There was a running joke in the fall of 2008 that John McCain should simply re-air Hillary Clinton’s “3 a.m. phone call” ad, which highlighted Barack Obama’s lack of experience and meager knowledge of world affairs, and just tack on “I’m John McCain, and I approve this message” at the end of the ad. The point was that thanks to the bitter primary battle between the Clintons and Obama, Democrats had already developed the most effective lines of attack against Obama, and Republicans needed only to nod their heads in agreement.
Something similar is taking place amid the several Obama administration scandals that have surfaced almost simultaneously. (There has been new information on Benghazi, but the issue itself isn’t new; the IRS and AP phone records scandals, in contrast, hit less than a week apart.) Both Democrats and Republicans are raising the prospect that the GOP could get carried away or bungle their response to the scandals–surely a possibility. One way to prevent that, however, would be to simply echo the way Obama’s supporters have tried to defend him.
Regardless of where the investigation into the IRS’s enormous abuse of power leads, the scandal is already a headache for the Obama administration–and the Democratic Party in general–for the simple reason that it highlights the irresponsibility of the left’s project of ever-expanding and unaccountable big government. The fact that the IRS has been engaged in a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and suppression of conservative non-profits during the Obama presidency has rightly been the focus of reporting on the scandal. But there is an important detail that should not be overlooked.
We now know that the IRS campaign targeted not just explicitly “Tea Party” or other patriotic-sounding organizations, but “ones worried about government spending” and those who “criticize[d] how the country is being run,” as the Wall Street Journal reported. In other words, the IRS targeted anyone who disagreed with the president. Yet as outrageous as this is, there is an element of inevitability to it. The IRS is empowered to silence groups that IRS officials believe may oppose the IRS’s powers–which the IRS is abusing at will for its own financial and political benefit. So they simply used the powers they were given, and which are expanding under ObamaCare, to protect themselves and the administration from their common foes.
These are not good days for Barack Obama.
His second term agenda has broken down. The Democratic-controlled Senate did not pass even a single part of his gun-control agenda. His effort to use sequestration to batter Republicans has backfired. His budget was sent up to Capitol Hill two months late–and was immediately dismissed. If immigration reform passes, it will be because Democrats kept the president on the sideline, fully aware that his presence in negotiations with Republicans would only make success more unlikely.
In his press conference earlier this week, Mr. Obama was forced to plead that he is still relevant. “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point,” he said. (“At this point” is a curious and revealing formulation.)
In March 2011, Avik Roy wrote about something that constituted, in his opinion, “simply put, the greatest scandal in America. Bigger than Madoff, bigger than the Wall Street bailout, bigger even than the plight of the uninsured.” The scandal was a study demonstrating that “despite the fact that we will soon spend more than $500 billion a year on Medicaid, Medicaid beneficiaries, on average, fared worse than those with no insurance at all.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Indeed, Medicaid does not tend to fare well when tested. But yesterday’s news was among the worst that proponents of expanded Medicaid and its larger ObamaCare policy disaster could have received. The New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of a study conducted by major health-policy scholars–including ObamaCare advisor Jonathan Gruber–further showing that Medicaid is an expensive bust. The conclusion from the study authors:
It’s been clear for some time that President Obama’s strategy on sequestration cuts–to speak as if they would unleash the seven plagues from the book of Revelations and, when that didn’t occur, attempt to magnify pain on the American people–has been a failure. The latest evidence of this was late last week when President Obama and congressional Democrats jettisoned their position that they would resolve the issue of furloughed air traffic controllers only in the context of a broader agreement to end all the sequestration cuts.
The House, by a margin of 361-to-41, approved a deal to give the secretary of transportation the financial flexibility to shift hundreds of millions of dollars to the air traffic control system–flexibility that Republicans have insisted on and Mr. Obama originally refused. (The House vote came after the Senate acted.)
Originally, the president and Democrats said they would only replace the sequester cuts with tax increases. They are now, slowly and against their will, embracing the GOP approach of applying cuts in a reasonable and prioritized way. Read More
Last night, Politico published what seemed like quite the scoop: members of Congress from both parties were holding secret negotiations with the aim of passing legislation that would exempt their staffers from unwieldy ObamaCare rules. The backlash was immediate, and virtually guaranteed that whether or not the Politico story got it right (it didn’t), it would at least have the effect of snuffing out whatever legislation was being contemplated.
The countdown began, and ended this afternoon when Harry Reid announced that the problem they spent months in secret negotiations trying to fix doesn’t actually exist, in his expert opinion, and thus would not require legislation that reeked of hypocrisy. So what actually happened? As Ezra Klein explained at the Washington Post, during the ObamaCare negotiations Chuck Grassley had proposed, and Congress subsequently passed, an amendment that requires congressional offices to purchase their health insurance policies from the insurance exchanges set up by ObamaCare. Grassley’s amendment was designed to embarrass Democrats by forcing them to reject part of ObamaCare as good enough for the ragged masses but not for them. Democrats, instead, accepted the amendment.
Ever since the failure of the gun-control bill, President Obama’s supporters have been wondering how it is that the president could ask for something and not get it. Obama himself seemed fairly surprised by this, if his bizarre and uncomfortable statement after the vote was any indication. He lashed out at the senators who opposed the bill, but those senators were motivated by electoral concerns, which means they were nervous to cross the voters they are supposed to represent, which means the president was really lashing out at the public.
And of course the president fully understood the position of those lawmakers he was demonizing as accomplices to child endangerment. After all, the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut was not the first mass shooting of his presidency; there was one in his first term as well, but the president chose not to muster and release his righteous indignation when he still had to worry about his own re-election. And now he looked at dozens of lawmakers who acted exactly as he did and called them cowards. But today’s New York Times story on the failure of the gun bill has managed to find easily the most ludicrous explanation yet:
In a hearing on Wednesday, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, in speaking about enacting the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “I just see a huge train wreck coming down.”
He’s not the only one.
President Obama is not one to be intimidated by long odds. That much is clear from his political career in general, but certainly from his dogged pursuit of Obamacare when the polls showed the country hated the bill and thought it was unconstitutional, and even elected a Republican to Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat in the hopes of stopping the legislation in its tracks.
Advisors told Obama to drop it, pretty much right up until it passed. There were any number of opportunities for the White House to gracefully bow out of the health care reform fight, and they were all ignored. It can certainly be argued that when the public begged the president not to inflict a bad law on them, he should have spared them. But it can’t be argued that the president accepts conventional wisdom on what is politically feasible as the last word. And so it is with gun control.
Last week I wrote about the need to fix Obamacare in the event the legislation cannot be repealed. Since Obamacare is unpopular, there would seem to be plenty of common ground on which Republicans and Democrats could meet to mitigate some of the damage the bill is set to do to the economy and the health sector. That’s not speculation or wishful thinking: Democrats have already gone on record as willing to repeal certain parts of the law, and the Senate recently passed a symbolic nonbinding resolution expressing support for repealing the medical device tax by a 79-20 margin.
The medical device tax will harm both innovation and the health-sector job market, and Democrats representing states that will be hurt by this, like Minnesota’s Al Franken, have led the charge to get rid of the tax. Republicans are happy to have located a tax cut that could pass both houses of Congress, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly begun encouraging House Republicans to take up such legislation. The resulting bill would represent a win for common sense and a boon to those frustrated by the gridlocked nature of divided government by uniting most of Congress to fix an unpopular provision of an unpopular law. But as you might expect, there is a familiar problem: Harry Reid. David Drucker reports:
It’s a status quo jobs report this month, with little significant change in the numbers. The good news is the unemployment rate went down by a tick to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent. The bad news is that the civilian labor force declined as well, by 493,000 people, and the participation rate, the percentage of the adult population in the labor force, declined to 63.1 percent, the lowest number in the 21st century. When President Obama took office, it was 65.7 percent. So the decline in unemployment is almost entirely due to a declining labor force, not a growing job pool. The number of new jobs in March was a mere 88,000, nowhere near enough to reduce unemployment on its own.
What is causing this stagnant job market after so deep a recession? The answer is that the amount of uncertainty in the marketplace is not declining, indeed it is growing, and there is nothing markets hate more than uncertainty. Europe’s deteriorating financial and economic situation is surely not helping, nor is the forthcoming implementation of Obamacare, with a legion of unanswered questions about how it will affect businesses from the Fortune 500 on down. When even two-thirds of Democrats think that Obamacare will either adversely impact them personally or have no effect, there is going to be a strong tendency to wait and see what happens.
If you would like to know what insurance really is, and why Obamacare (and much private “medical insurance”) is not insurance at all, but an economic and humanitarian disaster waiting to happen, you cannot do better than Megan McArdle’s delightfully jargon-free article in The Daily Beast.
Insurance began in the 17th century when merchants wanted to protect themselves against the loss of a ship and its cargo. By paying a small amount upfront, they each protected themselves against the loss of a huge amount. This is called risk pooling, one of the truly great economic ideas. By spreading risk, it made it much easier to assume risk, and assuming risk is one of the prime drivers of an economy.
This National Journal piece, titled “The Secret Republican Plan to Repeal ‘Obamacare’,” has come in for a fair amount of mocking on the right. The “secret plan” turns out to be the GOP leadership’s very public, well-known, high-profile desire to … vote to repeal Obamacare. Just last week the GOP put up yet another (failed) amendment to repeal the health care reform law.
If the Republican Party is trying to keep its plan to repeal Obamacare a secret, it isn’t succeeding. The political press has been unable to conceal its annoyance at the GOP’s stubborn fight to rid the country of an unpopular law. Conservatives are, appropriately, unfazed by the president’s palace guard in the media doing their best to dictate the policy agenda. The left says the fight is over, and Obamacare is here to stay. But if that’s true, they’re only half right: if Obamacare is here to stay, the fight is only beginning. The law is so shoddy and onerous that it is going to take sustained effort for lawmakers to fix the worst parts of the bill just to make it workable. Obamacare is unsustainable as-is.
This weekend marks the third anniversary of Obama’s signature achievement, the healthcare bill named the “Affordable Care Act,” better known as Obamacare. At the time of the bill’s passage the New York Times called it an “attack on wealth inequality,” and unsurprisingly the paper was full-throated in its support of the president and his agenda. Now that the bill is safely passed and its namesake has been reelected, the Times small business section has come to a shocking realization: Obamacare is going to very seriously, and very negatively, impact small businesses. In two separate stories on their homepage the picture is clear: business owners are facing tough decisions regarding their compliance and most of the possible scenarios will end up hurting the employees that the healthcare law was supposed to be protecting.
Yesterday the Times published a profile of a small business looking at the possibility of losing half of its profits due to requirements in the new healthcare law. The bakery’s owners are mulling their options trying to decide how to best comply with the law while still turning a profit. The options they’re deciding between are being discussed at businesses across the U.S.:
In the aftermath of President Obama’s now-obvious-to-all sequester overreach–in which he first predicted the end of the world as we know it, then backed away from those claims once the cuts went into effect, then attempted to inflict maximum pain on the American people, and is now blaming the Secret Service for the stupid and unnecessary decision to shut down White House tours–something is changing.
President Obama’s RealClearPolitics.com approval rating is in the 40s. His disapproval rating exceeds his approval rating in three different polls (Fox, McClatchy/Marist, and Quinnipiac). Congressional Democrats are beginning to grouse. And according to a Washington Post story yesterday, Mr. Obama’s approval rating at this early stage in his second term is among the lowest of any president in the post-World War II era.
Now that Obamacare is a fait accompli, the mainstream media is discovering what the rest of us have known for years: Obamacare is a bureaucratic mess, unlikely to solve the nation’s healthcare woes. Senator Mitch McConnell’s office recently released a photo showing just how complicated the regulations for the bill have become. Sadly, the photo depicting a tower of regulatory paperwork seven feet tall isn’t even the final product of what will become the backbone of Obamacare; more regulations are on the way.
The Associated Press got the scoop on the latest bad news for Obamacare supporters with an incredibly amusing headline for any conservative who saw this coming from a mile away: “AP Exclusive: Applying for health care not easy.” The AP’s story described the forms involved with applying for Obamacare, which “could be as daunting as doing your taxes.” The forms the AP are referencing are only the first step in applying for the health insurance which requires applicants prove their financial need.
Even before the press conference announcing his budget plan was over, Democrats were bombarding House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan with abuse. After years of denouncing Ryan as an extremist, liberals see no need to be diplomatic about the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate’s ideas. Moreover, after several days of press hype about President Obama’s tentative outreach to Republicans in the capital’s budget standoff, Ryan’s blueprint for cutting spending is being portrayed as nothing less than a provocation intended to deepen the partisan divide. The very act of his sticking to the principles he has consistently articulated throughout his career is viewed as somehow a lack of respect for the verdict of the voters last November as well as an unhelpful diversion from the path to compromise.
Nevertheless, Ryan’s plan was not a mistake. Whatever course the negotiations between the parties take in the coming weeks and months, it is important that Republicans state what they stand for. Elections may have consequences but, as Ryan rightly noted today, they don’t mean the losers must abandon their principles. Restraining the reach of government, cutting back spending and preventing job-killing tax hikes are just as important today as they were before Mitt Romney and Ryan lost. The battle over the direction of the country is not the function of one election or the tussle over the budget in any given year. President Obama’s re-election makes it all the more imperative that conservatives understand that they are involved in a contest over ideas rather than personalities. Far from this being the moment to roll over and confine the debate to one over the details of Obama’s plans, conservatives need to follow Ryan’s example and speak up for what is right if they are ever to prevail.
In the 1930s an economic phenomenon known as a “strike of capital” helped prolong the Great Depression. A strike of capital occurs when companies, banks, and individuals with capital to invest or money to loan decline to do so for fear that the investments might not prove profitable due to business conditions or government action.
A strike of capital would seem to be what is going on now. As the New York Times noted in an editorial yesterday, American corporations are sitting on vast piles of cash. Apple Corporation alone has about $140 billion in the bank. Altogether publicly-listed corporations in the United States are holding about $4.75 trillion in cash, not far short of one-third of annual GDP. In 1995, they held only about $1.2 trillion in cash, and cash has about doubled as a percentage of corporate assets since that time, to 12 percent.
The administration’s main talking point in the debate about the sequester has been that a “balanced” deal is being stymied by a band of ruthless conservative ideologues in the House of Representatives. This narrative, which has been endlessly echoed in the mainstream media, is based on the idea that conservative opposition to the idea of raising taxes has so distorted the Republican Party that it is unable to do the right thing, strike a deal with a president, and avert the looming draconian budget cuts. There is some truth in the assertion that the current Republican caucus is far more influenced by a desire to adhere to conservative principle than was the case with their predecessors. The problem with that argument is that it has been just as apparent that, far from advocating true balance, the Democrats are just as committed to their own ideological point of view about the budget as the GOP. Since the government has a spending problem rather than one of taxing too little, the White House’s hard line about there being no deal without more revenue has always been a reflection of their own beliefs about the need to expand government rather than shrink it. However, the administration’s attempt this week to scare the country silly about the sequester has revealed even more about the way ideology has influenced their stand.
After a week of doom and gloom predictions from Cabinet secretaries about the world coming to an end if the government is forced to live without spending more than it was shelling out when Barack Obama became president, it looks as if the public isn’t buying the Democrats’ Chicken Little routine. The impact of these cuts will be felt across the board in indiscriminate and often stupid ways, especially those affecting national defense, but it looks as if everyone understands that civilization is not about to come to a standstill because of the sequester. Yet it is highly instructive that amid all the shrieks of grief and horror about the anticipated cuts that may well be implemented by the administration to maximize the pain felt by the public, there is one piece of discretionary spending not already protected in the sequester legislation (which exempts things like military pay and entitlement spending) that will not be halted by the shortfall: the implementation of ObamaCare. As Politico reports today, there are no plans to slow or even postpone the costly expansion of government power no matter how much the administration tries to play the “Washington Monument” game, in which cuts are made so as to emphasize the costs of the measure:
The Obama administration has issued ample warnings how the sequester can have dire effects on health programs. Official talk about fewer vaccines, cuts in medical research grants, less money to treat HIV, fund cancer screenings or respond to outbreaks. But they haven’t been issuing a lot of warnings about how it’s slowing down the rollout of Obamacare.
Because sequester or no sequester, the administration is trying to keep work on the core elements full steam ahead. The Department of Health and Human Services wouldn’t respond to questions about the automatic budget cuts and health law implementation. But both advocates and critics of the law expect HHS to use all the flexibility it can muster to keep it moving — although it could get harder if the sequestration is prolonged.
This morning, liberal political strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile posted an update to Twitter that has had conservatives laughing for hours. She complained:
The possibility that a major reform of health care might have had something to do with Brazile’s suddenly increased premiums was outside the realm of possibility. After hours of conservative lampooning, Brazile followed up on her tweet: