his party do, spin and invoking banal talking points are ultimately of little use.

The president can postpone implementation of various parts of his law. But what he can’t postpone indefinitely is his and his party’s day of reckoning.

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Sebelius’s Dangerous Legacy of Incompetence and Deception

President Obama’s cheerleaders like to compare him to Abraham Lincoln. In most respects, this is a travesty that both inflates the meager accomplishments of our 44th president and demeans the heroic achievements of our 16th. But in seeking the right moment to dump Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after her shocking failures during the ObamaCare rollout, the president did take a page out of Lincoln’s handbook.

When Lincoln was thinking about the right moment to unveil the Emancipation Proclamation he told his Cabinet that it had to wait until after the Union won a victory over heretofore-ascendant rebel armies. Though the victory he seized upon for the announcement—the battle of Antietam—was really a bloody draw from which the Confederate army was allowed to escape, it was enough to provide cover for a great and historic act that was intensely controversial at the time. Similarly, President Obama knew that the necessary transition at HHS would have to wait until after the storm of criticism that had come down on Sebelius during the ObamaCare rollout had subsided. But after the administration was able to pump up the number of those enrolled in the program to the 7 million figure by the April 1 deadline, the president declared a victory in the battle over the unpopular program that was far shakier than even the Union’s claims after Antietam.

In announcing Sebelius’s departure and the appointment of Sylvia Matthews Burwell to succeed her at a White House pep rally today, the president continued the pretense that all is well is with ObamaCare and that Sebelius’s tenure at HHS was one of success achieved over immense odds because of the enrollment of over 7 million people in the program. But rarely has any single public official done more to undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of government to function than Kathleen Sebelius. Her incapacity to manage a huge federal bureaucracy was never exactly a secret prior to the October 1, 2013 rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, but from that date on, Sebelius’s out-of-touch leadership style gave new meaning to the term clueless. Her departure for the more competent Burwell is a relief even for those who oppose the president’s signature health-care legislation. But what she leaves behind will always stand as a warning to both presidents and their appointees about the damage they can do.

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President Obama’s cheerleaders like to compare him to Abraham Lincoln. In most respects, this is a travesty that both inflates the meager accomplishments of our 44th president and demeans the heroic achievements of our 16th. But in seeking the right moment to dump Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after her shocking failures during the ObamaCare rollout, the president did take a page out of Lincoln’s handbook.

When Lincoln was thinking about the right moment to unveil the Emancipation Proclamation he told his Cabinet that it had to wait until after the Union won a victory over heretofore-ascendant rebel armies. Though the victory he seized upon for the announcement—the battle of Antietam—was really a bloody draw from which the Confederate army was allowed to escape, it was enough to provide cover for a great and historic act that was intensely controversial at the time. Similarly, President Obama knew that the necessary transition at HHS would have to wait until after the storm of criticism that had come down on Sebelius during the ObamaCare rollout had subsided. But after the administration was able to pump up the number of those enrolled in the program to the 7 million figure by the April 1 deadline, the president declared a victory in the battle over the unpopular program that was far shakier than even the Union’s claims after Antietam.

In announcing Sebelius’s departure and the appointment of Sylvia Matthews Burwell to succeed her at a White House pep rally today, the president continued the pretense that all is well is with ObamaCare and that Sebelius’s tenure at HHS was one of success achieved over immense odds because of the enrollment of over 7 million people in the program. But rarely has any single public official done more to undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of government to function than Kathleen Sebelius. Her incapacity to manage a huge federal bureaucracy was never exactly a secret prior to the October 1, 2013 rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, but from that date on, Sebelius’s out-of-touch leadership style gave new meaning to the term clueless. Her departure for the more competent Burwell is a relief even for those who oppose the president’s signature health-care legislation. But what she leaves behind will always stand as a warning to both presidents and their appointees about the damage they can do.

In fairness to Sebelius, it must be noted that she was not the architect of ObamaCare. The president and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi deserve principle credit for the monstrosity that emerged from Congress in 2010. But her hands-off management led to disaster as she failed to alert the president to the fact that her department was simply nowhere near ready to launch the law in October. The result was the infamous Healthcare.gov website that made a laughingstock of Sebelius but also called into question the basic competence of the administration.

Of course, the real problem with ObamaCare was never the “glitchy” website but the entire concept of a government takeover of health care that would hurt as many, if not more, people than it helped. Yet Sebelius’s foolish confidence and stonewalling of Congress about the disaster will forever stick in the public consciousness as a symbolic of what can go wrong when a career politician is asked to do the job only a technocrat can deal with.

But there’s more to Sebelius’s legacy than incompetence. By refusing to tell the truth about how many of those being counted as enrollees (including the 20 percent of those who signed up on the website but never paid for their coverage) and by delaying much of the more unpopular aspects of the rollout until after this year’s midterm elections, Sebelius not only deepened the cynicism about the law but further undermined the credibility of the government. President Obama claimed today that the “final score speaks for itself” in terms of what Sebelius accomplished, but the real pain inflicted by this program and the massive dislocation in the health-care system as well as job losses and skyrocketing insurance costs that will be felt in the years to come will always be associated with Sebelius.

It should also be noted that by imposing an HHS mandate to force all employers, even those with religious objections, to pay for free contraception and abortion drugs (a provision that is not in the text of ObamaCare but was instead promulgated by her department), Sebelius struck a formidable blow against religious liberty that can only be repaired by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What occurred this year was no victory for health care, President Obama, or Kathleen Sebelius. But her legacy of incompetence and deception will live on long after her departure or even that of her boss.

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OCare Study: Obama’s TD Dance Premature

After President Obama’s enrollment deadline touchdown dance, some Democrats have been trying to act as if the health-care law to which they have tied their political fortunes is a grand success. Many in the news media have followed their lead and concluded that the claim that 7.1 million Americans had signed up for the scheme by the April 1 deadline meant that doubts about its viability or popularity were put to rest. The fact that perhaps as many as 20 percent of those being counted as happy ObamaCare customers haven’t paid their premiums—and thus aren’t covered—is being ignored. So is the fact that it is entirely likely that the vast majority of those included in the 7.1 million figure were not previously uninsured, meaning that many were forced out of their old, preferred plans and are now paying more for coverage they didn’t want.

But a new study from Express Scripts, the large pharmacy benefits-managing company, reveals something else that ought to depress those liberals throwing victory parties for the success of the misnamed Affordable Care Act: those signing up for ObamaCare appear to be older, sicker, and more dependent on expensive, specialty drugs than the average person covered by employer-based health insurance. Though it’s possible that the last-minute surge of signups may reduce the preponderance of sick people among those covered by ObamaCare, the results among the early enrollees show that the expectation that the program will be able to pay for itself is almost certainly misplaced. Moreover, the imbalance in favor of the sick means that the price of insurance may go up even higher next year than had already been predicted. While Democrats may be relieved that those price increases won’t go into effect before November, the country may need to brace itself for a tsunami of outrage in 2015 after an ObamaCare-fueled hike sends insurance costs skyrocketing.

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After President Obama’s enrollment deadline touchdown dance, some Democrats have been trying to act as if the health-care law to which they have tied their political fortunes is a grand success. Many in the news media have followed their lead and concluded that the claim that 7.1 million Americans had signed up for the scheme by the April 1 deadline meant that doubts about its viability or popularity were put to rest. The fact that perhaps as many as 20 percent of those being counted as happy ObamaCare customers haven’t paid their premiums—and thus aren’t covered—is being ignored. So is the fact that it is entirely likely that the vast majority of those included in the 7.1 million figure were not previously uninsured, meaning that many were forced out of their old, preferred plans and are now paying more for coverage they didn’t want.

But a new study from Express Scripts, the large pharmacy benefits-managing company, reveals something else that ought to depress those liberals throwing victory parties for the success of the misnamed Affordable Care Act: those signing up for ObamaCare appear to be older, sicker, and more dependent on expensive, specialty drugs than the average person covered by employer-based health insurance. Though it’s possible that the last-minute surge of signups may reduce the preponderance of sick people among those covered by ObamaCare, the results among the early enrollees show that the expectation that the program will be able to pay for itself is almost certainly misplaced. Moreover, the imbalance in favor of the sick means that the price of insurance may go up even higher next year than had already been predicted. While Democrats may be relieved that those price increases won’t go into effect before November, the country may need to brace itself for a tsunami of outrage in 2015 after an ObamaCare-fueled hike sends insurance costs skyrocketing.

The problem here is that having established ObamaCare as an entitlement that they believe can never be revoked, the administration has stuck the health-care system with a situation that is a financial nightmare. As the New York Times reports:

Julie Huppert, vice president for health care reform at Express Scripts, said she expected to see the picture change as the year progressed. But she said this early glimpse was crucial for insurers, which were already setting their rates for next year.

“There may not be enough time to assess much more than this,” she said.

The study found that six of the 10 most costly drugs in the marketplace plans, in terms of total spending, were specialty drugs, in contrast to four of the top 10 drugs in employer plans. The higher use of specialty drugs could point to additional health care costs, some said.

“The medication is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Daniel N. Mendelson, chief executive of the consulting firm Avalere Health. “What goes along with that is a need for physician visits and, often, hospitalizations associated with complications from the conditions.”

In addition to finding increased use of drugs to treat pain, seizures and depression, the study also found that 6 in every 1,000 prescriptions in the marketplace plans were for drugs that treat H.I.V., a number that was nearly four times the figure among those with employer coverage.

While the president and his supporters may take credit for making it easier for those with pre-existing conditions to gain coverage, if enough young and healthy consumers have not been suckered into signing up, insurance companies are going to be stuck with paying for all those sick and elderly Americans who have been shunted into the program. That means they are going to have to drastically raise prices the next chance they get.

Just as bad is the sticker shock many of those who are now part of the ObamaCare program are experiencing when they go to the pharmacy:

Some consumers who signed up for marketplace plans said they were shocked when they made their first visit to the pharmacy this year. Lawrence Cwik, a photographer in Portland, Ore., said his monthly contribution for Atripla [an H.I.V. drug] increased to $1,018, from $40, when he switched to a new marketplace plan after his old plan was canceled. Both were through Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon.

Mr. Cwik, 55, said he complained and the insurer agreed to reduce his out-of-pocket payment to $40 for the rest of this year, “but beyond that, I’m pretty much out of luck.”

That scenario is being played out across the country countless times this year as those who lost previous coverage as a result of ObamaCare’s implementation pay the price of the president’s great “success.”

Democrats and even many Republicans long believed that once it went into effect, ObamaCare would become as beloved as Social Security or Medicare. But despite the White House celebrations about the enrollment figures, that assumption is still unfounded. The long-term costs of this law for many Americans will be devastating. The more people experience it, the less popular it is likely to get.

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Demonizing SCOTUS: The OCare Precedent

When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

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When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

Senate Democrats and liberal groups are mounting a pressure campaign against the Supreme Court, hoping to influence future decisions by blasting conservative justices for alleged political bias.

The effort from the left also portrays the high court as an instrument rigged to help the wealthy, and is intended to energize Democratic voters and increase turnout in the midterm elections.

Some legal experts see the effort as akin to basketball or soccer players “working the ref” in a high-stakes game.

Critics say Democratic leaders used a similar strategy in 2010, when they piled on the court for striking down the ban on political spending by corporations in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Some court watchers speculated that Chief Justice John Roberts felt chastened by the angry reaction and sought to avoid another uproar, when he crafted the majority decision in 2012 that largely upheld ObamaCare.

“The left clearly tried to work the refs on the Affordable Care Act,” said Randy Barnett, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “They worked the refs after Citizens United, which helped set things up for the Affordable Care Act challenge. If it seems to work, why not continue? It’s unfortunate, I think, that they’ve been encouraged in this behavior by its apparent success.”

And it’s not just a public disinformation campaign:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plan to hold hearings on the court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission striking down aggregate limits on campaign donations. …

Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) panned it for granting greater influence to wealthy donors, such as Charles and David Koch, the wealthy conservative donors, whom he again slammed on the Senate floor Monday.

Of course Reid would find a way to turn a complaint about the court into another tool in his quest to turn libertarian activists into former people. In one sense, this is irrational, because it has no intellectual merit and should be beneath the leaders of the world’s greatest deliberative body. But in another sense, it’s completely rational: people respond to incentives, and in his ObamaCare ruling Roberts incentivized demonizing–that’s the Hill’s word–the Supreme Court.

The story notes that chief among the left’s worries is the upcoming ruling on the ObamaCare contraception mandate. And on that note, the best line in the story has to be this: “Democrats say the present-day court lacks the experience to understand the corrupting influence of money in politics, because none of its members have held publicly elected office.” Democrats just don’t believe that law abiding, upstanding men and women who have never been offered a bribe could ever really understand ObamaCare. And you’ve got to admit, they have a point, don’t they?

We may or may not find out if the pressure campaign works. After all, a decision on the case may not be a result of the intimidation tactics, either as a concession to them or as an act of defiance against them. It may be just another ruling on the merits of the case. But that’s one of the consequences of the Democrats’ shenanigans: the idea that the court will rule on the merits of the case becomes only one of several possibilities. Roberts thought he was protecting the legitimacy of the court in his 2012 decision. It’s quite clear now that he has done precisely the opposite.

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OCare’s Milestone and Jindal’s Opportunity

Today’s Washington Post article on Bobby Jindal, by Robert Costa and Amy Goldstein, is a great example of how a newspaper’s reporting can be vastly improved by actually embracing ideological diversity. Costa was recently hired by the Post from National Review, where his access to the right side of the political isle had him running circles around other reporters when it came to conservative politics.

And today’s article is refreshingly free of condescension and peppered with actual information and verifiable claims, unlike the treatment Republican rising stars are used to getting in, say, the Washington Post. For example, the article centers on Jindal’s new health-care reform proposal, and rather than parrot DNC talking points that Republicans have no plans or ideas on offer, we read this:

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Today’s Washington Post article on Bobby Jindal, by Robert Costa and Amy Goldstein, is a great example of how a newspaper’s reporting can be vastly improved by actually embracing ideological diversity. Costa was recently hired by the Post from National Review, where his access to the right side of the political isle had him running circles around other reporters when it came to conservative politics.

And today’s article is refreshingly free of condescension and peppered with actual information and verifiable claims, unlike the treatment Republican rising stars are used to getting in, say, the Washington Post. For example, the article centers on Jindal’s new health-care reform proposal, and rather than parrot DNC talking points that Republicans have no plans or ideas on offer, we read this:

In his 26-page plan, Jindal lays out a lengthy critique of the health law — which he refers to throughout as “Obamacare” — and reiterates his belief that it needs to be entirely done away with. In its place, he sets forth a bevy of ideas that have run through conservative thought for years, in some cases renaming them and in other cases suggesting new variations on old themes.

Indeed, conservatives have been offering ideas–most of them better than the bureaucratic mess and extralegal application of ObamaCare–for years. The article is also interesting for its framing of Jindal within the 2016 presidential landscape. Jindal has long been a favorite of GOP policy wonks and proponents of education reform, but it’s an open question as to whether he could translate that into broader, television-friendly appeal.

The biggest setback to that possibility came when an overly-folksy Jindal delivered the GOP’s response to Obama’s 2009 national address. He was written off, unfairly; after all, Bill Clinton famously cratered at the 1988 Democratic nominating convention only to be nominated himself four years later. But the weakness in Jindal’s delivery was real: he had committed the modern age’s cardinal sin of discarding authenticity in an attempt to be memorable. (He was, but not for the right reasons.)

Jindal seems now to be more comfortable in his own skin:

Putting an emphasis on Jindal’s policy chops has become the latest project for his kitchen cabinet, which includes Curt Anderson, a former political director at the Republican National Committee, and political adviser Timmy Teepell. So is highlighting Jindal’s willingness to articulate an agenda — all while other hopefuls, from Christie to Paul, are making their own strides on the pre-primary stage.

“It’s early, but this is a good time for him to show how he belongs with the rest of those names,” said Charlie Black, a former campaign adviser to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee.

Jindal has been steeped in the world of health policy since early in his career. In his mid-20s he became secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, and then he was named the staff director of a bipartisan commission on the future of Medicare. A few years later, he became an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Is this a winning strategy? It always depends on the competition, of course, but Jindal is one of the few conservative leaders who could benefit from the enrollment numbers ObamaCare racked up thus far. ObamaCare is far from a success–indeed, even late-night host Jimmy Fallon greeted the “mission accomplished” ObamaCare announcement by noting that “it’s amazing what you can achieve when you make something mandatory, and fine people if they don’t do it — and keep extending the deadline for months.”

But the president’s celebration was telling. The point of the frantic enrollment rush was to try to mitigate what had made the enrollment rush possible in the first place–Obama’s cancellation of Americans’ insurance policies they actually liked–and get them in some way dependent on the state. At the outset, ObamaCare was weakest before it created millions of dependents. That’s the mark Obama was aiming for, not a more serious definition of “success,” which might be well beyond ObamaCare’s reach anyway.

Now the narrative has shifted, and Republicans who want to undo the damage ObamaCare has already done and prevent the damage it threatens to do must concentrate as much or more on the “replace” side of their “repeal and replace” slogan. It’s the first moment, in other words, in the post-2012 election drama that calls specifically for a wonk to step forward, and Jindal has done so. Whether that can enable him to compete with Republicans’ prospective first-tier candidates remains to be seen, but it’s clear he’s at least improved his sense of timing.

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Obama TD Dance a Poor Strategy for Dems

The White House is claiming that President Obama’s celebratory speech this afternoon in the Rose Garden was not a “victory lap” but it was clear to everyone who watched the address that it was more of a touchdown dance than a sober evaluation of the implementation of his signature health care law. Given the mistake-filled rollout of ObamaCare, the fact that the numbers reported by the government indicated that it had exceeded the seven million goal that had been set as the goal for the open enrollment period, the administration felt it had good reason to spike the ball and that’s exactly what the president did.

But in doing so, the president not only misrepresented the nature of what had actually been accomplished, he also mischaracterized the nature and the extent of the opposition to the law. Though their ability to tout the enrollment numbers made for probably the best 24-hour news cycle for ObamaCare that it’s had in years, nothing he said changed the fact that as many Americans have reason to dislike the plan as those who are benefitting from it. While the president boldly proclaimed that the misnamed Affordable Care Act “was here to stay” and that the debate is over, if he thinks Democrats are going to take his cue and spend 2014 running on ObamaCare rather than away from it, he’s mistaken.

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The White House is claiming that President Obama’s celebratory speech this afternoon in the Rose Garden was not a “victory lap” but it was clear to everyone who watched the address that it was more of a touchdown dance than a sober evaluation of the implementation of his signature health care law. Given the mistake-filled rollout of ObamaCare, the fact that the numbers reported by the government indicated that it had exceeded the seven million goal that had been set as the goal for the open enrollment period, the administration felt it had good reason to spike the ball and that’s exactly what the president did.

But in doing so, the president not only misrepresented the nature of what had actually been accomplished, he also mischaracterized the nature and the extent of the opposition to the law. Though their ability to tout the enrollment numbers made for probably the best 24-hour news cycle for ObamaCare that it’s had in years, nothing he said changed the fact that as many Americans have reason to dislike the plan as those who are benefitting from it. While the president boldly proclaimed that the misnamed Affordable Care Act “was here to stay” and that the debate is over, if he thinks Democrats are going to take his cue and spend 2014 running on ObamaCare rather than away from it, he’s mistaken.

Inside the bubble in which the president lives, it’s possible to pretend that the problems causing job losses and individual hardships are Republican hoaxes that have been “debunked.” But the basic problem with the health care law remains. Unlike other landmark pieces of legislation like Social Security and Medicare that became untouchable once they were implemented, ObamaCare has created a vast class of people who have been hurt by it.

Though undoubtedly many people with pre-existing conditions or in poverty are now eligible for coverage they didn’t have before — something that conservative critics must take into account as they propose alternatives. But they are offset by those who have lost existing coverage and are now either out of luck altogether or forced to accept more expensive plans that are not to their liking. Even more are or will soon be forced to give up their existing doctors because of the chaos created by the new scheme.  As we noted again yesterday, the enrollment numbers announced today are anything but reliable. With at least 20 percent of those claimed as signed up yet to pay for their coverage and with many likely never to do so, the seven million number is a vast exaggeration. Nor is there much evidence for the notion that those included in that total were not previously covered by other kinds of insurance.

Moreover, Americans are not stupid. They understand that some of the greatest problems are yet to come because of the delays in implementing those parts of the law that are most problematic such as the employer mandates that will hurt employment and thrust millions of Americans out of better plans to the ones that ObamaCare forces them into.

But it must also be noted that what is most disconcerting about Obama’s arguments is not his blind faith in the value of what he has accomplished as the arrogant contempt for critics that he displays. For Obama, those who continue to oppose this government power grab that has hurt our health care system more than it helps are simply opposed to helping people in need. He is not so much in disagreement with their reasoned arguments or the many examples of those who have been hurt by ObamaCare as he simply thinks his opponents are liars are out to victimize the poor and the sick. His self-regard is matched only by his dishonestly and his desire to demonize those who oppose his plans.

Buy while this is the sort of speech that plays well to hand picked crowds of sycophants, it won’t play as well on the campaign trail this year in swing or red states where Senate seats are at stake. The White House may be urging his party to follow his lead and double down on a law that has always been opposed by most Americans. But that has more to do with Obama seeking to burnish his legacy than the survival of endangered Democrats. Their “fix it, don’t nix it” approach to the issue is already a difficult sell outside of deep blue strongholds. Embracing the president’s stand would be nothing short of a suicide run for any Democrat in trouble. Obama may think the debate is over but what he will find out before the year is over is that it is only getting started.

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Deadline Is ObamaCare’s “Mission Accomplished” Moment

It was, perhaps, fitting that the same website that debuted to the scorn of the nation last fall would crash on the last day of the six-month period for enrollment in ObamaCare. Just as the administration and its media cheerleaders were declaring victory in their effort to reach the goal of seven million enrolled in the scheme, the HealthCare.gov website was down for six hours this morning due to what we are told was a software bug that caused a crash rather than a surge in traffic. Though the site was supposedly back up and running, the event was an appropriate metaphor for a flawed law’s implementation. Having overpromised throughout this process, the government couldn’t even keep its website up during the last day of its self-imposed deadline.

Yet the real problem with the White House’s triumphant spin on the enrollment figures isn’t that “glitchy” website. It’s the fact that the numbers that are being cited as proof that, despite all its travails, more than six and perhaps even seven million people have signed up for ObamaCare are thoroughly unreliable. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that the books are being cooked. With as many as 20 percent of those being counted as enrolled yet to pay a premium and thus not actually covered, the talk about success is mere hot air.

So, too, are the claims that the scheme has met or exceeded its goal of expanding the pool of insured Americans. Since the overwhelming majority of those participating were already covered by insurance and are being forced onto ObamaCare by the new law’s regulations, the accomplishment being touted today is more one of bureaucratic bookkeeping than a meaningful expansion of health care. Nor is there any sign that the flood of young and healthy Americans into the ranks of those participating is occurring, meaning that what will follow today’s great victory will be a gradual recognition that what the country has been saddled with is a mess that will cause insurance costs to skyrocket rather than go down.

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It was, perhaps, fitting that the same website that debuted to the scorn of the nation last fall would crash on the last day of the six-month period for enrollment in ObamaCare. Just as the administration and its media cheerleaders were declaring victory in their effort to reach the goal of seven million enrolled in the scheme, the HealthCare.gov website was down for six hours this morning due to what we are told was a software bug that caused a crash rather than a surge in traffic. Though the site was supposedly back up and running, the event was an appropriate metaphor for a flawed law’s implementation. Having overpromised throughout this process, the government couldn’t even keep its website up during the last day of its self-imposed deadline.

Yet the real problem with the White House’s triumphant spin on the enrollment figures isn’t that “glitchy” website. It’s the fact that the numbers that are being cited as proof that, despite all its travails, more than six and perhaps even seven million people have signed up for ObamaCare are thoroughly unreliable. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that the books are being cooked. With as many as 20 percent of those being counted as enrolled yet to pay a premium and thus not actually covered, the talk about success is mere hot air.

So, too, are the claims that the scheme has met or exceeded its goal of expanding the pool of insured Americans. Since the overwhelming majority of those participating were already covered by insurance and are being forced onto ObamaCare by the new law’s regulations, the accomplishment being touted today is more one of bureaucratic bookkeeping than a meaningful expansion of health care. Nor is there any sign that the flood of young and healthy Americans into the ranks of those participating is occurring, meaning that what will follow today’s great victory will be a gradual recognition that what the country has been saddled with is a mess that will cause insurance costs to skyrocket rather than go down.

It should be acknowledged that the pictures of people standing on line waiting to talk about getting ObamaCare and the reports of large numbers visiting the website or trying to call in to get the insurance sounds like a vindication of the law or at least of the all-out enrollment push being conducted by the president and the rest of his administration. But the fact remains that merely signing onto the website and creating an account is not the same thing as actually buying the product. If by the end of the day, the administration is claiming that they have met or come close to the seven million enrollments it wanted, it must be remembered that this number must be reduced by at least 20 percent to account for the vast numbers who haven’t completed the purchase and may never do so.

Just as deceptive is the fact that among the millions being counted as happy ObamaCare customers are a huge number of Americans who already had health insurance they liked but lost it as a result of the passage of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. They are now stuck with coverage that is likely more expensive and which contains provisions they didn’t want. As a New York Times front-page feature that was, no doubt, intended to tout the law’s benefits in Kentucky—a rare example where a state exchange appears to be working well—illustrated, administration triumphalism has little connection to the reality faced by many of those affected by the president’s signature health-care law. Including those Americans who are the big losers in the passage of this law as being part of the supposed flood of those who need and want ObamaCare is the ultimate in double counting.

No matter what the numbers of those enrolled actually turn out to be, without millions more young and healthy Americans included in the plan, it will be a financial disaster and force the government to bail out the insurance companies. That will be unfortunate. But if those more profitable young and healthy customers don’t listen to the president’s pleas, who can blame them? The product that is being shoved down their throats is inferior, costly, and a bad deal to boot. With pre-existing conditions no longer a bar to insurance coverage there is no longer much reason for those who are less likely to get sick to enroll before they are placed in the position of needing insurance. And with much of the plan’s provisions being postponed or otherwise delayed in order to lessen the pain to the nation and increase the Democrats’ chances of success in November, there is no way of knowing just how unpopular this law will be when all is said and done.

It is entirely possible that we will look back on today’s deadline and administration celebrations about enrollment as Obama’s version of George W. Bush’s infamous “mission accomplished” moment after Iraq. Democrats who dream that today’s numbers will get them off the hook in the midterms should think again.

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Hobby Lobby and the Shellacking, Part II

During the Supreme Court oral argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., there was an important colloquy between Justice Elena Kagan and Hobby Lobby’s counsel, Paul Clement. The issue was whether the government has a “compelling interest” in enforcing ObamaCare against employers whose undisputed fundamental religious beliefs would be violated. Clement argued that the existence of the grandfather clause in the law shows there is no such interest:   

MR. CLEMENT: … I think the grandfather provisions of this statute really are devastating for the government’s argument that it has a compelling interest [to mandate insurance that violates Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs]. When the government pursues compelling interest, it demands immediate compliance. … I can’t imagine Congress passing Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] and saying, “Stop discriminating on the basis of race, unless of course you have a pre-existing policy that discriminates on the basis of race, and then you can keep it as long as you’d like.”

JUSTICE KAGAN: … you know, initially Title VII did not apply to any employers with fewer than 25 employees. And then gradually, Congress brought the number down because Congress realized that there were going to be transition issues and that some time was needed to make sure that the compelling interest, you know, should be applied uniformly across all employers.

MR. CLEMENT: … [It’s consistent with a compelling interest] to say we’re going to focus on the people who actually employ the most people and therefore can engage in the most discrimination. It’s quite a different matter, and I don’t think anybody would think that Congress would pass a Title VII that said, “Hey, as long as you have a pre-existing discriminatory policy, you’re allowed to keep it.” [Transcript at pp. 30-31]

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During the Supreme Court oral argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., there was an important colloquy between Justice Elena Kagan and Hobby Lobby’s counsel, Paul Clement. The issue was whether the government has a “compelling interest” in enforcing ObamaCare against employers whose undisputed fundamental religious beliefs would be violated. Clement argued that the existence of the grandfather clause in the law shows there is no such interest:   

MR. CLEMENT: … I think the grandfather provisions of this statute really are devastating for the government’s argument that it has a compelling interest [to mandate insurance that violates Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs]. When the government pursues compelling interest, it demands immediate compliance. … I can’t imagine Congress passing Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] and saying, “Stop discriminating on the basis of race, unless of course you have a pre-existing policy that discriminates on the basis of race, and then you can keep it as long as you’d like.”

JUSTICE KAGAN: … you know, initially Title VII did not apply to any employers with fewer than 25 employees. And then gradually, Congress brought the number down because Congress realized that there were going to be transition issues and that some time was needed to make sure that the compelling interest, you know, should be applied uniformly across all employers.

MR. CLEMENT: … [It’s consistent with a compelling interest] to say we’re going to focus on the people who actually employ the most people and therefore can engage in the most discrimination. It’s quite a different matter, and I don’t think anybody would think that Congress would pass a Title VII that said, “Hey, as long as you have a pre-existing discriminatory policy, you’re allowed to keep it.” [Transcript at pp. 30-31]

ObamaCare was enacted on the president’s oft-repeated assurances that everyone who liked their existing insurance plans could keep them–period! Everyone was grandfathered! It was only the freeloaders going to emergency rooms without insurance who–so the argument went–would be mandated into the system. And once those people were in the system, costs for everyone would go down (by $2,500!), the deficit would be cut (by a hundred billion a year!), and people would love the law (once they found out what was in it).

All this turned out to be untrue. The administration issued a grandfather regulation so narrow that virtually everyone’s existing insurance in the individual market got cancelled, which got the administration into huge political trouble. So the president issued a new exemption (via a press conference), and then unilaterally delayed the employer mandate lest the same thing happen later this year in a market 20 times as large. But the existence of the grandfather clause–as well as the exemptions issued left and right–puts the administration in legal jeopardy in the Court, because it cuts into the heart of the “compelling interest” argument. Justice rarely gets more poetic.

Political justice may take a little longer, but it may be coming. There has likely never been a law passed with more fraudulent arguments, using more fraudulent procedures, rushed through more quickly on a strictly partisan vote, while opinion polls (and the Massachusetts special election) showed the public and voters firmly opposed, both back then and now.

Now that everyone has not only learned what is in the law, but has seen how it has been implemented–with a website that didn’t work, exemptions and extensions handed out without the consent of Congress, supporters or key voting groups given immense leeway while opponents are taken all the way to the Supreme Court, and as Jonathan Tobin notes, a nonstop continuing chaos–there may be a new horror movie coming in November to a polling place near you. Call it The Shellacking, Part II.

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The ObamaCare Chaos Continues

The administration’s decision to extend the period for open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act past the March 31 deadline is hardly surprising. The list of delays, extensions, and postponements of various aspects of the law is already so long that even an article devoted to the topic–such as the one published today by Politico titled “A Brief History of ObamaCare Delays”–is itself an abridged list of only the most prominent examples.

This latest instance is defended by the administration and its supporters as just a commonsense measure intended to help those who were stymied during the enrollment process by the glitch-ridden Heatlhcare.gov website. But the political implications of this decision are more far-reaching than the matter-of-fact announcement that sought to represent it as not a big deal. The delay seeks to get the president off the hook for the ACA likely falling millions short of the seven million enrollees that constituted the administration’s initial goal as well as the benchmark that would enable the ACA to be fiscally responsible.

At this point any excuse, no matter how flimsy, to do something to soften the blow of the expected shortfall makes sense for an administration that is already having a tough time selling the unpopular scheme to the public. But more than that, the record of unending delays and meaningless deadlines set up a situation where it will be difficult if not impossible for the federal government to police those provisions of the law that it really does want to enforce. Coming at a time when the Health and Human Services contraception mandate is under attack in the Supreme Court and, just as significantly, the system of ObamaCare subsidies is in peril of being overturned in the federal appellate courts, this new delay is just one more reason why the law is rightly viewed as having brought chaos rather than reform to the health-care system.

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The administration’s decision to extend the period for open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act past the March 31 deadline is hardly surprising. The list of delays, extensions, and postponements of various aspects of the law is already so long that even an article devoted to the topic–such as the one published today by Politico titled “A Brief History of ObamaCare Delays”–is itself an abridged list of only the most prominent examples.

This latest instance is defended by the administration and its supporters as just a commonsense measure intended to help those who were stymied during the enrollment process by the glitch-ridden Heatlhcare.gov website. But the political implications of this decision are more far-reaching than the matter-of-fact announcement that sought to represent it as not a big deal. The delay seeks to get the president off the hook for the ACA likely falling millions short of the seven million enrollees that constituted the administration’s initial goal as well as the benchmark that would enable the ACA to be fiscally responsible.

At this point any excuse, no matter how flimsy, to do something to soften the blow of the expected shortfall makes sense for an administration that is already having a tough time selling the unpopular scheme to the public. But more than that, the record of unending delays and meaningless deadlines set up a situation where it will be difficult if not impossible for the federal government to police those provisions of the law that it really does want to enforce. Coming at a time when the Health and Human Services contraception mandate is under attack in the Supreme Court and, just as significantly, the system of ObamaCare subsidies is in peril of being overturned in the federal appellate courts, this new delay is just one more reason why the law is rightly viewed as having brought chaos rather than reform to the health-care system.

As we noted yesterday, the willingness of the administration to regard enforcement of the various provisions of the health-care law as optional is undermining its ability to defend the contraception mandate in the Hobby Lobby case. And, as Philip Klein reports in the Washington Examiner today, the legal challenge to the subsidy system may be even more dangerous to ObamaCare’s future than the more famous Hobby Lobby case that revolves around the law’s assault on religious liberty. Since the law was written so as to create subsidies for ObamaCare consumers through state-run exchanges, the fact that many states have not chosen to set them up creates a constitutional problem that can only be solved by a revision of the law by Congress or a decision by the courts to do so on their own. Since the courts are properly reluctant to re-write a statute in this manner and there is no chance that Congress will do anything to fix the problem, the system of subsidies may well be overturned, creating even more chaos for the already misnamed Affordable Care Act. If so, implementation of the unwieldy legislation will become impossible.

While Democrats are trying to put a brave face on their defense of ObamaCare, they know that this is the issue that could cost them the Senate in what may well turn out to be an even worse drubbing this fall than the one they suffered in 2010. The administration has tried to postpone as much of the pain from this law until after 2014 as they can. The federal courts are unpredictable and public opinion may be fickle. But by adding to the impression that the law on which the president staked his reputation is in a state of chaos, the latest delay—and the ones that will inevitably follow it in the months to come—may only make it even more likely that congressional Democrats will suffer a grave defeat in November.

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The Shrinking Mandate and Freedom

We won’t know the outcome of today’s hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court of the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius case, which tests the right of the government to impose a mandate forcing all businesses to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, until later this spring. As I wrote yesterday, the case is a crucial test for the future of religious freedom in this country since if the government prevails it will mean that persons of faith will be obligated to abandon their principles if they wish to participate in commerce. But though it is widely understood that this case is the byproduct of the ongoing fight about ObamaCare, what is not often pointed out is that President Obama’s favorite tactic in trying to soften the blow of his signature health-care law prior to the 2014 midterms highlights the hypocrisy of his administration’s arguments before the courts.

Over the course of the last year, the administration has granted numerous exemptions and delays to businesses and various types of individuals from having to comply with the law. As Politico reports today, the extent of how far the individual mandate has shrunk is astounding. The point of that exercise is to reduce the pain felt by both businesses and consumers in order to tamp down the general outrage about the law that has been growing since its passage. Democrats say these moves have just been a matter of common sense for a scheme that is in its infancy. But it is telling that the one exemption that the administration has never considered and is, in fact, willing to go to legal war over, is the mandate that is being resisted by Hobby Lobby and other companies with related lawsuits that are being decided by the high court. This is not merely a matter of political bias that can serve as a talking point about the case. As questions from the justices to Solicitor General Donald Verrelli indicated today, it goes directly to the argument put forward by the government that its purpose in compelling Hobby Lobby’s owners to discard their religious scruples constitutes the “least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest” as defined by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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We won’t know the outcome of today’s hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court of the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius case, which tests the right of the government to impose a mandate forcing all businesses to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, until later this spring. As I wrote yesterday, the case is a crucial test for the future of religious freedom in this country since if the government prevails it will mean that persons of faith will be obligated to abandon their principles if they wish to participate in commerce. But though it is widely understood that this case is the byproduct of the ongoing fight about ObamaCare, what is not often pointed out is that President Obama’s favorite tactic in trying to soften the blow of his signature health-care law prior to the 2014 midterms highlights the hypocrisy of his administration’s arguments before the courts.

Over the course of the last year, the administration has granted numerous exemptions and delays to businesses and various types of individuals from having to comply with the law. As Politico reports today, the extent of how far the individual mandate has shrunk is astounding. The point of that exercise is to reduce the pain felt by both businesses and consumers in order to tamp down the general outrage about the law that has been growing since its passage. Democrats say these moves have just been a matter of common sense for a scheme that is in its infancy. But it is telling that the one exemption that the administration has never considered and is, in fact, willing to go to legal war over, is the mandate that is being resisted by Hobby Lobby and other companies with related lawsuits that are being decided by the high court. This is not merely a matter of political bias that can serve as a talking point about the case. As questions from the justices to Solicitor General Donald Verrelli indicated today, it goes directly to the argument put forward by the government that its purpose in compelling Hobby Lobby’s owners to discard their religious scruples constitutes the “least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest” as defined by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

That the government has never sought to relieve companies of the burden imposed by the Health and Human Services Department mandate is important because of the vast array of other exemptions that it has shown itself willing to countenance. President Obama has played fast and loose with his constitutional obligations to enforce the laws of the land with unilateral decisions that various aspects of the bill he signed into law could be postponed or ignored. This selective enforcement undermines arguments about a “compelling government interest.” Since Hobby Lobby is facing fines of $1.3 million per day for its refusal to pay for services that offend the consciences and the religious beliefs of its owners or over $26 million per year if it dropped coverage altogether, there is no question that it is being placed under a substantial burden.

The government’s arguments are already vague about its justification for this decision. The red herrings about women’s rights and health-care costs that are put forward by administration cheerleaders obscure the fact that no one’s rights or access to contraception is being denied by Hobby Lobby. Nor is there any substance to arguments that owners of for-profit businesses lose their First Amendment rights when they incorporate or engage in commerce. As Gabriel Malor writes in a compelling summary of the myths that Hobby Lobby opponents have propagated at TheFederalist.com:

It is not a radical departure from the norm for businesses to pick and choose what health coverage they provide. In fact, that was the norm for decades. What was new and harmful and possibly part of a slippery slope to lawlesssness was the decision of Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius to impose her will on businesses, for the first time demanding that they provide morally objectionable coverage or face crippling penalties.

As Malor also writes, the notion that there is a compelling government interest in forcing Hobby Lobby to bend to the will of the administration is undermined by the fact that:

Sebelius has already exempted 190 million people from the contraception mandate, either because they work for non-profit corporations or because their plans were “grandfathered” when ObamaCare became effective.

Under these circumstances with widespread exemptions the arguments in favor of the government aren’t merely exposed as constitutionally weak but a demonstration of the administration’s hostility to religious believers who disagree with the mandate. A nation that values religious freedom less than it does Barack Obama’s political calculations is one that is abandoning the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion.

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Religious Bias and the Washington Post

Here we go again.

The Washington Post–which years ago published a story referring to followers of the Christian right as “largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command”–yesterday published a front-page story titled, “High court with vocally devout justices set to hear religious objections to health-care law.”

Get it? The story, written by the Post’s Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes, is meant to focus attention on–and raise our concerns about–whether justices with deep (and vocal) religious faith can rule fairly on a religious liberties case. (Two cases, including Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., will be argued before the Supreme Court today. Hobby Lobby is a chain of arts and crafts stores owned by David and Barbara Green, business owners who are evangelical Christians and seeking a religious exemption from parts of Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.)

We’re told, for example, that “Justice Clarence Thomas is a former seminarian who says God saved his life.” Alarming, yes, but that’s not the worst of it:

Justice Antonin Scalia is the most outspoken. He has urged fellow intellectuals to be “fools for Christ” and used an interview last fall to underscore his belief in the existence of the Devil, whose latest maneuver, he said, “is getting people not to believe in him or in God.”

Mr. Barnes later devotes two more paragraphs to the interview Scalia did with New York magazine in which he spoke about his belief that the Devil exists. Apparently some members of the elite media find this a stunning admission. (Those of us who love The Screwtape Letters do not.) 

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Here we go again.

The Washington Post–which years ago published a story referring to followers of the Christian right as “largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command”–yesterday published a front-page story titled, “High court with vocally devout justices set to hear religious objections to health-care law.”

Get it? The story, written by the Post’s Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes, is meant to focus attention on–and raise our concerns about–whether justices with deep (and vocal) religious faith can rule fairly on a religious liberties case. (Two cases, including Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., will be argued before the Supreme Court today. Hobby Lobby is a chain of arts and crafts stores owned by David and Barbara Green, business owners who are evangelical Christians and seeking a religious exemption from parts of Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.)

We’re told, for example, that “Justice Clarence Thomas is a former seminarian who says God saved his life.” Alarming, yes, but that’s not the worst of it:

Justice Antonin Scalia is the most outspoken. He has urged fellow intellectuals to be “fools for Christ” and used an interview last fall to underscore his belief in the existence of the Devil, whose latest maneuver, he said, “is getting people not to believe in him or in God.”

Mr. Barnes later devotes two more paragraphs to the interview Scalia did with New York magazine in which he spoke about his belief that the Devil exists. Apparently some members of the elite media find this a stunning admission. (Those of us who love The Screwtape Letters do not.) 

On the matter of Scalia’s use of the phrase “fools for Christ,” let me offer some context. When Scalia said what he did in 2010, he was speaking to members of the St. Thomas More Society of Maryland. Justice Scalia was honored with the Society’s “Man for All Seasons Award,” given to members of the legal profession who embody the ideals of St. Thomas More.

Here’s how Catholic Review reported on the event:

Scalia outlined a long list of Christian beliefs that he said are greeted with derision by the worldly – dogmas including Christ’s divinity, the Virgin birth and Christ’s resurrection.

“Surely those who adhere to all or most of these traditional Christian beliefs are regarded in the educated circles that you and I travel in as, well, simple-minded,” Scalia asserted.

The Catholic justice cited a story in the Washington Post that described Christian fundamentalists as “poorly educated and easily led.”

“The same attitude applies, of course, to traditional Catholics,” Scalia said, “who do such positively peasant-like things as saying the rosary, kneeling in adoration before the Eucharist, going on pilgrimages to Lourdes or Medjugorje and – worst of all – following indiscriminately, rather than in smorgasbord fashion, the teachings of the pope.”

Scalia said believers should embrace the ridicule of the world.

“As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,” he said, “we are fools for Christ’s sake.”

Scalia noted that Christ described his followers as sheep and said no one will get into heaven without behaving like “little children.” Scalia warned, however, that reason and intellect must not be laid aside where matters of religion are concerned.

“Assuredly, a faith that has no rational basis is a false faith,” Scalia said.

The actual account leaves a different and more textured impression than the Post account, no? And did you notice something? Mr. Barnes didn’t report fully on what Scalia said, which is this: “As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we are fools for Christ’s sake.” (Emphasis added.)

Most people would agree that there’s quite a difference between saying, “[Scalia] urged fellow intellectuals to be ‘fools for Christ’” and saying, “Scalia, in a speech in which he was honored by the St. Thomas More Society of Maryland, quoted the Apostle Paul in urging his fellow Catholics to be ‘fools for Christ.’”

It is a phrase most committed Christians would immediately recognize, and they would understand what it means: People who take their faith seriously will be viewed by those in the world who don’t share that faith as benighted, unenlightened, zealous, perhaps even something of a threat. Remarkably, St. Paul offered these thoughts even before he could cite the Washington Post’s coverage of Christians in public life as evidence for his claim.

Judge for yourselves, but it strikes me that the point of the story is fairly obvious: A devout person of faith is automatically suspect when it comes to judging on religious liberty matters. As a friend of mine put it to me, it’s “setting the stage for the argument that all but atheist progressives should recuse themselves from considering the legitimacy of the latest bold advance of atheist progressivism.” (We know how these things work. Liberals on MSNBC, having heard the secular dog whistle, are already raising doubts of whether “the court that will decide [the religious liberty cases] includes six Catholic justices, some of whom have not been shy about asserting their religion.”)

It would of course be offensive if the Post had (hypothetically) run a front-page article raising questions about whether a black justice could fairly rule on Brown v. Board of Education or if a Jewish justice could fairly rule on National Socialist Party v. Skokie. Does one’s sexual orientation–gay or straight–compromise one’s ruling on cases like Lawrence v. Texas? Would it be fair to raise doubts about the objectivity of non-Christian justices if they rule against the Greens in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby? Exactly where does this identity politics begin and end?

Let me make one final observation. Everyone is motivated by a philosophical view of the world. It may be informed by religious faith or not. It may be Catholic or evangelical–or materialism or pragmatism. It may be based on the teachings of Jesus–or Kant’s categorical imperative, Mill’s theory of utilitarianism, Nietzsche’s Will to Power, or Derrida’s deconstructionism. One’s view may be shaped by Maimonides, Aristotle, John Rawls, or Richard Dawkins. It may be a very odd combination of all of the above. Or none of the above.

My point is we all have certain views about the human person and about human dignity–if the latter exists and if so, what it is based on. We all bring certain assumptions and precepts, some well formulated and others not, on how we interpret the world around us. Yet for people of a certain cast of mind, the only time this matter becomes controversial is when the worldview is Christian–particularly orthodox and traditionally Christian. (Many journalists tend to be less troubled by people of religious faith if their faith leads them to a liberal outcome. This explains why Jerry Falwell was treated much more harshly than Sojourner’s Jim Wallis, even though they are different sides of the same coin.)

When four years ago Justice Scalia said, “Surely those who adhere to all or most of these traditional Christian beliefs are regarded in the educated circles that you and I travel in as, well, simple-minded,” he knew of what he spoke. See the story by Robert Barnes, supra.  

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A Corrupt Criminal Justice System

Glenn Reynolds not only runs the indispensable Instapundit website, he is also a distinguished law professor at the University of Tennessee and writes a regular column for USA Today. Today’s column is an important one, “Our Criminal Justice System Has Become a Crime.”

The problem with the system is that prosecutors have acquired far too much power and face few consequences for bad behavior. Prosecutorial discretion—deciding whom to go after and whom to ignore—is an open invitation to corruption. And this corruption can have consequences beyond the individuals involved. Had Senator Ted Stevens not been convicted a week before he narrowly lost reelection in 2008 in a trial that involved “gross prosecutorial misconduct,” he undoubtedly would have been reelected and the Democrats would not have had the sixty votes in the Senate they needed to ram ObamaCare through.

Criminal statutes have proliferated to such an extent that the federal government doesn’t even know how many federal criminal statutes there are. People break laws all the time without knowing it. So a prosecutor investigating an individual can often find evidence of dozens, even hundreds, of “crimes” and charge the individual with them. And usually the case never goes to trial. Instead the person charged is offered a plea bargain and has no real option but to take it.

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Glenn Reynolds not only runs the indispensable Instapundit website, he is also a distinguished law professor at the University of Tennessee and writes a regular column for USA Today. Today’s column is an important one, “Our Criminal Justice System Has Become a Crime.”

The problem with the system is that prosecutors have acquired far too much power and face few consequences for bad behavior. Prosecutorial discretion—deciding whom to go after and whom to ignore—is an open invitation to corruption. And this corruption can have consequences beyond the individuals involved. Had Senator Ted Stevens not been convicted a week before he narrowly lost reelection in 2008 in a trial that involved “gross prosecutorial misconduct,” he undoubtedly would have been reelected and the Democrats would not have had the sixty votes in the Senate they needed to ram ObamaCare through.

Criminal statutes have proliferated to such an extent that the federal government doesn’t even know how many federal criminal statutes there are. People break laws all the time without knowing it. So a prosecutor investigating an individual can often find evidence of dozens, even hundreds, of “crimes” and charge the individual with them. And usually the case never goes to trial. Instead the person charged is offered a plea bargain and has no real option but to take it.

As Reynolds points out, while a criminal trial positively bristles with due process—especially the jury’s power to determine guilt—the pretrial process has little due process. Prosecutors decide whom to investigate and what charges to file. Grand juries seldom refuse to indict.

Reynolds has solutions:

First, prosecutors should have “skin in the game” — if someone’s charged with 100 crimes but convicted of only one, the state should have to pay 99% of his legal fees. This would discourage overcharging. (So would judicial oversight, but we’ve seen little enough of that.) Second, plea-bargain offers should be disclosed at trial, so that judges and juries can understand just how serious the state really thinks the offense is. Empowering juries and grand juries (a standard joke is that any competent prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich) would also provide more supervision. And finally, I think that prosecutors should be stripped of their absolute immunity to suit — an immunity created by judicial activism, not by statute — and should be subject to civil damages for misconduct such as withholding evidence.

As Reynolds likes to say, read the whole thing. This problem needs much more attention.

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No Mention of Rising Costs in O’s ACA Blitz

While the administration’s less-than-stellar performance in recent foreign crises have called into question President Obama’s stature as a commander in chief, there’s never been any doubt about his zeal to play salesman in chief with regard to his signature health-care law. The president has been ubiquitous throughout the media, seizing any chance to promote ObamaCare enrollment. From the offbeat Between Two Ferns satire show to sports shows to mainstream entertainment like the Ellen DeGeneres Show, the president has shown no reticence about flogging the health-care law.

The marketing strategy is clear. Though many of those who would truly benefit from signing up for ObamaCare are older, the presidential appearances are geared toward young demographics. On all of these shows the president has touted the need for young and healthy persons to get health insurance. The message is seemingly noncontroversial, even anodyne in nature. But there are some things that he is leaving out of the sales pitch. One is that the whole point of trying to attract young people to ObamaCare is because the assumption is that most of them won’t actually need it. Their premiums are intended to pay for the services that will be doled out to the elderly, the sick, and those with pre-existing conditions. The other and even more important point that will be missing from the president’s exhortations is that the already above average cost of the premiums for the misnamed Affordable Care Act will be skyrocketing later this year.

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While the administration’s less-than-stellar performance in recent foreign crises have called into question President Obama’s stature as a commander in chief, there’s never been any doubt about his zeal to play salesman in chief with regard to his signature health-care law. The president has been ubiquitous throughout the media, seizing any chance to promote ObamaCare enrollment. From the offbeat Between Two Ferns satire show to sports shows to mainstream entertainment like the Ellen DeGeneres Show, the president has shown no reticence about flogging the health-care law.

The marketing strategy is clear. Though many of those who would truly benefit from signing up for ObamaCare are older, the presidential appearances are geared toward young demographics. On all of these shows the president has touted the need for young and healthy persons to get health insurance. The message is seemingly noncontroversial, even anodyne in nature. But there are some things that he is leaving out of the sales pitch. One is that the whole point of trying to attract young people to ObamaCare is because the assumption is that most of them won’t actually need it. Their premiums are intended to pay for the services that will be doled out to the elderly, the sick, and those with pre-existing conditions. The other and even more important point that will be missing from the president’s exhortations is that the already above average cost of the premiums for the misnamed Affordable Care Act will be skyrocketing later this year.

As The Hill reports:

Health industry officials say ObamaCare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country, countering claims recently made by the administration. The expected rate hikes will be announced in the coming months amid an intense election year, when control of the Senate is up for grabs. The sticker shock would likely bolster the GOP’s prospects in November and hamper ObamaCare insurance enrollment efforts in 2015.

The industry complaints come less than a week after Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to downplay concerns about rising premiums in the healthcare sector. She told lawmakers rates would increase in 2015 but grow more slowly than in the past. … Her comment baffled insurance officials, who said it runs counter to the industry’s consensus about next year. 

“It’s pretty shortsighted because I think everybody knows that the way the exchange has rolled out … is going to lead to higher costs,” said one senior insurance executive who requested anonymity. The insurance official, who hails from a populous swing state, said his company expects to triple its rates next year on the ObamaCare exchange. 

The prospect of rising premiums makes the attempt to sell ObamaCare to the young doubly duplicitous.

On the one hand, the president and his supporters are not telling their intended audience that what he is attempting to orchestrate is a massive generational wealth transfer from the young to the elderly. ObamaCare’s benefits for those who had not previously been able to get or afford insurance are real. But the young and the healthy are paying for it. They are currently being cajoled by the administration to sign up for their own good. Later, persuasion will turn to coercion, as fines will be imposed for those who don’t do as they are told.

But the prospect of huge price increases later this year turns the president’s pitch into a massive bait and switch con game. Once the “affordable” ObamaCare insurance is put into place, the fact that enrollment figures are millions below where they need to be in order to make the scheme viable will force prices up through the roof. Indeed, when one factors into the equation that hundreds of thousands of those who are now being counted as enrolled have not yet—and may never—pay their premiums means the costs may go even higher than insurance industry experts are predicting.

This is the sort of scam that would draw the attention of law enforcement officials or at least the Better Business Bureau were the hucksters for this plan not federal officials. But since the scammers in question are the president of the United States and his minions, they will not only get away with it, but will be given the kind of free publicity that no ordinary confidence men could dream of getting. It remains to journalists to spread the message to American youth that while it is never a bad idea to take precautions for unexpected circumstances, “buyer beware” is the best advice any potential ObamaCare customer can receive.

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March Madness? Fake ObamaCare Enrollment Numbers.

The administration is claiming a limited victory by saying the number of those enrolled in ObamaCare has now hit 5 million with two weeks to go until the March 31 deadline. If accurate, the number does represent a steep increase over the 4.2 million that were said to have signed up at the beginning of the month. At this rate, administration cheerleaders reason, the goal of 7 million enrolled in the Affordable Care Act may yet be reached at some point in the near future, if not quite on time. This burst of enrollments is seen as a vindication of President Obama’s all-out push to promote the law including such questionable activities as appearing on the “Between Two Ferns” web show where he traded barbs with comedian Zach Galifianakis.

But before the president and his team start popping the champagne corks to celebrate their achievement and their faux hipness, it’s time once again to point out that the administration’s Potemkin enrollment figures should be read with a truckload of salt. As the New York Times reported last month, as much as 20 percent of all those enrolled had not actually paid their premiums, meaning they were not covered by the program. While Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told Congress she had no idea what the numbers of unpaid enrollees were, more states are reporting these figures and, as CNBC reported last week, the results are literally all over the map. While some states report high pay rates, others like Maryland say only 54 percent have paid.

All this calls in to question not only the effectiveness of the sales job done by the president and celebrity supporters such as Lebron James. It also means that the odds that this system can sustain itself without mandating vast increases in rates for those who do pay are getting slimmer every day.

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The administration is claiming a limited victory by saying the number of those enrolled in ObamaCare has now hit 5 million with two weeks to go until the March 31 deadline. If accurate, the number does represent a steep increase over the 4.2 million that were said to have signed up at the beginning of the month. At this rate, administration cheerleaders reason, the goal of 7 million enrolled in the Affordable Care Act may yet be reached at some point in the near future, if not quite on time. This burst of enrollments is seen as a vindication of President Obama’s all-out push to promote the law including such questionable activities as appearing on the “Between Two Ferns” web show where he traded barbs with comedian Zach Galifianakis.

But before the president and his team start popping the champagne corks to celebrate their achievement and their faux hipness, it’s time once again to point out that the administration’s Potemkin enrollment figures should be read with a truckload of salt. As the New York Times reported last month, as much as 20 percent of all those enrolled had not actually paid their premiums, meaning they were not covered by the program. While Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told Congress she had no idea what the numbers of unpaid enrollees were, more states are reporting these figures and, as CNBC reported last week, the results are literally all over the map. While some states report high pay rates, others like Maryland say only 54 percent have paid.

All this calls in to question not only the effectiveness of the sales job done by the president and celebrity supporters such as Lebron James. It also means that the odds that this system can sustain itself without mandating vast increases in rates for those who do pay are getting slimmer every day.

For months we’ve been told by the administration that the only problem with ObamaCare was a “glitchy” website that had since been fixed. But what has since become clear is that the effort to convince young and healthy Americans to sign up for insurance that is both expensive and not something they may need is a failure. Though many of those who clearly benefit from the new health law, such as the poor and those with pre-existing conditions, have signed up, the scheme requires large numbers of those who won’t need the coverage as often in order to be economically viable. That problem will be exacerbated by the failure of much larger percentages of customers to pay for their insurance.

As we’ve noted previously, the non-payment of the premium is not a technicality. Many of those purchasing the insurance may be first-time buyers and not understand that they must pay their bill before coverage starts rather than long after the fact, as they can with a credit card transaction. Or it may be that some enrolled with no intention of paying or thinking that the hype about the glories of ObamaCare they’ve heard in the mainstream media and from the president absolved them of the obligation to pay for it. But either way, the large number of non-payments renders the enrollment figures meaningless and ensures that the rates for those who do pay are going up next year by percentages that will shock them.

The president claimed that the number of enrollees has already reached the point where the law will work rather than collapse from lack of participation. But even if we accept his premise that falling millions of customers short of the announced goal of seven million is no big deal, the fact that hundreds of thousands of those being counted in the pool of those he’s counting are not covered because of non-payment of premiums makes his assertion a colossal fraud.

The president may think that a March madness ad blitz during the NCAA basketball tournament may save ObamaCare. But if the past pattern holds, any further surge in enrollment will provide the scheme with a false sense of security. Until we get a full accounting not only of those who signed up on a website but completed the process by paying for the plan they chose, we’ll have no idea how many people truly are enrolled. Seen in that light, the president’s enrollment promises may well turn out to be no different from other pledges he has made about the ACA in the last few years: completely untrue.

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Scott Brown’s New Hampshire Gamble

Republicans around the country have been heartened by David Jolly’s defeat of Democrat Alex Sink in Tuesday’s special election and what it could portend for the upcoming congressional midterms. But perhaps no one was more delighted by the result than Scott Brown. As CBS reported yesterday, the former Massachusetts senator is staffing up for a campaign and spreading the word that he’s ready to run for Senate from New Hampshire.

Some of that took place before Jolly’s win over Sink, and indeed it was clear for months that Brown was seriously considering challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in November. But that activity increased in the wake of Tuesday’s election and Brown is expected to announce that he’s forming an exploratory committee today. The exploratory committee is a first step, and it’s not too much of a surprise. As CBS noted, some were taken aback he was only going that far while giving the impression he has made up his mind:

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Republicans around the country have been heartened by David Jolly’s defeat of Democrat Alex Sink in Tuesday’s special election and what it could portend for the upcoming congressional midterms. But perhaps no one was more delighted by the result than Scott Brown. As CBS reported yesterday, the former Massachusetts senator is staffing up for a campaign and spreading the word that he’s ready to run for Senate from New Hampshire.

Some of that took place before Jolly’s win over Sink, and indeed it was clear for months that Brown was seriously considering challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in November. But that activity increased in the wake of Tuesday’s election and Brown is expected to announce that he’s forming an exploratory committee today. The exploratory committee is a first step, and it’s not too much of a surprise. As CBS noted, some were taken aback he was only going that far while giving the impression he has made up his mind:

Some of Brown’s former colleagues were surprised that he decided to form an exploratory committee, instead of just announcing that he is running after all these months of playing coy, Cordes reports. He has signaled that he wants to go on a listening tour of sorts in New Hampshire, the way Hillary Clinton did when she ran for Senate in New York in 2000 to try to shed the carpetbagger label.

Brown spent much of the past two weeks calling key New Hampshire Republican officials and influential GOP activists, saying he was going to run and seeking their support. At the same time, Brown’s camp has quietly begun offering paid positions to Republican operatives for a prospective New Hampshire campaign.

Several people involved in the discussions told the Associated Press that some in the GOP establishment remain skeptical given the former Republican senator’s recent track record. The 54-year-old Brown angered Massachusetts Republicans last year after indicating he would run in the state’s special U.S. Senate election, only to change his mind late in the process.

Brown has good reason to leave himself room to back out. No matter how good a year it seems to be for Republican congressional candidates, Brown is taking more of a risk running for this particular seat than most GOP candidates this year. Brown had his pick of recent and future elections in which to attempt to make his return to elected office after losing to Elizabeth Warren in 2012. He could have jumped into the special election to fill John Kerry’s seat after he was nominated to be secretary of state, but that would have necessitated not only another (expensive) election right after his loss but a second soon after that to defend the seat for a full term.

Brown was well aware of the pitfalls of such an effort; after all, he won the seat originally in a special election but then lost it on a regular election year (and when President Obama was on the ballot). The national GOP would have loved to have him in Congress, but he had a better shot at winning the upcoming Massachusetts governor’s race, which some analysts thought he’d run in. The state more readily elects Republicans as governor than as senator, and Brown left office with high approval ratings. A term as governor would also have helped any national aspirations he had. In the end, he passed on that race too.

That left the possibility he’d run in New Hampshire, where he owns a home. The challenge here is that he’d risk getting tagged as a “carpetbagger” for switching states. Such a tag rarely holds politicians back, especially in the Northeast (New York’s junior Senate seat almost seemed to be reserved for out-of-state Democrats when the possibility arose that Hillary Clinton could be succeeded by Caroline Kennedy). But in a close race, every vote counts.

More importantly for Brown, running for Senate from New Hampshire likely leaves him without a fallback option. Had he stayed in Massachusetts and lost another election there, he’d almost surely still have a future anyway, or at least one more run for office before state Republicans thought he’d pass his sell-by date. But he probably cannot run and lose multiple times in New Hampshire, which will be less tolerant of a candidate from another state. And it’s doubtful he can return to statewide elections in Massachusetts after spurning the party and passing up two important elections there to run in New Hampshire instead.

But that also tells you just how encouraged Brown was by this year’s political trends. The test for Brown in New Hampshire was always going to be whether there was a national issue that would take precedence among voters over a local issue they might not trust him with. ObamaCare appears to be that national issue, and its potency was displayed in Sink’s defeat. (She wasn’t even in Congress to vote for ObamaCare and it still held her down.) It’s also an issue Brown knows well, having successfully campaigned on it once before.

If Scott Brown goes all-in this round, he wants to be sure to have a strong hand to play. Thus Sink’s defeat on Tuesday may not only be evidence of a tough year for Democratic candidates, but a strong one for Republican candidate recruitment.

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Barack Obama, Political Wrecking Ball

By now it’s settled on most people, including Democrats, that the loss of Alex Sink to David Jolly in Florida’s 13th Congressional District was, in the words of the New York Times, “devastating” to Democrats. It’s a district Ms. Sink carried in her unsuccessful race for governor against Rick Scott, a district that Barack Obama carried in his two elections, and a district that demographically now favors Democrats. In addition, Ms. Sink raised more money and ran a better campaign than Jolly. Even Bill Clinton lent his efforts to her campaign. And yet she lost.

What should particularly alarm Democrats is that Ms. Sink, who was not in Congress in 2010 and therefore did not cast a vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act, ran what Democrats considered a “textbook” campaign when it came to dealing with ObamaCare. She said she wanted to fix it, not repeal it; and she attempted to paint Jolly as a right-wing extremist on abortion, Social Security privatization, and in wanting to repeal ObamaCare. And yet she lost.

Even someone as reflexively partisan as Paul Begala said Democrats shouldn’t try to spin this loss.

But there’s another, broader point worth making, I think. It is that Barack Obama, who was the embodiment of liberal hopes and dreams, is turning out to be a one-man political wrecking ball when it comes to his party–and to liberalism more broadly.

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By now it’s settled on most people, including Democrats, that the loss of Alex Sink to David Jolly in Florida’s 13th Congressional District was, in the words of the New York Times, “devastating” to Democrats. It’s a district Ms. Sink carried in her unsuccessful race for governor against Rick Scott, a district that Barack Obama carried in his two elections, and a district that demographically now favors Democrats. In addition, Ms. Sink raised more money and ran a better campaign than Jolly. Even Bill Clinton lent his efforts to her campaign. And yet she lost.

What should particularly alarm Democrats is that Ms. Sink, who was not in Congress in 2010 and therefore did not cast a vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act, ran what Democrats considered a “textbook” campaign when it came to dealing with ObamaCare. She said she wanted to fix it, not repeal it; and she attempted to paint Jolly as a right-wing extremist on abortion, Social Security privatization, and in wanting to repeal ObamaCare. And yet she lost.

Even someone as reflexively partisan as Paul Begala said Democrats shouldn’t try to spin this loss.

But there’s another, broader point worth making, I think. It is that Barack Obama, who was the embodiment of liberal hopes and dreams, is turning out to be a one-man political wrecking ball when it comes to his party–and to liberalism more broadly.

The evidence is scattered all around us, from the epic defeat Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterm, to the (likely) lashing that awaits them in 2014, to collapsing trust and confidence in the federal government, to an agenda that is unpopular virtually across the board. Add to that the rising disorder and chaos in the world that is the predictable result of Mr. Obama’s disengaged and impotent foreign policy.

The American people, having lived with the Obama presidency for more than five years, have come to the conclusion–later, I think, than they should have–that he is incompetent, weak, and untrustworthy. And that judgment is directed not just at Mr. Obama; it is implicating his entire party.

Barack Obama produced a health-care proposal that was a liberal dream for a half-century. It is a bitter irony for him, and a predictable result for many of us, that having achieved it, it may well set back the cause of liberalism for years to come.

Liberals wanted Mr. Obama. Now they have him. And now they may be undone by him.

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Even in KY, Focus Is Obama, Not McConnell

In a week in which Democrats have already received a harsh wake-up call about the nature of the 2014 midterms in the form of a stunning loss in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, today’s New York Times article about the Kentucky Senate race will likely give liberals another conniption fit. The piece, a preview of a new Times-run site called Upshot, debunks the popular Democratic belief that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doomed to defeat this November. Upshot may turn out to be nothing more than an attempt at an edgier version of Times political coverage intended to compete with the popular political news websites that have been running rings around old media print-based papers for years. But in this case author Nate Cohn is right on the money. Despite the wild optimism about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s challenge to McConnell that has become conventional wisdom in the liberal mainstream media, the odds against the Democrats in Kentucky are far greater than most on the left will concede.

As Cohn points out, the problem for liberals in Kentucky is no different from the one they faced this week in Florida when a superior and well-funded Democratic candidate lost to an inferior Republican. In Florida-13, national issues helped keep a seat in Republican hands in a district that Barack Obama won twice. As much as Democrats are trying to make the election a referendum on McConnell, 2014 is all about President Obama and ObamaCare. And as long as that is the case, Democrats are in big trouble.

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In a week in which Democrats have already received a harsh wake-up call about the nature of the 2014 midterms in the form of a stunning loss in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, today’s New York Times article about the Kentucky Senate race will likely give liberals another conniption fit. The piece, a preview of a new Times-run site called Upshot, debunks the popular Democratic belief that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doomed to defeat this November. Upshot may turn out to be nothing more than an attempt at an edgier version of Times political coverage intended to compete with the popular political news websites that have been running rings around old media print-based papers for years. But in this case author Nate Cohn is right on the money. Despite the wild optimism about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s challenge to McConnell that has become conventional wisdom in the liberal mainstream media, the odds against the Democrats in Kentucky are far greater than most on the left will concede.

As Cohn points out, the problem for liberals in Kentucky is no different from the one they faced this week in Florida when a superior and well-funded Democratic candidate lost to an inferior Republican. In Florida-13, national issues helped keep a seat in Republican hands in a district that Barack Obama won twice. As much as Democrats are trying to make the election a referendum on McConnell, 2014 is all about President Obama and ObamaCare. And as long as that is the case, Democrats are in big trouble.

The mainstream media narrative about the Kentucky race has been fairly consistent. McConnell is the Republican liberals seem to despise the most and 2014 seemed to create a perfect storm of circumstances that could guarantee his defeat. Many Tea Party activists regard McConnell as the quintessential establishment traitor to their cause leading Matt Bevin, a wealthy investment executive, to try to take out McConnell in a primary. But even if he survived a primary, Democrats are fielding a formidable candidate in Grimes, who has a strong record as Kentucky secretary of state and can mobilize heavy hitters like former President Bill Clinton to back her candidacy. The party establishment felt so strongly about Grimes that they went all out to discourage actress Ashley Judd from running and the result is that she has a clear path to November. All that adds up to a competitive race that probably gives the Democrats their best—and perhaps only—chance to unseat a Republican senator this year.

But, as Cohn points out, assuming that a red state like Kentucky will oust an incumbent Republican senator, not to mention one as powerful as the minority leader (who may well become majority leader next January) is a leap of faith that sensible political observers shouldn’t make. The number of incumbents in McConnell’s position that have been defeated for reelection in the last generation can be counted on one hand. Indeed, the only real precedent for such an event is what happened to Alaska’s Ted Stevens in 2008 when Mark Begich narrowly defeated him after the senator was convicted in a corruption case. But, as Cohn helpfully points out, as much as Democrats and some right-wing activists might hate him, McConnell isn’t a convicted felon (while failing to note that Stevens’s conviction was later overturned because of the outrageous and illegal conduct of his prosecutors, though that did the Alaskan, who died in a plane crash soon after the election, little good).

If, as Cohn points out, McConnell could be reelected in 2008 in the middle of the electoral wave for Barack Obama as well as in the wake of his role in the passage of the TARP bailout for the banks, it’s hard to imagine him losing in the midst of what almost everyone concedes will be a big Republican year with voter outrage focused on ObamaCare. Throw in the fact that anger about Obama’s anti-coal policies is running red hot in the state’s coal producing regions and it’s hard to see how Grimes gets to a majority this year.

Moreover, as Cohn also notes, Grimes’s good poll numbers that show her even with the senator have a fatal flaw. She’s currently polling in the low 40s, which sounds good but, given Kentucky’s past voting patterns, that may be her ceiling rather than a jumping off point.

More than anything else, like other Democrats, Grimes is going to have to deal with the massive fallout from ObamaCare. Like Alex Sink in Florida-13, Grimes is trying to finesse the issue by saying the law should be fixed rather than repealed. The Kentucky ObamaCare exchange is working better than in most states leading some to conclude health care won’t be the issue in that state that it is elsewhere. But that’s an assumption that fails to take into account the dynamic of how a national issue can overwhelm local concerns. And, as Sink discovered, the “fix it” mantra may not turn out to be so smart anyway since it forces Democrats to play on Republican turf.

It’s true that Mitch McConnell has a fight on his hands and Grimes may well have a future in national politics beyond this year. But those counting on the minority leader losing are probably backing the wrong horse in this year’s Senate derby.

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