Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obamacare

What BuzzFeed’s Success Can Teach Vox

National Journal has earned the ire of progressive bloggers today with its story noting that the White House long ago figured out how to essentially incorporate liberal writers into the Obama communications shop. The article notes the access given to some of these bloggers, though it does not exclude targeting the liberal bloggers not invited to the White House, whose willingness to parrot administration talking points does not require flattery or coordination.

But there is one that stands out, and I think it’s an interesting aspect to some of the recent developments in political new media. From the story:

Consider: A search of White House records shows Ezra Klein, then with The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, visiting more than 25 times since 2009; last week, a Post story detailed the travails of Lesley Clark, a White House reporter for McClatchy who has been to the Oval Office three times in the last three years, and has asked one question directly to Obama in all that time.

Klein’s visits with Democratic politicians have always been about more than pressing a message; elected Democrats see his status as a “wonk” as an opportunity both to glean information from him and as a messenger of their own perspective who carries more credibility with the policy community than other bloggers. But that presumed credibility is a trap both sides have fallen into.

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National Journal has earned the ire of progressive bloggers today with its story noting that the White House long ago figured out how to essentially incorporate liberal writers into the Obama communications shop. The article notes the access given to some of these bloggers, though it does not exclude targeting the liberal bloggers not invited to the White House, whose willingness to parrot administration talking points does not require flattery or coordination.

But there is one that stands out, and I think it’s an interesting aspect to some of the recent developments in political new media. From the story:

Consider: A search of White House records shows Ezra Klein, then with The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, visiting more than 25 times since 2009; last week, a Post story detailed the travails of Lesley Clark, a White House reporter for McClatchy who has been to the Oval Office three times in the last three years, and has asked one question directly to Obama in all that time.

Klein’s visits with Democratic politicians have always been about more than pressing a message; elected Democrats see his status as a “wonk” as an opportunity both to glean information from him and as a messenger of their own perspective who carries more credibility with the policy community than other bloggers. But that presumed credibility is a trap both sides have fallen into.

Klein left the Washington Post to run his own “explanatory journalism” site, Vox.com. It’s off to a rough start. I explained here how uninformative its foreign-policy explainers are; Sonny Bunch detailed here how uninformative its sports reporting is; and after Klein used the site’s launch to explain how political bias infects consumers of data, it turned out Klein had misread the data himself. And this week Jim Antle demonstrated how Klein and his health-care writers have resorted to essentially cherry-picking numbers and moving the goalposts in order to spin the struggling ObamaCare as a success story.

And that gets at the problem with Vox. Despite its mission statement, the site is notably light on information and heavy on the pretense of authority. It does not prove; it proclaims. And it is, along with those mentioned in the National Journal story, a vehicle through which the White House can speak.

Vox’s struggles, then, are actually indicative of a more positive trend on consumers of political news. Vox started with high expectations and landed with a bit of a thud. The reverse is true of another new media trendsetter, and for all the right reasons. When Ben Smith left Politico to direct BuzzFeed’s expanded news coverage, more than a few were scratching their heads. BuzzFeed was known for humorous memes and pet listicles, and many wondered whether Smith could ever lead BuzzFeed’s news division to garner the credibility that would take, to some extent, undermining or at least shifting the (successful) brand BuzzFeed had already created.

Though it’s still fairly early, it seems clear at this point that Smith has largely succeeded. BuzzFeed still fights for its reputation, but the site did a very simple thing to prove itself to its doubters: it hired exceptional journalists.

Rosie Gray has led an energetic investigative news effort, scoring repeated scoops without playing ideological favorites. To do foreign-affairs reporting, BuzzFeed hired Gregory Johnsen, an experienced writer on Yemen and terrorism, and the AP’s Max Seddon. For its Washington bureau, the site hired Roll Call’s John Stanton. And while reporters get most of the attention, BuzzFeed has made exceptional editing hires as well, including Katherine Miller from the Washington Free Beacon and the superb Miriam Elder.

In other words, while Vox concentrated its energy in its brand, BuzzFeed decided the best way to prove itself was to publish undeniably good journalism. Does BuzzFeed still struggle with the sometimes awkward marriage of cat gifs and on-the-ground foreign reporting? Sure, but that’s in large part due to the fact that BuzzFeed’s initial, pre-Ben Smith branding efforts were so successful. It’s a battle BuzzFeed doesn’t always win, but it seems pretty clear they beat expectations in a rout.

Online-only new media startups are proliferating for all the obvious reasons. It would be an encouraging sign if the market for them continued to reward those who don’t act as brand-obsessed adjuncts of the White House press shop.

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Pennsylvania’s Nasty Democratic Civil War

One of the evergreens of political journalism in the last few years has been the civil war that has raged on the right between the so-called Republican establishment and the Tea Party. There’s a good deal of truth in that meme, as the guerilla warfare that has been waged between some Tea Partiers against establishment candidates has in some cases cost the GOP winnable Senate seats and led to bad blood stemming from tactical arguments about the government shutdown. That strife on the right is real, though at times overblown and perhaps, as last night’s results in North Carolina illustrated, on its way toward being resolved in favor of the Republican mainstream rather than the more extreme elements among the Tea Party/libertarian faction.

But the notion that only one of our two major parties is engaged in ideological conflicts is somewhat deceiving. It is true that maintaining control of the White House gives Democrats a central focus that the opposition party lacks by definition. Moreover, President Obama is wildly popular among Democrats. Even those who are less than thrilled with all his policies are unwilling to criticize him sharply and thus be lumped with Republicans, who are called racists for opposing the president by liberals. And yet as the administration lapses into lame duck status, conflicts among Democrats are starting to reappear. The best evidence for this is in Pennsylvania, where a gubernatorial primary race is showing that Democrats are employing some of the same themes that were key to Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 against each other.

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One of the evergreens of political journalism in the last few years has been the civil war that has raged on the right between the so-called Republican establishment and the Tea Party. There’s a good deal of truth in that meme, as the guerilla warfare that has been waged between some Tea Partiers against establishment candidates has in some cases cost the GOP winnable Senate seats and led to bad blood stemming from tactical arguments about the government shutdown. That strife on the right is real, though at times overblown and perhaps, as last night’s results in North Carolina illustrated, on its way toward being resolved in favor of the Republican mainstream rather than the more extreme elements among the Tea Party/libertarian faction.

But the notion that only one of our two major parties is engaged in ideological conflicts is somewhat deceiving. It is true that maintaining control of the White House gives Democrats a central focus that the opposition party lacks by definition. Moreover, President Obama is wildly popular among Democrats. Even those who are less than thrilled with all his policies are unwilling to criticize him sharply and thus be lumped with Republicans, who are called racists for opposing the president by liberals. And yet as the administration lapses into lame duck status, conflicts among Democrats are starting to reappear. The best evidence for this is in Pennsylvania, where a gubernatorial primary race is showing that Democrats are employing some of the same themes that were key to Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 against each other.

The Pennsylvania governor’s race is especially interesting this year because it is one of the few contests around the country where Democrats are heavily favored to topple a Republican incumbent. Governor Tom Corbett is deeply unpopular and trails every one of the leading Democratic contenders. Part of his problem stems from what is perceived as his lackluster pursuit of the perpetrator in the Penn State sex abuse case when he was state attorney general as well as his subsequent willingness to accept a draconian punishment on the iconic football program from the NCAA. But Corbett is also seen as a rigid and ineffective leader in Harrisburg who arouses little enthusiasm among the GOP base.

Corbett’s vulnerability has attracted some well-funded candidates including Rep. Allyson Schwartz, State Treasurer Rob McCord, and a wild card in millionaire businessman Tom Wolf. There are no real differences between the three leading Democrats in the race on the issues, with the only disagreement coming on the issue of just how confiscatory the taxes that would be imposed on companies fracking in Pennsylvania should be with Wolf advocating a huge increase though not as much as Schwartz and McCord.

Many state party leaders saw Schwartz as an obvious choice, but the congresswoman from the Philadelphia suburbs has found herself trailing Wolf badly throughout the race as the businessman flooded the airwaves with television ads extolling his virtues and establishing name recognition. By the end of April three different statewide polls showed Schwartz trailing Wolf by 25-31 percentage points (McCord is a distant third), a stunning result for a woman who gave up what is now a safe congressional seat to try for the governorship.

But with approximately a third of the third electorate still declaring itself undecided, Schwartz still has hope with less than two weeks to go until the May 20 primary. In seeking to take down Wolf, Schwartz is, as the New York Times recently reported, wholeheartedly embracing ObamaCare. That is newsworthy since the president’s signature health-care law is no more popular in Pennsylvania than in the rest of the country. But more than that, she’s also seeking to use some of the war on women rhetoric Democrats typically employ against Republicans as well as rolling out negative ads seeking to trash Wolf in the same way her party slimed Mitt Romney’s reputation in 2012.

In part, this tactic is based on a belief that Democratic primary voters won’t hold her vote for ObamaCare against Schwartz in the way many independent voters would. But her desire to rally Democratic women to her cause by reminding them that she ran a profitable abortion clinic before being elected to the state senate and then Congress also shows that she believes gender politics works as well in primaries as it does in general elections. Even more to the point, her willingness to smear Wolf for being a successful entrepreneur with charges out of the same bogus playbook used to delegitimize Romney’s business career is also a fascinating test case of whether those tactics work as well against liberal millionaires as with conservatives.

It’s too soon to tell whether Schwartz’s all-out assault on the more moderate Wolf will succeed, but either way it will tell us something important about Democratic voters. If Schwartz’s war on women and “evil capitalist” routines don’t dent Wolf’s lead it may signal that the tactics that Democrats are looking to employ nationwide this fall against Republicans won’t even work among their own voters. The nasty Democratic civil war being waged in Pennsylvania not only gives the lie to the idea that only the Republicans are divided. If Democrats do reject Wolf—a candidate who is a prohibitive favorite against Corbett—in favor of Schwartz who has only a small lead on the governor and who will be a tough sell to a state that is not as liberal as she is, it will do more than give the GOP some desperately needed hope. It will prove that Democrats are as capable of kneecapping themselves by nominating ideological hardliners in place of moderates as Republicans.

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The Conservative Case Against Crony Capitalism

In an essay for COMMENTARY last year, Michael Gerson and I, writing on how the GOP can revivify itself and increase its appeal, argued that it had to focus on the economic concerns of working-and middle-class Americans, many of whom now regard the Republican Party as beholden to “millionaires and billionaires” and as wholly out of touch with ordinary Americans. (In a Washington Post/ABC News poll that is otherwise filled with awful news for Democrats, by 52 to 32 percent, Americans trust Democrats over Republicans when it comes to helping the middle class.) 

Gaining a fair hearing on a range of issues, we wrote,

requires changing an image that the GOP is engaged in class warfare on behalf of the upper class. Republicans could begin by becoming visible and persistent critics of corporate welfare: the vast network of subsidies and tax breaks extended by Democratic and Republican administrations alike to wealthy and well-connected corporations. Such benefits undermine free markets and undercut the public’s confidence in American capitalism. They also increase federal spending. The conservative case against this high-level form of the dole is obvious, and so is the appropriate agenda: cutting off the patent cronyism that infects federal policy toward energy, health care, and the automobile and financial-services industries, resulting in a pernicious and corrupting system of interdependency. “Ending corporate welfare as we know it”: For a pro-market party, this should be a rich vein to mine. 

Now comes a miner by the name of Mike Lee, who last week delivered a powerful conservative case against crony capitalism.

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In an essay for COMMENTARY last year, Michael Gerson and I, writing on how the GOP can revivify itself and increase its appeal, argued that it had to focus on the economic concerns of working-and middle-class Americans, many of whom now regard the Republican Party as beholden to “millionaires and billionaires” and as wholly out of touch with ordinary Americans. (In a Washington Post/ABC News poll that is otherwise filled with awful news for Democrats, by 52 to 32 percent, Americans trust Democrats over Republicans when it comes to helping the middle class.) 

Gaining a fair hearing on a range of issues, we wrote,

requires changing an image that the GOP is engaged in class warfare on behalf of the upper class. Republicans could begin by becoming visible and persistent critics of corporate welfare: the vast network of subsidies and tax breaks extended by Democratic and Republican administrations alike to wealthy and well-connected corporations. Such benefits undermine free markets and undercut the public’s confidence in American capitalism. They also increase federal spending. The conservative case against this high-level form of the dole is obvious, and so is the appropriate agenda: cutting off the patent cronyism that infects federal policy toward energy, health care, and the automobile and financial-services industries, resulting in a pernicious and corrupting system of interdependency. “Ending corporate welfare as we know it”: For a pro-market party, this should be a rich vein to mine. 

Now comes a miner by the name of Mike Lee, who last week delivered a powerful conservative case against crony capitalism.

In his speech Senator Lee defines crony capitalism (policies in which government twists public policy to unfairly benefit favored special interests at the expense of everyone else); identifies specific cases of it (federal financial regulations, sugar subsidies, our education system, and the Affordable Care Act, among others); and explains why it is antithetical to true conservatism.

Senator Lee also identifies policies that would combat cronyism, including tax, budget, and regulatory reform, ending special tax treatment for the energy sector, protecting taxpayers from the implicit health-insurer bailouts in the Affordable Care Act, modernizing federal labor laws, doing something about “too big to fail,” and more.

“Americans intuitively understand that crony capitalism is not a form of private enterprise,” according to Lee, “it’s a form of public corruption.” He went on to say, “It seems to me that a principled, positive agenda to remove government-created barriers to upward mobility and middle-class opportunity – to level our economic playing field and put economic elites back to work creating jobs and growth for everyone else – represents everything conservatism should stand for.”

I agree; and I hope more conservatives will rally to this good cause.

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ObamaCare Remains a Bust with the Public

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.

So wrote the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

He could have had the Affordable Care Act in mind.  

I say that because after President Obama announced that more than seven million (and later more than eight million) Americans had signed up on federal or state exchanges for coverage, the assumption among the White House, liberals, and the elite media was that public opinion would begin to shift rapidly in favor of Obamacare. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was supposed to mark the closing of one (bad) chapter and the beginning of another (good) one. 

The American people would rethink their opposition to Mr. Obama’s signature domestic program. What had been a political negative for Democrats would be transformed into a positive. Or so we were told. But reality intruded yet again.

According to the Washington Post’s Scott Clement and Aaron Blake:

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But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.

So wrote the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

He could have had the Affordable Care Act in mind.  

I say that because after President Obama announced that more than seven million (and later more than eight million) Americans had signed up on federal or state exchanges for coverage, the assumption among the White House, liberals, and the elite media was that public opinion would begin to shift rapidly in favor of Obamacare. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was supposed to mark the closing of one (bad) chapter and the beginning of another (good) one. 

The American people would rethink their opposition to Mr. Obama’s signature domestic program. What had been a political negative for Democrats would be transformed into a positive. Or so we were told. But reality intruded yet again.

According to the Washington Post’s Scott Clement and Aaron Blake:

In just one week, a barrage of national polling has reached the same verdict: Obamacare’s Rocky Balboa-esque announcement that 8 million people have signed up for health care has done absolutely nothing to reverse the law’s basic and long-standing unpopularity.

A new high of 55 percent disapproves of the law in a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll. And the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracking poll, a Post-ABC poll and a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week all found little lasting changes from earlier this year — when the law was at the heart of its implementation struggles.

Messrs. Clement and Blake argue that attitudes toward the Affordable Care Act are deeply entrenched and “Americans’ biggest complaints about the health law are pretty well etched in stone. They existed well before the Web site’s troubles, and the number of Americans who sign up for the law was never the root of the opposition.” Many of the public’s complaints will be hard, if not impossible, to overcome, they write. 

It isn’t uncommon for wishful thinking to characterize a president and a party about to experience yet another massive mid-term election setback. And my guess is that Democrats will continue to convince themselves that the Affordable Care Act isn’t a burden, and may even be a benefit, until around mid-day Tuesday, November 4, 2014, when the election returns will begin to come in and Democrats will learn just what a political disaster ObamaCare is. We’ll then see how many of them connect the dots and accept that it’s a political catastrophe because it’s a substantive catastrophe. 

That will probably take a good deal more time, since a political party can only absorb so much grief and inconvenient truth at a time. 

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News Bulletin: Obama Believes He’s Too Good for Us

Poor Barack Obama.

According to David Remnick, a biographer of the president and the editor of the New Yorker, “The profile [of President Obama] that I published in the New Yorker was somebody that eerily, eerily seemed to be claiming himself–it was a sense of not giving up, but of deep frustration–that was the profile that I published in the New Yorker. Somebody frustrated and disappointed.”

Remnick went on to add, “And that’s what’s frustrating to me sometimes about Obama is that the world seems to disappoint him. Republicans disappoint him, Bashar al-Assad disappoints him, Putin as well.” (H/T: the Weekly Standard.)

How hard life must be for The One We’ve Been Waiting For, who must travel in this fallen world, amongst mortal man, tolerating such folly and failure? It’s little wonder that Mr. Obama, whom top aides referred to in the 2008 campaign as the “Black Jesus,” is disappointed in the world.

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Poor Barack Obama.

According to David Remnick, a biographer of the president and the editor of the New Yorker, “The profile [of President Obama] that I published in the New Yorker was somebody that eerily, eerily seemed to be claiming himself–it was a sense of not giving up, but of deep frustration–that was the profile that I published in the New Yorker. Somebody frustrated and disappointed.”

Remnick went on to add, “And that’s what’s frustrating to me sometimes about Obama is that the world seems to disappoint him. Republicans disappoint him, Bashar al-Assad disappoints him, Putin as well.” (H/T: the Weekly Standard.)

How hard life must be for The One We’ve Been Waiting For, who must travel in this fallen world, amongst mortal man, tolerating such folly and failure? It’s little wonder that Mr. Obama, whom top aides referred to in the 2008 campaign as the “Black Jesus,” is disappointed in the world.

But in return consider this: Think about how disappointed the world must be in Barack Obama. The man who promised to slow the rise of the oceans, heal the planet, and end a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism–who promised us new beginnings and hope and change–has overseen an increasingly disordered and chaotic world, enemies who are emboldened and allies who are alienated, the worst economic recovery on record, startling failures plaguing his signature domestic achievement, a record number of Americans on food stamps and in poverty, a widening gap in income inequality, and a riven and polarized political culture.

These are the hallmarks of a failed presidency. And the president and his courtiers are already settling on their explanation: Barack Obama was simply too good for the world.

The president thinks we have failed him. In reality, he has failed us. 

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Watching the Obama Presidency Die

The news for Democrats, already bad this year, just got worse. Consider this story in the USA Today:

A nationwide USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows the strongest tilt to Republican candidates at this point in a midterm year in at least two decades, including before partisan “waves” in 1994 and 2010 that swept the GOP into power. Though Election Day is six months away — a lifetime in politics — at the moment, Democrats are saddled by angst over the economy, skepticism about the health care law and tepid approval of the president.

The specific data point worth focusing on is that registered voters favor a generic Republican over a generic Democrat by four points (47 percent v. 43 percent). As USA Today points out, “[The GOP] lead in the generic congressional ballot is the biggest at this point for Republicans in the past 20 years. In 1994, when the GOP would gain control of the House and Senate, Democrats held a 2-point advantage in the spring of the election year. In 2010, when Republicans would win back the House, the two sides were even.”

That’s not all.

By more than two-to-one, 65 percent v. 30 percent, Americans say they want the president elected in 2016 to pursue different policies and programs than the Obama administration, rather than similar ones. By more than two-to-one, Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. And by more than two-to-one, 40 percent v. 17 percent, they assess the nation’s economic conditions as poor, not excellent or good. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed rate their financial situation as “only fair” and 23 percent call it poor.

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The news for Democrats, already bad this year, just got worse. Consider this story in the USA Today:

A nationwide USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows the strongest tilt to Republican candidates at this point in a midterm year in at least two decades, including before partisan “waves” in 1994 and 2010 that swept the GOP into power. Though Election Day is six months away — a lifetime in politics — at the moment, Democrats are saddled by angst over the economy, skepticism about the health care law and tepid approval of the president.

The specific data point worth focusing on is that registered voters favor a generic Republican over a generic Democrat by four points (47 percent v. 43 percent). As USA Today points out, “[The GOP] lead in the generic congressional ballot is the biggest at this point for Republicans in the past 20 years. In 1994, when the GOP would gain control of the House and Senate, Democrats held a 2-point advantage in the spring of the election year. In 2010, when Republicans would win back the House, the two sides were even.”

That’s not all.

By more than two-to-one, 65 percent v. 30 percent, Americans say they want the president elected in 2016 to pursue different policies and programs than the Obama administration, rather than similar ones. By more than two-to-one, Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. And by more than two-to-one, 40 percent v. 17 percent, they assess the nation’s economic conditions as poor, not excellent or good. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed rate their financial situation as “only fair” and 23 percent call it poor.

By a ten-point margin, 53 percent v. 43 percent, those surveyed say the issue of which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote–and those who say they feel that way are more likely to support the Republican contender. In addition, 26 percent say they think of their vote as a vote against Obama while only 16 percent as a vote for him.

The mid-term elections are still six months away, but the political landscape for Democrats is perilous. And the odds are as good or better that things will get worse, not better, for Democrats between now and November.

The American public, at least at this point, seem intent on deliver a stinging rebuke to President Obama, his party, and liberalism itself. The left, knowing this, is going to become even more desperate, more ad hominem, and more deranged in their attacks.

It won’t alter the outcome. We are watching the Obama presidency die. The cause of death? Massive incompetence. Flawed ideology. And the Obama agenda coming into contact with reality.

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Treacherous Political Terrain for Democrats

This week several national polls were released. If you shift through and aggregate the data, they spell trouble for Democrats in the mid-term elections later this year. Here’s why.

Historically, mid-term elections in the second term of a presidency are rough on the party in power. In this case, the president’s overall approval rating is in the low-to-mid 40s, meaning Senate Democrats in red states (where the president’s approval ratings are even lower) need to run roughly 10 points ahead of Mr. Obama to win. That’s tough.

In addition, by several key metrics Democrats are in worse shape now than they were at a comparable time in 2010, when Republicans won the most lopsided mid-term election since before the middle part of the last century. The generic ballot right now is essentially tied, which is historically good news for the GOP. Voter intensity favors Republicans, while some key Democratic constituencies (like young voters) are losing interest in politics. The president’s policies are generally quite unpopular, with little evidence that support for the Affordable Care Act is increasing (independents oppose it more than they favor it by double digits). The economy remains sluggish (growth in the first quarter of this year was only 0.1 percent). There is widespread pessimism in the country and near-record distrust of government.

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This week several national polls were released. If you shift through and aggregate the data, they spell trouble for Democrats in the mid-term elections later this year. Here’s why.

Historically, mid-term elections in the second term of a presidency are rough on the party in power. In this case, the president’s overall approval rating is in the low-to-mid 40s, meaning Senate Democrats in red states (where the president’s approval ratings are even lower) need to run roughly 10 points ahead of Mr. Obama to win. That’s tough.

In addition, by several key metrics Democrats are in worse shape now than they were at a comparable time in 2010, when Republicans won the most lopsided mid-term election since before the middle part of the last century. The generic ballot right now is essentially tied, which is historically good news for the GOP. Voter intensity favors Republicans, while some key Democratic constituencies (like young voters) are losing interest in politics. The president’s policies are generally quite unpopular, with little evidence that support for the Affordable Care Act is increasing (independents oppose it more than they favor it by double digits). The economy remains sluggish (growth in the first quarter of this year was only 0.1 percent). There is widespread pessimism in the country and near-record distrust of government.

The political landscape for Democrats, then, is treacherous, and the president knows that another blowout in a mid-term election will not only complicate the last two years of his presidency but also damage his legacy. 

In response, the White House seems to have settled on a strategy of trying to energize its base voters, which means the president is going to focus on “wedge issues” rather than common ground with Republicans; and ratchet up rather than down his polarizing language.

My guess is the president and his party will gain relatively little electorally from this. On the flip side, he will continue to discredit what was once his most appealing quality as a political leader–his promise that he would put an end to “the politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism”; that he would not pit red America against blue America; and that he would help Americans to “rediscover our bonds to each other and to get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.”

No one believes that has happened, and in fact polls suggest Mr. Obama to be the most polarizing president in the history of modern polling. Democrats will blame Republicans for the bitter nature of our politics while Republicans will say that the responsibility for this rests with him rather than his critics. Whatever the case, there is no dispute about the fact that the president has failed to achieve his core commitment when he first ran. Having to explain failure is never a good position for a president to be in; but that is the situation Mr. Obama finds himself in these days, on issue after issue.  

The Obama presidency continues to come apart. 

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Sinking Poll Results Debunk Dem Optimism

Earlier this month Democrats were sounding more optimistic about their political prospects than they had been in more than a year. Though their credibility was doubtful, the ObamaCare enrollment figures were enough to cause the president to do not one, but two separate touchdown dances over the fact that the government had managed to cajole several million Americans to sign up on the Healthcare.gov website. All this was enough to cause many left-leaning pundits to rethink their pessimism about the Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the Senate. But, like the upbeat stories about ObamaCare that will look pretty silly once the delayed unpopular mandates are put into place and insurance costs start skyrocketing, the liberal happy talk about 2014 was always bound to crash and burn sooner rather than later. As the new Washington Post/ABC News poll published today illustrates, the administration is actually more unpopular than ever.

The Post/ABC poll shows President Obama’s approval rating sinking to a new low—41 percent—and a clear majority of voters stating that they believe Republicans should control Congress to act as a check on the administration’s agenda. This is a significant blow to Democratic hopes of building some momentum to derail a big midterm victory for the GOP. But what is truly interesting about the numbers is that they show that it is not just ObamaCare that is hurting the Democrats. The president’s foreign-policy failures are now starting to impact his standing with the public in a manner they haven’t done before.

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Earlier this month Democrats were sounding more optimistic about their political prospects than they had been in more than a year. Though their credibility was doubtful, the ObamaCare enrollment figures were enough to cause the president to do not one, but two separate touchdown dances over the fact that the government had managed to cajole several million Americans to sign up on the Healthcare.gov website. All this was enough to cause many left-leaning pundits to rethink their pessimism about the Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the Senate. But, like the upbeat stories about ObamaCare that will look pretty silly once the delayed unpopular mandates are put into place and insurance costs start skyrocketing, the liberal happy talk about 2014 was always bound to crash and burn sooner rather than later. As the new Washington Post/ABC News poll published today illustrates, the administration is actually more unpopular than ever.

The Post/ABC poll shows President Obama’s approval rating sinking to a new low—41 percent—and a clear majority of voters stating that they believe Republicans should control Congress to act as a check on the administration’s agenda. This is a significant blow to Democratic hopes of building some momentum to derail a big midterm victory for the GOP. But what is truly interesting about the numbers is that they show that it is not just ObamaCare that is hurting the Democrats. The president’s foreign-policy failures are now starting to impact his standing with the public in a manner they haven’t done before.

Breaking the numbers down on an issue-by-issue analysis, it’s clear that the country’s chronic problems are still damaging the president’s poll numbers. The 54-42 percent margin of disapproval for Obama’s handling of the economy remains the Democrats’ big problem heading into a congressional election where they are already at a disadvantage because of the need to defend so many of the Senate seats won in the president’s 2008 victory. The 57-37 percent result with respect to disapproval of the way Obama handled the rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act is also, despite the early April happy talk, an impenetrable obstacle to Democrats seeking votes in non-blue states. Given that the poll was conducted in the aftermath of the administration’s efforts to hype what they considered to be the success of the health-care law, this is a staggering blow to those liberals who have been insisting that its popularity would finally begin to grow after years of the majority of Americans opposing the measure.

Nor can Democrats take their usual solace from the unpopularity of Congress and their faith that House Republicans will always be blamed more for the country’s problems than the administration. When asked to apportion responsibility for the country not being on the right track (respondents said the country was heading in the wrong direction by a staggering 66-30 percent margin), 40 percent said it was both parties’ fault with 18 percent blaming the president and the Democrats and only six percent saying it was the fault of the Republicans in Congress. This dovetails with the answers to the question about whether it was necessary to have the Congress in the hands of Obama’s opponents so as to put a brake on his agenda.

The poll also should dispel Democratic optimism about ObamaCare’s popularity growing.  As the Post’s Dan Balz and Peyton M. Craighill report:

The Post-ABC poll found that 44 percent say they support the law while 48 percent say they oppose it, which is about where it was at the end of last year and in January. Half of all Americans also say they think implementation is worse than expected.

Last month, a Post-ABC poll found 49 percent of Americans saying they supported the new law compared with 48 percent who opposed it. That finding was more positive for the administration than most other polls at the time. Democrats saw it as a possible leading indicator of a shift in public opinion, but that has not materialized.

But what is also interesting is that foreign and defense policy—issues that have been a source of strength for the president—may now be a distinct liability. Whereas the president was able to portray himself as tougher than Mitt Romney in 2012 by reminding voters who was the one who ordered Osama bin Laden’s killing, the humiliations he has suffered on Syria and now Ukraine have undermined that narrative. Indeed, fewer Americans approve of the president’s handling of the Ukraine crisis (34 percent) than of the way he managed the ObamaCare rollout (37 percent) with large majorities disapproving of both.

The Democrats are not without assets heading into November. Their dominance on social issues as they beat the drums for their faux “war on women” campaign against the GOP is something they hope to exploit. Their embrace of a populist message on income inequality may be economic snake oil but it also has traction with much of the public. But, as the Post points out, Obama’s popularity is now roughly comparable to that of George W. Bush at the same point in his presidency. That is a depressing reminder for Democrats who have been seeking a reason to believe that they would somehow beat the odds and history and not suffer the usual walloping that the party in power gets during the midterm election of a second-term presidency. Despite the early April optimism about the Democrats that the administration’s media cheerleaders have been feeding the public, the outlook remains grim for a president sinking inevitably into lame duck irrelevance.

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Democrats and the Forever (Culture) War

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll is quite miserable for Democrats, and party strategists will no doubt mine the data for clues as to how to recover their standing before the midterms. There are two obvious choices: reinforce the party’s strengths–that is, where they best Republicans in the minds of the voters–or seek to improve their numbers on issues weighing them down. Unfortunately for those hoping for a more substantive debate on the issues this fall, the they are likely to choose the former.

That means, in a nutshell: get ready for an aggressive escalation in the “war on women.” Here’s the Post’s summary of the issues that favor Democrats and those that favor Republicans:

Democrats have a significant advantage on eight issues, from health care to climate change to abortion and same-sex marriage. Democrats have a smaller advantage on immigration, and the two parties are roughly equal on the economy. Republicans have the edge on three — guns, the deficit and striking the right balance on which government programs to cut.

Where Democrats have the biggest advantages are on the same contrasts that helped Obama win reelection in 2012 — indicators of which party voters believe is on their side. By 52 to 32 percent, those surveyed say they trust Democrats to do a better job helping the middle class, and by 55 to 25 percent, they trust Democrats on issues that are especially important to women.

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The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll is quite miserable for Democrats, and party strategists will no doubt mine the data for clues as to how to recover their standing before the midterms. There are two obvious choices: reinforce the party’s strengths–that is, where they best Republicans in the minds of the voters–or seek to improve their numbers on issues weighing them down. Unfortunately for those hoping for a more substantive debate on the issues this fall, the they are likely to choose the former.

That means, in a nutshell: get ready for an aggressive escalation in the “war on women.” Here’s the Post’s summary of the issues that favor Democrats and those that favor Republicans:

Democrats have a significant advantage on eight issues, from health care to climate change to abortion and same-sex marriage. Democrats have a smaller advantage on immigration, and the two parties are roughly equal on the economy. Republicans have the edge on three — guns, the deficit and striking the right balance on which government programs to cut.

Where Democrats have the biggest advantages are on the same contrasts that helped Obama win reelection in 2012 — indicators of which party voters believe is on their side. By 52 to 32 percent, those surveyed say they trust Democrats to do a better job helping the middle class, and by 55 to 25 percent, they trust Democrats on issues that are especially important to women.

The Post notes that there isn’t much evidence that such issues could turn the Democrats’ electoral momentum around. They tend to be base issues, but the usual drop in turnout for non-presidential years means Democrats are likely to need a broader coalition. To do that, they would need to make headway on ObamaCare. The Post details the split on the left on how to do that, shining some light the fact that the Obama White House might be a more significant obstacle for them than Republicans:

The Affordable Care Act is expected to be a major issue in the midterm elections. Obama recently urged Democrats to defend the law energetically, particularly after the administration announced that 8 million people signed up for it during the initial enrollment period. …

A number of Democratic strategists are urging their candidates to campaign on a message that calls for continued implementation of the law, with some fixes. These strategists say that message is more popular than the “repeal and replace” theme of the Republicans.

Democrats want to be able to offer legislative fixes to ObamaCare. This is perfectly logical; even if Republicans are correct about all the damage the law is doing, it’s easy to see why an argument that rolling “fixes” to correct the immediate ObamaCare-caused crises would appeal to those currently experiencing those crises. Republicans in Congress are amenable to this, having supported legislation to unburden the public with some of the more damaging aspects of ObamaCare.

But Obama doesn’t want such legislative fixes, for two reasons. First, he’s not exactly Mr. Humility. He tends, instead, to live in a bubble and simply ignore the facts that conflict with his ideological inflexibility. He prefers “the debate is over” and “the Affordable Care Act is working” to something more nuanced and self-critical. Second, the changes he does make to ObamaCare are done quietly (see reason No. 1) and lawlessly, by executive discretion. He doesn’t see a reason to pass new legislation when he’s ignoring the legislation it’s built on. You have to admit, there’s a certain calculated rationality to it.

But Democrats are united on the “war on women” they’ve invented, and will thus seek new ways to press this delusion. At times, this produces some unintentional comedy, as when male Democrats use this playbook against female Republicans. Male Democrats running on the “women hate women” platform are probably going to struggle to connect to any voters not already in their camp. One example of this was Michigan Democrat Gary Peters, who is running against Terri Lynn Land. Land’s response was priceless, and appropriate.

More broadly, Democrats use the “war on women” construct to argue for unlimited abortion, one of the more divisive social issues of the day. And the Post notes they possess an advantage on the issue of gay marriage, which, along with the Obama administration’s insistence on taxpayer funded birth control, has become a centerpiece of the left’s efforts to punish thought-outliers and erode religious liberty. If the Democrats are going to double down on their perceived strengths for the midterms, that will likely mean firing many more shots in the culture war. And with the party prepared to anoint Hillary Clinton two years later, don’t expect it to let up any time soon.

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Reality Is Crushing the Obama Presidency

Yesterday I wrote a piece on President Obama’s staggering record of failure, including in the foreign-policy arena. 

Events in the last 24 hours appear to reinforce my case.  

Here is a story from the front page of today’s New York Times, hardly a right-wing outlet. It’s worth quoting at length:

President Obama encountered setbacks to two of his most cherished foreign-policy projects on Thursday, as he failed to achieve a trade deal that undergirds his strategic pivot to Asia and the Middle East peace process suffered a potentially irreparable breakdown.

Mr. Obama had hoped to use his visit here to announce an agreement under which Japan would open its markets in rice, beef, poultry and pork, a critical step toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed regional trade pact. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not able to overcome entrenched resistance from Japan’s farmers in time for the president’s visit.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s announcement that it was suspending stalemated peace negotiations with the Palestinians, after a reconciliation between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the militant group Hamas, posed yet another obstacle to restarting a troubled peace process in which Secretary of State John Kerry has been greatly invested.

The setbacks, though worlds apart in geography and history, speak to the common challenge Mr. Obama has had in translating his ideas and ambitions into enduring policies. He has watched outside forces unravel his best-laid plans, from resetting relations with Russia to managing the epochal political change in the Arab world. On Thursday, as Russia staged military exercises on the border with Ukraine, Mr. Kerry denounced broken promises from the Kremlin but took no specific action.

This is incompetence on stilts.

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Yesterday I wrote a piece on President Obama’s staggering record of failure, including in the foreign-policy arena. 

Events in the last 24 hours appear to reinforce my case.  

Here is a story from the front page of today’s New York Times, hardly a right-wing outlet. It’s worth quoting at length:

President Obama encountered setbacks to two of his most cherished foreign-policy projects on Thursday, as he failed to achieve a trade deal that undergirds his strategic pivot to Asia and the Middle East peace process suffered a potentially irreparable breakdown.

Mr. Obama had hoped to use his visit here to announce an agreement under which Japan would open its markets in rice, beef, poultry and pork, a critical step toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed regional trade pact. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not able to overcome entrenched resistance from Japan’s farmers in time for the president’s visit.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s announcement that it was suspending stalemated peace negotiations with the Palestinians, after a reconciliation between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the militant group Hamas, posed yet another obstacle to restarting a troubled peace process in which Secretary of State John Kerry has been greatly invested.

The setbacks, though worlds apart in geography and history, speak to the common challenge Mr. Obama has had in translating his ideas and ambitions into enduring policies. He has watched outside forces unravel his best-laid plans, from resetting relations with Russia to managing the epochal political change in the Arab world. On Thursday, as Russia staged military exercises on the border with Ukraine, Mr. Kerry denounced broken promises from the Kremlin but took no specific action.

This is incompetence on stilts.

Mr. Obama’s failures are piling up one after another, in foreign policy and on the domestic side, to the point that they are now well beyond dispute. Blaming his predecessor became passé a couple of years ago. Blaming Republicans for his foreign-policy failures, and the failures of the Affordable Care Act, is absurd. And so the best the president and his allies can do at this stage is to (a) invert reality (for example, explaining that Russia’s aggression and our timidity are evidence of its weakness and our strength) and/or (b) explain away each failure as the fault not of themselves but of the stars.

That won’t be nearly enough. At some point the excuses grow tiresome and unconvincing, and the bill comes due.  

We are at that stage in the Obama presidency. Reality is crushing his presidency. And there’s nothing America’s most famous former community organizer seems able to do about it.

This is not an easy time for anyone who reveres this nation.

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ObamaCare Has Another Bad Week

The issue on which President Obama is currently fixated on silencing dissent (the debate is “over”) is ObamaCare. This is understandable: the public still hates the law, and for good reason. Obama’s because-I-said-so routine has not, unsurprisingly, fooled the many Americans who had their doctors and health care taken away from them into forgetting the basic cruelty of the president’s health-care reform. But the hope of ObamaCare supporters was that the worst was behind them. Unfortunately for them, the bad news just keeps on coming.

Last week, the Washington Post editorial board declared that “ObamaCare’s critics have had a bad week.” They have not replicated that again this week. The truth is that there is plenty of bad news for the suffocating regulatory beast that is the ACA, but two stories this week stood out. The first was what may herald the next wave of insurance cancellations. The Obama administration is considering largely banning what’s known as “fixed indemnity insurance.” Peter Suderman reported a few days ago:

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The issue on which President Obama is currently fixated on silencing dissent (the debate is “over”) is ObamaCare. This is understandable: the public still hates the law, and for good reason. Obama’s because-I-said-so routine has not, unsurprisingly, fooled the many Americans who had their doctors and health care taken away from them into forgetting the basic cruelty of the president’s health-care reform. But the hope of ObamaCare supporters was that the worst was behind them. Unfortunately for them, the bad news just keeps on coming.

Last week, the Washington Post editorial board declared that “ObamaCare’s critics have had a bad week.” They have not replicated that again this week. The truth is that there is plenty of bad news for the suffocating regulatory beast that is the ACA, but two stories this week stood out. The first was what may herald the next wave of insurance cancellations. The Obama administration is considering largely banning what’s known as “fixed indemnity insurance.” Peter Suderman reported a few days ago:

Fixed indemnity coverage is a form of limited, low-cost insurance that pays out a flat rate in response to certain prescribed events—say $75 for a doctor’s visit or $15 for a prescription—regardless of the cost. Because the coverage payouts aren’t variable, and because some major medical costs aren’t covered at all, monthly premiums are often quite low, meaning that it offers a way for people to have some coverage at relatively affordable rates.

It may not be an option for much longer. The proposed regulation would essentially outlaw standalone indemnity policies, making it illegal to sell them except as an addendum to the more robust, more expensive plans that meet the law’s minimum essential benefits requirements.  Under the proposed rules, indemnity insurance sold by itself would be classified in such a way that it has to meet all the requirements for “major medical coverage.”

It’s as if regulators suddenly decided that anyone selling scooters had to make sure those scooters were as powerful (and thus expensive) as motorcycles. Otherwise, scooters could only be sold as sidecars to people who already owned motorcycles.

Suderman notes that this would be at cross-purposes with the idea that ObamaCare seeks to increase the ranks of the insured, since such plans could be purchased along with the mandate penalty to at least have some insurance. But, as he points out in answering his own question, ObamaCare is about controlling what kind of insurance plans the government’s confused bureaucrats want you to have. ObamaCare, then, seems likely to continue to kick the insured off their plans and leave many more without coverage. This was by design, but the Obama administration hoped to avoid this kind of story getting much attention. Given the outcry over the last round of millions of cancellation notices, that seems unlikely.

The second story hit yesterday, but needs a brief bit of background. Last year Sarah Kliff, at the time writing for the Washington Post but who has since joined Vox.com, wrote a piece headlined “Oregon may be the White House’s favorite health exchange,” touting the Cover Oregon ObamaCare exchange’s potential for proving the overall reform law’s worth. The federal government sunk $250 million into it to ensure it would thrive. Instead, it has been a complete disaster, and now the Washington Post explains:

The Obama administration is poised to take over Oregon’s broken health insurance exchange, according to officials familiar with the decision who say that it reflects federal officials’ conclusion that several state-run marketplaces may be too dysfunctional to fix.

In public, the board overseeing Cover Oregon is scheduled to vote Friday whether to join the federal insurance marketplace that sells health plans in most of the country under the Affordable Care Act. Behind the scenes, the officials say, federal and Oregon officials already have agreed that closing down the state marketplace is the best path to rescue what has been the country’s only one to fail so spectacularly that no resident has been able to sign up for coverage online since it opened early last fall.

Unfixable, “fail so spectacularly”–these are not descriptions the White House was hoping to hear. But that’s the reality, and not just for Oregon. As the Post notes, the utter failure in Oregon is directing attention to other “faltering exchanges” in places like Massachusetts and Maryland. Beyond the obvious speciousness of the ObamaCare promises, this also shows the fallacy of one of the ObamaCare defenders’ treasured tropes.

As the New York Times wrote last month, the disparity in state exchanges led to the spin that “Obamacare looks less like a sweeping federal overhaul than a collection of individual ventures playing out unevenly, state to state, in the laboratories of democracy.” It’s easy to see the attraction in this claim, but it’s also delusional, as both of this week’s stories make clear.

Were the states left to experiment with the needs and preferences of their residents, the administration wouldn’t be on a steady march to eliminate the very insurance plans these residents chose. And the failure of the Oregon exchange, and the looming disasters in other exchanges, demonstrate the ObamaCare problems that persist across state lines and the taxpayer dollars the federal government sinks into hopeless programs in a futile attempt to stave off collapse before taking them over outright.

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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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