Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obamacare

Religious Bias and the Washington Post

Here we go again.

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

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

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

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

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

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Here we go again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how Catholic Review reported on the event:

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

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

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

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

Scalia said believers should embrace the ridicule of the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Corrupt Criminal Justice System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reynolds has solutions:

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

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

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No Mention of Rising Costs in O’s ACA Blitz

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

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

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

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

As The Hill reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March Madness? Fake ObamaCare Enrollment Numbers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scott Brown’s New Hampshire Gamble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Barack Obama, Political Wrecking Ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Even in KY, Focus Is Obama, Not McConnell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finessing ObamaCare Won’t Save Dems

Like all special elections, it is possible to overstate the implications of yesterday’s Republican victory in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Democrats have eight months to figure out how to survive the 2014 midterm elections without suffering a repeat of their landslide loss in 2010. But there’s no way for Democrats to spin the Florida 13 results as anything but a portent of disaster. Democrats had a much better candidate who raised more money running against a weak and apparently disorganized Republican effort in a genuine swing district that Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. More importantly the Democrat, Alex Sink, won the district in her unsuccessful run for governor in 2010. In other words, if Democrats can’t win this sort of competitive district under these favorable circumstances, it begs the question of how they can hope to win anywhere else outside of deep blue strongholds.

The explanation for this is the obvious dissatisfaction with President Obama and ObamaCare that is being expressed across the country. As a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reveals, the president is at his all-time low in terms of approval. Even worse, voters say they are far more unlikely to vote for a candidate who is endorsed by President Obama than if they did not back the administration. While Republicans and the Tea Party are also unpopular, these midterms stack up, as has every previous off-year election, as a referendum on the president with his signature health-care plan looking to be the key issue much as it was in 2010. But while we pundits can debate just how much these factors will impact what happens in November, what isn’t debatable is that the Sink candidacy was a test case for a specific Democratic approach to the ObamaCare problem.

Sink ran as a moderate Democrat who promised to work across party lines, characteristics that polls show voters like. Knowing that ObamaCare is deeply disliked by the public, she attempted to finesse the issue by acknowledging its problems but urging that it be fixed rather than thrown out. This seems like the most sensible poll-tested method for Democrats to deal with health care, but it failed miserably. If we learned anything last night it is that ObamaCare is so toxic that any attempt by Democrats to maneuver around it is bound to fail.

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Like all special elections, it is possible to overstate the implications of yesterday’s Republican victory in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Democrats have eight months to figure out how to survive the 2014 midterm elections without suffering a repeat of their landslide loss in 2010. But there’s no way for Democrats to spin the Florida 13 results as anything but a portent of disaster. Democrats had a much better candidate who raised more money running against a weak and apparently disorganized Republican effort in a genuine swing district that Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. More importantly the Democrat, Alex Sink, won the district in her unsuccessful run for governor in 2010. In other words, if Democrats can’t win this sort of competitive district under these favorable circumstances, it begs the question of how they can hope to win anywhere else outside of deep blue strongholds.

The explanation for this is the obvious dissatisfaction with President Obama and ObamaCare that is being expressed across the country. As a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reveals, the president is at his all-time low in terms of approval. Even worse, voters say they are far more unlikely to vote for a candidate who is endorsed by President Obama than if they did not back the administration. While Republicans and the Tea Party are also unpopular, these midterms stack up, as has every previous off-year election, as a referendum on the president with his signature health-care plan looking to be the key issue much as it was in 2010. But while we pundits can debate just how much these factors will impact what happens in November, what isn’t debatable is that the Sink candidacy was a test case for a specific Democratic approach to the ObamaCare problem.

Sink ran as a moderate Democrat who promised to work across party lines, characteristics that polls show voters like. Knowing that ObamaCare is deeply disliked by the public, she attempted to finesse the issue by acknowledging its problems but urging that it be fixed rather than thrown out. This seems like the most sensible poll-tested method for Democrats to deal with health care, but it failed miserably. If we learned anything last night it is that ObamaCare is so toxic that any attempt by Democrats to maneuver around it is bound to fail.

The “fix it” strategy seems to be the stance that many Democrats are trying across the country this year. The conceit of the approach is that while voters may not like the idea of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, they will probably be uncertain of the impact of a full repeal. If Democrats can focus on the improvements that can be made to the tottering scheme, much like the controversial repaired website healthcare.gov, it is hoped that they can find an electoral sweet spot that will enable them to evade responsibility for its passage.

There are two fundamental flaws to this approach. One is tactical and the other is strategic.

The tactical problem is that the “fix it” spin on ObamaCare compels Democrats to play on Republican territory. While it is only common sense for candidates to concede that the ObamaCare rollout was a disaster and that the disruptions it will cause will hurt a lot of people, taking that as your main position on the most important issue of the day is conceding that the GOP’s stance is basically correct. Like moderate Republicans who for decades seemed to adopt Democratic positions on the welfare state and entitlements with the caveat that they would administer them in a manner that was more fiscally sound, “fix it” is a political loser. While a full-throated defense of ObamaCare would probably be suicidal in a swing district where most voters oppose the measure, trying to have it both ways on health care puts Democrats in a weak position that only the most brilliant candidates can possible pull off.

The strategic problem is that Democrats were sure that public opinion on ObamaCare would turn once it was implemented. Bur rather than become as popular as Social Security or Medicare, as they though it would, right now it looks to be every bit as unpopular as it was in 2010. That puts in place the possibility that 2014 will be another wave election in which swing districts and states will turn on that issue rather than be decided principally by local personalities and issues. Though President Obama’s decision to postpone the imposition of the law’s mandate on many employers and individual insurance customers will lessen the blow for Democrats, they can’t evade the fact that in contrast to Social Security and Medicare, there are as many if not more voters who will be negatively affected by ObamaCare as those who are helped by it. That is something that the “fix it” approach won’t change.

Like Alex Sink, endangered Democratic Senate incumbents like Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, Kay Hagan, and Mark Pryor will try the “fix it” approach and hope to do better in November. But unlike Sink, they are also burdened by their votes for ObamaCare. Looked at from that perspective, the Florida 13th special makes it look as if anger at the president and his signature health-care law will create a tide that no amount of clever Democratic tactics or fundraising advantages will overcome.

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Can Crist Hold Lead as ObamaCare Loyalist?

On a national electoral map that has a lot of bright spots for Republicans, Florida is a problem. As Marc Caputo wrote yesterday in the Miami Herald, Governor Rick Scott’s polling numbers are enough to turn the stomachs of the GOP party faithful in the Sunshine State. Even polls conducted by Republicans all show Scott trailing renegade Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in his attempt to win re-election. Crist leads Scott in Republican strongholds in the state and can count on landslide-type advantages in areas where Democrats predominate. If those patterns hold, that’s a formula for certain defeat for the Republican.

It is true that there’s still plenty of time for Scott to recover and he has the kind of personal wealth that can finance a formidable counter-attack in the coming months. But his problem is that Crist, who preceded Scott as governor when he was a fellow Republican, is viewed favorably by the public while the controversial incumbent is not. That’s why Scott may view Crist’s decision to link himself inextricably with President Obama as providing his only path to victory. Crist went on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday and played the loyal Democrat in an awkward interview that had to make members of his current party wince. Crist denied that hundreds of thousands of Floridians had lost their insurance coverage as a result of the president’s signature health care law and even stuck to that implausible position even when Candy Crowley told him “that’s a fact.”

That exchange raises the prospect that the Florida governor’s race may provide an interesting test case as to whether the national GOP theme of running against ObamaCare in the midterms can salvage the party’s otherwise gloomy prospects in Florida. As we’ve seen in past midterms the vastly different electorate in non-presidential years can turn easy wins for the party of the incumbent president into nail biters, especially when a race can be nationalized. While there’s good reason to believe that Scott’s unpopularity makes such a scenario extremely unlikely in Florida, embracing the president and his unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act may be a case of Crist unnecessarily tempting fate.

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On a national electoral map that has a lot of bright spots for Republicans, Florida is a problem. As Marc Caputo wrote yesterday in the Miami Herald, Governor Rick Scott’s polling numbers are enough to turn the stomachs of the GOP party faithful in the Sunshine State. Even polls conducted by Republicans all show Scott trailing renegade Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in his attempt to win re-election. Crist leads Scott in Republican strongholds in the state and can count on landslide-type advantages in areas where Democrats predominate. If those patterns hold, that’s a formula for certain defeat for the Republican.

It is true that there’s still plenty of time for Scott to recover and he has the kind of personal wealth that can finance a formidable counter-attack in the coming months. But his problem is that Crist, who preceded Scott as governor when he was a fellow Republican, is viewed favorably by the public while the controversial incumbent is not. That’s why Scott may view Crist’s decision to link himself inextricably with President Obama as providing his only path to victory. Crist went on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday and played the loyal Democrat in an awkward interview that had to make members of his current party wince. Crist denied that hundreds of thousands of Floridians had lost their insurance coverage as a result of the president’s signature health care law and even stuck to that implausible position even when Candy Crowley told him “that’s a fact.”

That exchange raises the prospect that the Florida governor’s race may provide an interesting test case as to whether the national GOP theme of running against ObamaCare in the midterms can salvage the party’s otherwise gloomy prospects in Florida. As we’ve seen in past midterms the vastly different electorate in non-presidential years can turn easy wins for the party of the incumbent president into nail biters, especially when a race can be nationalized. While there’s good reason to believe that Scott’s unpopularity makes such a scenario extremely unlikely in Florida, embracing the president and his unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act may be a case of Crist unnecessarily tempting fate.

Crist’s decision to play the die-hard Democrat/Obama enthusiast is presumed to be smart politics. Democrats know that his decision to abandon the GOP had little to do with principle and everything to do with opportunism. He left the Republicans because they preferred to nominate Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate seat the former governor coveted in 2010. Crist needs to convince rank-and-file Democrats who voted against him when he was a Republican and then an independent to turn out in November rather than to sit out the governor’s race. But while liberals may find his turncoat act distasteful, they tend to be more pragmatic about such things than the conservative base. Unlike the conservative base that places a higher value on ideological purity (as establishment Republicans who have been unseated by implausible Tea Party candidates could testify), liberal Democrats generally prefer winning elections. 

The irony here is that while being rejected by conservatives somehow enhanced Crist’s popularity, he seems to think that his future rests on transforming his political persona to that of a Democrat who is determined to march in lockstep with the leader of his party even on his most unpopular and least successful initiatives. Given the widespread dissatisfaction with Scott, Crist would probably do better trying to run this year as a moderate independent running on a Democrat line rather than to do a complete makeover as a true Blue Obama acolyte. But his comments about ObamaCare show that Crist’s opportunism may be getting the best of him.

Crist’s lead may be strong enough to withstand his decision to double down on ObamaCare and perhaps his loyalty to his new leader may induce Democrats to turn out in the numbers he needs to retire Scott. It’s also possible that Scott’s unpopularity rather than any national issue will determine the outcome of the race. But Crist’s ObamaCare comments won’t go unnoticed and will be used against him by the GOP. Florida may have gone for Obama in the last two elections and its changing demography may, like other purple states, may be making it a more friendly state for Democrats. But Crist’s over-the-top and blatantly insincere embrace of the president could give Republicans the chance to hold onto a governor’s seat that might otherwise be a lost cause.

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The Obamacare Disaster Is Now Undeniable

The Washington Post has the bombshell story of the month: “A pair of surveys released on Thursday suggest that just one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private health plans through the new marketplace have signed up for one—and that about half of uninsured adults has looked for information on the online exchanges or plans to look.” Well, and there goes the famed rationale for the health-care law—which was to bring the people, numbering anywhere between 31 million to 47 million depending on how and whom you count, without insurance into the system.

Why aren’t they signing up? First off, there will always be people who choose to live on the margins in some way or other. They don’t want to be in the system, they’re paranoid about the system, they keep their money in their mattress and lots of cans in the basement. But mostly, people aren’t signing up now and haven’t had health care before because of the cost: “Of people who are uninsured and do not intend to get a health plan through the marketplaces, the biggest factor is that they believe they could not afford one.”

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The Washington Post has the bombshell story of the month: “A pair of surveys released on Thursday suggest that just one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private health plans through the new marketplace have signed up for one—and that about half of uninsured adults has looked for information on the online exchanges or plans to look.” Well, and there goes the famed rationale for the health-care law—which was to bring the people, numbering anywhere between 31 million to 47 million depending on how and whom you count, without insurance into the system.

Why aren’t they signing up? First off, there will always be people who choose to live on the margins in some way or other. They don’t want to be in the system, they’re paranoid about the system, they keep their money in their mattress and lots of cans in the basement. But mostly, people aren’t signing up now and haven’t had health care before because of the cost: “Of people who are uninsured and do not intend to get a health plan through the marketplaces, the biggest factor is that they believe they could not afford one.”

Since October 1 of last year, the coverage of the Obamacare disaster has centered on the technical catastrophe of the healthcare.gov and the transitional problems afflicting insurers, employers, and the insured alike—and more recently the administration’s desperate efforts to delay the penalties and controls imposed by the law to limit the political fallout. It is safe to say, though, that this is the worst possible news for Obama and his people. They have thrown the entire health-care system into unprecedented chaos for a population that is, it seems, staying as far away from it as possible. Little has been fixed; much has been made far worse; nothing makes sense; and good luck to the Democrats who have to defend their votes for this colossal cock-up in November.

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Dems May Regret More OCare Delays

After dozens of delays of various aspects of ObamaCare, Democrats are still facing a tsunami of voter anger this fall in midterm elections that are looking more and more like a disaster for the president’s party. The administration’s answer to their plight is simple: delay more implementation of the president’s unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act.

The Hill is reporting today that the White House is planning on announcing yet another ObamaCare delay:

As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s minimum coverage requirements. Prolonging the “keep your plan” fix will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected this fall.

The cancellations would have created a firestorm for Democratic candidates in the last, crucial weeks before Election Day. The White House is intent on protecting its allies in the Senate, where Democrats face a battle to keep control of the chamber.

The political motivations for this move are obvious. Prior to the rollout of ObamaCare last fall, Democrats drew a line in the sand on any delay of the president’s signature health care law. Rather than push back the implementation of the legislation a single day, they allowed the government to be shut down for weeks causing untold suffering to the American people. That was a political masterstroke. The mainstream media blamed the GOP for the fiasco since their demands for delaying or defunding the law seen as unreasonable and unrealistic. What a difference a few months makes.

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After dozens of delays of various aspects of ObamaCare, Democrats are still facing a tsunami of voter anger this fall in midterm elections that are looking more and more like a disaster for the president’s party. The administration’s answer to their plight is simple: delay more implementation of the president’s unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act.

The Hill is reporting today that the White House is planning on announcing yet another ObamaCare delay:

As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s minimum coverage requirements. Prolonging the “keep your plan” fix will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected this fall.

The cancellations would have created a firestorm for Democratic candidates in the last, crucial weeks before Election Day. The White House is intent on protecting its allies in the Senate, where Democrats face a battle to keep control of the chamber.

The political motivations for this move are obvious. Prior to the rollout of ObamaCare last fall, Democrats drew a line in the sand on any delay of the president’s signature health care law. Rather than push back the implementation of the legislation a single day, they allowed the government to be shut down for weeks causing untold suffering to the American people. That was a political masterstroke. The mainstream media blamed the GOP for the fiasco since their demands for delaying or defunding the law seen as unreasonable and unrealistic. What a difference a few months makes.

Will Democrats get away with it? Given the unwillingness of the same media that lampooned Republicans for suggesting the same thing only six months ago, they just might. In addition to that, there have been so many delays of the law’s implementation that even those Americans who pay attention to the issue may have lost track of what aspects of the president’s scheme are being enforced.

Liberals may still be pretending that ObamaCare will be popular or that the only problem with its rollout was a glitch-ridden website that was fixed. But in only a few months they have also developed a healthy fear of the consequences of its implementation. Already millions of Americans have lost their insurance coverage or access to their doctors because of the dictates of this new law that branded every policy that did not conform to their arbitrary standards as “junk” insurance. Sticking to that talking point hasn’t been easy for liberal talking heads on television but once more Americans feel ObamaCare’s impact, it will be impossible.

Once the delays are rescinded and the employer mandates are put in place along with the rules for individual policyholders, the results will be far-reaching and serious. At that point, it won’t be possible to deny the fact that the number of Americans who have been hurt by this law may not only equal the total helped but, in fact, may outnumber them.

But Democratic optimism about this underhanded and unconstitutional tactic (since the president does not actually have the power to pick and choose which laws or which parts of laws he will enforce) may be misplaced. The mere fact of so many delays as well as the evidence of the damage already done by the law to so many voters may outweigh any tactical advantages won by the stalling strategy.

Even worse, by putting off so much of the pain until after the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats may be setting themselves up for a really unpleasant time in 2015 and 2016. If the majority of Americans are already unhappy with ObamaCare today, that anger will be even greater next year once more employers and individuals are coping with its costs and hardships. If, as may well happen despite the delays, Republicans win back control of the Senate in addition to keeping the House of Representatives, that will put them in position to do more than delay ObamaCare next year but to send a repeal bill to the president. He will veto it and there’s little chance that the Republicans will overturn it. But with anger about this law rising to new heights just when the country is turning its attention to the 2016 presidential race rather than in 2014, that could create even more problems for Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat who wishes to succeed the president.

At that point, Democrats may look back on this year’s ObamaCare delays and the president’s determination to frontload the benefits and backload the pain with genuine regret.

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New ObamaCare Losers: Public Employees

Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius mocked the idea that ObamaCare is costing people their jobs. Sebelius even went so far as to say that “every economist will you tell you” that there is no evidence of job loss. According to her, the whole idea of economic suffering related to the misnamed Affordable Care Act is a “myth.” While that kind of hyperbole is easily exposed (Every economist? Really?), ObamaCare critics don’t need to beat the bushes to find conservative economists to counter that assertion. All they need to do is to read today’s New York Times.

The number of those who have already been hurt by ObamaCare are legion, including millions of individual purchasers of insurance who have lost their coverage or been denied the ability to keep their doctors in spite of President Obama’s promise to the contrary. But it’s long been accepted that the employer mandate will eventually reduce the number of full-time workers because of new rules about coverage requirements. Yet it turns out that those affected are not just employees at small or mid-sized companies. The impact on one of President Obama’s key support group turns out to be just as bad. As the New York Times reports:

Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say.

The cuts to public sector employment, which has failed to rebound since the recession, could serve as a powerful political weapon for Republican critics of the health care law, who claim that it is creating a drain on the economy.

President Obama has twice delayed enforcement of the health care law’s employer mandate, which would subject larger employers to tax penalties if they do not offer insurance coverage to employees who work at least 30 hours a week, on average. But many public employers have already adopted policies, laws or regulations to make sure workers stay under that threshold.

Sebelius was as wrong about the question of ObamaCare’s impact on employment as she was about the rollout of the law’s website. But the problem for the administration isn’t just a credibility gap that was already as big as the Grand Canyon. It’s that the ranks of ObamaCare losers are now growing and being filled by people that are the backbone of the Democratic Party. That means the real myth about ObamaCare is the assumption that once it goes into effect it will be transformed from an unpopular law to a beloved national institution like Social Security.

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Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius mocked the idea that ObamaCare is costing people their jobs. Sebelius even went so far as to say that “every economist will you tell you” that there is no evidence of job loss. According to her, the whole idea of economic suffering related to the misnamed Affordable Care Act is a “myth.” While that kind of hyperbole is easily exposed (Every economist? Really?), ObamaCare critics don’t need to beat the bushes to find conservative economists to counter that assertion. All they need to do is to read today’s New York Times.

The number of those who have already been hurt by ObamaCare are legion, including millions of individual purchasers of insurance who have lost their coverage or been denied the ability to keep their doctors in spite of President Obama’s promise to the contrary. But it’s long been accepted that the employer mandate will eventually reduce the number of full-time workers because of new rules about coverage requirements. Yet it turns out that those affected are not just employees at small or mid-sized companies. The impact on one of President Obama’s key support group turns out to be just as bad. As the New York Times reports:

Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say.

The cuts to public sector employment, which has failed to rebound since the recession, could serve as a powerful political weapon for Republican critics of the health care law, who claim that it is creating a drain on the economy.

President Obama has twice delayed enforcement of the health care law’s employer mandate, which would subject larger employers to tax penalties if they do not offer insurance coverage to employees who work at least 30 hours a week, on average. But many public employers have already adopted policies, laws or regulations to make sure workers stay under that threshold.

Sebelius was as wrong about the question of ObamaCare’s impact on employment as she was about the rollout of the law’s website. But the problem for the administration isn’t just a credibility gap that was already as big as the Grand Canyon. It’s that the ranks of ObamaCare losers are now growing and being filled by people that are the backbone of the Democratic Party. That means the real myth about ObamaCare is the assumption that once it goes into effect it will be transformed from an unpopular law to a beloved national institution like Social Security.

The findings of the Times report validate the conclusions of the Congressional Budget Office study released earlier this month on the impact of ObamaCare on employment. Though administration figures like Sebelius have been orchestrating a campaign seeking to deny these facts, the Times story illustrates the futility of this effort. Municipalities and public institutions around the country have been cutting the hours of their workers in order to avoid paying for their health care. Thus even though the point of the Affordable Care Act was to get more people covered, the unintended consequence of its passage was to cut the pay as well as deprive a significant population of public-sector workers of their chance to get insurance from their employer.

As the article notes, public workers are being especially hard hit because municipal employers can’t pass along the increased costs of the insurance mandates to consumers the way private companies can try to do. Instead, they must cut down on the number of those they employ. But rather than reduce the ranks of those public employees getting expensive benefits and pensions that often are far more generous than those received by the taxpayers who pay their salaries, the people losing out in the ObamaCare squeeze are those at the bottom end of the wage scale.

These findings once again point out the problem with the administration’s belief that their ObamaCare troubles are merely the result of a rough rollout and will soon disappear. It is true that millions of Americans who are either poor or have pre-existing medical conditions will be net winners as a result of ObamaCare. But unlike government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, ObamaCare has also created a vast number of net losers who are losing coverage, losing jobs, or getting their hours and possible benefits cut.

The fact that a large number of those losers are members of a demographic that is a key element of the Democratic base is a potential political disaster for the president’s party. Rather than going away as the midterms approach, if the Times is to be believed, it is getting worse. In this case, the Democratic focus on income inequality appears to be pertinent. But rather than being able to blame the plight of low-income workers on the wealthy or the Republicans, it is President Obama’s signature accomplishment that is to blame.

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ObamaCore? Education Reform Hits a Snag

Wherever you stand on the Common Core, an attempt to provide a set of nationwide education standards, it can’t be good news for the program that it has begun to so resemble the disastrous process and rollout of this administration’s last federal reform, ObamaCare. Yet the opposition to the Common Core has followed a familiar pattern.

As the Heartland Institute noted in 2011, “The Obama administration made adoption of the Common Core a criterion for winning part of $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top grants in 2010, and states receiving Title I appropriations in the future may be required to adopt the standards,” after which “Forty-two states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards in 2009 and 2010 in hopes of winning Race to the Top money.” This led to the first major complaint about the Common Core: conservatives worried the federal government was taking control of state-by-state education policy.

Liberals responded exactly as they did during the ObamaCare debate. Writing for the New York Times, for example, Bill Keller resorted to name-calling and equated conservative concerns about the Common Core standards to birtherism. Keller’s complete and utter disregard for even elementary intellectual engagement with conservatives was indicative of a defensive posture: it seemed the self-conscious ranting of an advocate of a weak policy for which he didn’t have a serious defense.

It portended darker days ahead for the Common Core. After all, there were real concerns about the Common Core from an educational perspective. They wouldn’t go away just because the left wanted them to. And then, true to form, the complaints piled up. The administration responded in typical fashion: Education Secretary Arne Duncan blamed white resentment. Obnoxious racial politics and bureaucratic conceit aside, Democrats were also turning on the Common Core.

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Wherever you stand on the Common Core, an attempt to provide a set of nationwide education standards, it can’t be good news for the program that it has begun to so resemble the disastrous process and rollout of this administration’s last federal reform, ObamaCare. Yet the opposition to the Common Core has followed a familiar pattern.

As the Heartland Institute noted in 2011, “The Obama administration made adoption of the Common Core a criterion for winning part of $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top grants in 2010, and states receiving Title I appropriations in the future may be required to adopt the standards,” after which “Forty-two states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards in 2009 and 2010 in hopes of winning Race to the Top money.” This led to the first major complaint about the Common Core: conservatives worried the federal government was taking control of state-by-state education policy.

Liberals responded exactly as they did during the ObamaCare debate. Writing for the New York Times, for example, Bill Keller resorted to name-calling and equated conservative concerns about the Common Core standards to birtherism. Keller’s complete and utter disregard for even elementary intellectual engagement with conservatives was indicative of a defensive posture: it seemed the self-conscious ranting of an advocate of a weak policy for which he didn’t have a serious defense.

It portended darker days ahead for the Common Core. After all, there were real concerns about the Common Core from an educational perspective. They wouldn’t go away just because the left wanted them to. And then, true to form, the complaints piled up. The administration responded in typical fashion: Education Secretary Arne Duncan blamed white resentment. Obnoxious racial politics and bureaucratic conceit aside, Democrats were also turning on the Common Core.

And then came the warning that the rollout of the Common Core standards risked looking a lot like the botched rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges, with potentially disastrous results for American education:

The education world is scrambling to avoid its own version of a full-scale HealthCare.gov meltdown when millions of students pilot new digital Common Core tests this spring.

Technological hiccups, much less large-scale meltdowns, won’t do: The results of the Common Core tests will influence teachers’ and principals’ evaluations and other decisions about their jobs. Schools will be rated on the results. Students’ promotion to the next grade or graduation from high school may hinge on their scores. And the already-controversial Common Core standards, designed to be tested using a new generation of sophisticated exams that go beyond multiple-choice testing, may be further dragged through the mud if there are crises.

Indeed, Democrats in Republican-leaning states began criticizing the Common Core rollout as a “train wreck.” Then liberal states–and early supporters of the program–turned against it:

But the newest chorus of complaints is coming from one of the most liberal states, and one of the earliest champions of the standards: New York. And that is causing supporters of the Common Core to shudder.

Carol Burris, an acclaimed high school principal on Long Island, calls the Common Core a “disaster.”

“We see kids,” she said, “they don’t want to go to school anymore.”

If it followed the ObamaCare playbook, it was only a matter of time before the unions joined the chorus of opposition. Sure enough, Politico reports:

The nation’s largest teachers union is pulling back on its once-enthusiastic support of the Common Core academic standards, labeling their rollout “completely botched.”

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said he still believes the standards can improve education. But he said they will not succeed without a major “course correction” — including possibly rewriting some of the standards and revising the related tests with teacher input.

And to complete the cycle, the Common Core’s supporters are now taking the posture that opponents shouldn’t just be against the Common Core but must propose their own ideas: “If someone offers a better option, we will support it.”

None of this is to suggest that the Common Core is nearly the disaster–or constitutionally suspect power grab–that ObamaCare is. And the Common Core’s supporters have a point when they note that some of the arguments against it are based on misconceptions, fears, or unsubstantiated rumors.

But there is an overarching lesson here about the difficulty of national reform, the problematic hints of federal coercion, the humility that desperately needs to be applied to the way our government–or any sprawling bureaucracy–operates. Common Core may in fact have much to offer in the effort to restructure standard education curricula. But it isn’t conspiratorial thinking to be suspicious of grand, one-size-fits-all schemes in a federal republic–a lesson we apparently need to keep learning.

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Vote Turnout Tactics Won’t Sell ObamaCare

Despite all the happy talk we’ve been hearing from the Obama administration and their media cheerleaders about the growing number of those enrolled in ObamaCare, they know they’re in trouble. The total number of enrollees is still far below what is needed to make the program pay for itself. With, as I noted here last week, up to 20 percent of those already counted as having signed up failing to pay their premiums and thus still not covered, the shortfall of customers is one of many problems plaguing the president’s signature health care plan.

To recruit more customers, the administration and its allies are pulling out all the stops. Television ads are flooding the airwaves with celebrities attempting to sell the benefits of ObamaCare as if it were soap while veterans of the president’s reelection campaign are literally hitting the bricks, going door to door in targeted neighborhoods trying to find new customers one at a time.

But, as the New York Times makes clear in a piece that was clearly intended to be sympathetic to the effort, marshaling the same resources that produced a massive turnout to vote for Barack Obama may turn out to be a lot easier than persuading Americans to buy ObamaCare:

The hunt for the uninsured in Broward County got underway one recent afternoon when 41 canvassers, armed with electronic maps on Samsung tablets, set off through working-class neighborhoods to peddle the Affordable Care Act door to door. Four hours later, they had made contact with 2,623 residents and signed up exactly 25 people.

Many of their targets, people identified on sophisticated computer lists generated in Washington as unlikely to have health insurance, had moved away. Some were not home. Many said they already had insurance through Medicare, their parents or a job. A few were hostile at the mere mention of President Obama’s health care law.

“We’re going to repeal that,” one man said gruffly as he shut the door in the face of a canvasser, Nancy Morwin, 58, a retired social worker.

While that prediction may be disputed, it’s clear that the full-court press to inflate ObamaCare enrollment may not be enough to either answer questions about its acceptance or to make it possible for the program to survive.

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Despite all the happy talk we’ve been hearing from the Obama administration and their media cheerleaders about the growing number of those enrolled in ObamaCare, they know they’re in trouble. The total number of enrollees is still far below what is needed to make the program pay for itself. With, as I noted here last week, up to 20 percent of those already counted as having signed up failing to pay their premiums and thus still not covered, the shortfall of customers is one of many problems plaguing the president’s signature health care plan.

To recruit more customers, the administration and its allies are pulling out all the stops. Television ads are flooding the airwaves with celebrities attempting to sell the benefits of ObamaCare as if it were soap while veterans of the president’s reelection campaign are literally hitting the bricks, going door to door in targeted neighborhoods trying to find new customers one at a time.

But, as the New York Times makes clear in a piece that was clearly intended to be sympathetic to the effort, marshaling the same resources that produced a massive turnout to vote for Barack Obama may turn out to be a lot easier than persuading Americans to buy ObamaCare:

The hunt for the uninsured in Broward County got underway one recent afternoon when 41 canvassers, armed with electronic maps on Samsung tablets, set off through working-class neighborhoods to peddle the Affordable Care Act door to door. Four hours later, they had made contact with 2,623 residents and signed up exactly 25 people.

Many of their targets, people identified on sophisticated computer lists generated in Washington as unlikely to have health insurance, had moved away. Some were not home. Many said they already had insurance through Medicare, their parents or a job. A few were hostile at the mere mention of President Obama’s health care law.

“We’re going to repeal that,” one man said gruffly as he shut the door in the face of a canvasser, Nancy Morwin, 58, a retired social worker.

While that prediction may be disputed, it’s clear that the full-court press to inflate ObamaCare enrollment may not be enough to either answer questions about its acceptance or to make it possible for the program to survive.

Some of the early efforts to persuade young and presumably healthy “invincibles” to sign up were downright embarrassing. The “Got Insurance” campaign launched by Colorado liberals claimed the program would facilitate sexual hookups and keep them healthy even if they abused alcohol. But while the ads running on sports channels and the Olympics featuring retired basketball stars Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning are more tasteful, they seem based on the same premise that the right kind of marketing is all that’s needed to convince Americans that the misnamed Affordable Care Act is something they need or want.

It may be that the slightly less than one percent success rate of the Broward County canvassers portrayed in the Times story might, if replicated throughout the nation, be enough to pump up the program’s enrollment numbers to the point where it will be proclaimed a success. But as the article also illustrated, most if not all of those signed up by the campaign fall into the category of those who are not the ideal ObamaCare recruits. A few people with pre-existing conditions and families with small children were found and enrolled by the Florida canvassers. However, these are patients who will soak up the care rationed out by the scheme. Even more rare were young and healthy customers who are unlikely to need much care and will thus pay for the others with their premiums. But even there, some of those who agreed to be enrolled found that problems with the infamous HealthCare.gov website prevented them from being signed up on the spot.

It can be argued that any government benefit program needs to be marketed to the public. But the massive effort already undertaken on behalf of ObamaCare has done more to highlight the massive public resistance to the law than anything else. At this point, only someone living under a rock or on Mars is unaware of the law or the fact that the administration is desperate to persuade more Americans to avail themselves of the insurance it is selling. Selling ObamaCare door to door the same way encyclopedias or beauty products were marketed in the 1950s and 60s may make sense to the president’s team, but the problem is not so much a matter of sales technique as it is a refusal to understand the public’s unhappiness with the law.

As the results in Broward illustrate, with enough effort it will be possible to find a great many customers who are the likely beneficiaries of ObamaCare. The poor and those with health problems that kept them from being insured don’t need a hard sell to understand they will gain from taking part. But unless the administration can con millions more young and healthy people to buy into it, the entire edifice is doomed to collapse in a sea of red ink that will only be rectified by the kind of massive federal bailout of insurers that the American people were told wouldn’t happen. Neither Magic Johnson nor the Obama reelection turnout effort can sell America on a product it doesn’t want.

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ObamaCare Supporters Swear They Can Be Trusted This Time

In the last couple of days, the political press has introduced us to the Democrats’ emerging strategy for the upcoming midterm congressional elections. They will be running as the arsonists who can be trusted to put out their fire. They are being less explicit about the first part, of course. The New York Times has a story that exemplifies the cognitive dissonance. It begins with a campaign ad by Democratic Representative Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona trumpeting the fact that when the Healthcare.gov website sputtered out of the gate, she wagged her finger at it.

But how did that website come about? It was an important component of ObamaCare, of course. And how did ObamaCare come about? Well, you’d have to go elsewhere for that information; Ann Kirkpatrick treats the disastrous health-care reform law as if it were some sort of anonymous cyberattack. In fact, Democrats passed ObamaCare over the objections of all Republicans and some Democrats. Kirkpatrick should know: she was one of the votes in favor of ObamaCare. Ann Kirkpatrick, then, helped unleash this horrendous law on her constituents.

But Kirkpatrick isn’t the only one. The Times itself seeks to avoid the messy topic of why the country is suffering from ObamaCare in the first place. The whole article talks about Democrats running on an agenda of “fixing” elements of the law, but only buried late in the story do we get a hint about the culprits. The call is coming from inside the House:

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In the last couple of days, the political press has introduced us to the Democrats’ emerging strategy for the upcoming midterm congressional elections. They will be running as the arsonists who can be trusted to put out their fire. They are being less explicit about the first part, of course. The New York Times has a story that exemplifies the cognitive dissonance. It begins with a campaign ad by Democratic Representative Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona trumpeting the fact that when the Healthcare.gov website sputtered out of the gate, she wagged her finger at it.

But how did that website come about? It was an important component of ObamaCare, of course. And how did ObamaCare come about? Well, you’d have to go elsewhere for that information; Ann Kirkpatrick treats the disastrous health-care reform law as if it were some sort of anonymous cyberattack. In fact, Democrats passed ObamaCare over the objections of all Republicans and some Democrats. Kirkpatrick should know: she was one of the votes in favor of ObamaCare. Ann Kirkpatrick, then, helped unleash this horrendous law on her constituents.

But Kirkpatrick isn’t the only one. The Times itself seeks to avoid the messy topic of why the country is suffering from ObamaCare in the first place. The whole article talks about Democrats running on an agenda of “fixing” elements of the law, but only buried late in the story do we get a hint about the culprits. The call is coming from inside the House:

Moreover, not all congressional Democrats are talking about the health care law in their advertising or their routine stump speeches — and even some of those hoping to explain their support are being far from laudatory. The commercial for Ms. Kirkpatrick, the Arizona Democrat, by the House Majority PAC refers to the “disastrous health care website,” as does a spot the group did for Representative Joe Garcia, Democrat of Florida.

If you blinked, you might have missed it. Twenty-one paragraphs into the story we get a note about Democrats “hoping to explain their support.” Yes, ObamaCare was in fact an act of Congress. And that is what complicates this Democratic strategy. In order to confront the manifold problems in ObamaCare, they have to acknowledge its existence. And its existence is thanks to them.

And it’s not just voting for the law in the first place. The Times story also talks about the predicament facing Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who, thanks to the shady “Louisiana Purchase,” provided a crucial vote for the bill. The Times mentions that her ad campaign will show her taking action, for example with “legislation she sponsored that would allow individuals to keep their insurance plans even if the plans did not meet the minimum requirements of the health law.”

Why can’t individuals keep their insurance? It’s not just the law’s regulations: an effort was made in late 2010 to alleviate that consequence of ObamaCare and allow folks to keep their insurance. Mary Landrieu was instrumental in defeating it and keeping ObamaCare as punitive as possible. What has changed? The public outrage and the fumbled rollout of the health-care exchanges, certainly. But other Democrats, as the Times reports, thought if they ignored the voters they would just go away:

“Part of what we learned in 2010 is that this is a real issue of concern to voters and you can’t dodge it, you have to take it on, and I think Democrats are much more ready and willing to do that in 2014,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who has done surveys for Democrats on the law. “We certainly have enough evidence now that this is not a fight you can win if you are in a defensive crouch.”

In one sense, it’s encouraging that Democrats are kinda-sorta confronting reality. But in another sense, this follows the classic storyline of American liberalism. Progressives animated by ideology, ignorant of policy and economics, and filled with contempt for the voters institute leftist policy. The policy is, unsurprisingly, a wreck. As others attempt to clean up their mess, liberals intervene to promise to fix what they’ve done, usually through yet more state coercion.

The arsonists promise that this time they can be trusted with the matches and lighter fluid. If that’s the best the Democrats have to go on, ObamaCare may have done more harm to their brand than even their opponents expected.

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The Tea Party’s Gift to American Politics

On Fox News Sunday Senator Mike Lee debated Representative Xavier Becerra over the president’s repeated lawless acts related to the Affordable Care Act. (Mr. Obama has unilaterally changed or delayed the ACA 24 times without seeking the approval of Congress.)

It was a rout, with Senator Lee blowing apart the argument offered up by Representative Becerra. The Democrat from California was misleading in his claims. He ducked the questions asked by host Chris Wallace and kept reverting to pabulum and talking points.

Senator Lee, on the other hand, was terrific. His answers were crisp, direct, and articulate. He was principled without coming across as dyspeptic. He also helped educate both Mr. Becerra and the public by (to take one example) making the point that not all executive orders are created equal, thereby deftly answering the charge that because Ronald Reagan used executive orders more often than Mr. Obama, the latter has violated the constitutional less often than the former.

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On Fox News Sunday Senator Mike Lee debated Representative Xavier Becerra over the president’s repeated lawless acts related to the Affordable Care Act. (Mr. Obama has unilaterally changed or delayed the ACA 24 times without seeking the approval of Congress.)

It was a rout, with Senator Lee blowing apart the argument offered up by Representative Becerra. The Democrat from California was misleading in his claims. He ducked the questions asked by host Chris Wallace and kept reverting to pabulum and talking points.

Senator Lee, on the other hand, was terrific. His answers were crisp, direct, and articulate. He was principled without coming across as dyspeptic. He also helped educate both Mr. Becerra and the public by (to take one example) making the point that not all executive orders are created equal, thereby deftly answering the charge that because Ronald Reagan used executive orders more often than Mr. Obama, the latter has violated the constitutional less often than the former.

This is probably as good a time as any, then, to praise Senator Lee, who has become one of the most impressive lawmakers in the land. I had my disagreement with him on the wisdom of the government shutdown. (I think the record shows that this gambit was foolish and counterproductive.) But overall, Senator Lee has been outstanding. He’s delivered some very thoughtful speeches. Among other things, he said this:

Anger is not an agenda. And outrage, as a habit, is not even conservative. Outrage, resentment, and intolerance are gargoyles of the Left. For us, optimism is not just a message — it’s a principle. American conservatism, at its core, is about gratitude, and cooperation, and trust, and above all hope.

It is also about inclusion. Successful political movements are about identifying converts, not heretics. This, too, is part of the challenge before us.

Moreover, Senator Lee is at the forefront of advocating a conservative reform agenda on issues ranging from poverty and opportunity to criminal justice and higher-education reforms to changes in transportation policies and tax reforms aimed at helping families with children.

Senator Lee, in both his tone/bearing and the substance of his ideas, is exactly the kind of Republican the GOP and the conservative movement need to be their public face and voice: reasonable and reassuring, a person interested in ideas and governing, a man of clear and right convictions.

Mike Lee is among the greatest gifts the Tea Party has given to American politics.

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Kings, Presidents, and Barack Obama

From the first president to our current chief executive, Americans have always chafed against the growing power of the presidency. Having come into existence in protest against the unchecked power of a king and an unaccountable parliament, Americans have always been particularly sensitive to the notion that the executive branch should take on the trappings or the imperial grasp of monarchy. And yet the history of our republic is told in no small measure by the way in which our presidents have gradually accumulated more power. For the most part that involved their conduct of military and foreign policy, the aspects of government that the Constitution made the direct responsibility of the president.

Invariably the exercise of that power, whether it involved George Washington’s decision to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain or Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and the conduct of the war against southern rebels, caused critics to accuse these presidents of acting like monarchs. However, such accusations were heard when some presidents acted on domestic issues as well. Andrew Jackson’s “war” on the Second Bank of the United States prompted his Whig opponents to call him a king. In the 20th century the executive branch grew into the modern presidency, and talk of presidents as kings changed to one of an imperial presidency in which the occupant of the White House seemed to have usurped the congressional prerogative to declare war. But as we celebrate President’s Day, Barack Obama has turned that traditional debate about the presidency on its head. In doing so, he has resurrected centuries-old worries about an attack on the rule of law by an out-of-control president.

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From the first president to our current chief executive, Americans have always chafed against the growing power of the presidency. Having come into existence in protest against the unchecked power of a king and an unaccountable parliament, Americans have always been particularly sensitive to the notion that the executive branch should take on the trappings or the imperial grasp of monarchy. And yet the history of our republic is told in no small measure by the way in which our presidents have gradually accumulated more power. For the most part that involved their conduct of military and foreign policy, the aspects of government that the Constitution made the direct responsibility of the president.

Invariably the exercise of that power, whether it involved George Washington’s decision to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain or Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and the conduct of the war against southern rebels, caused critics to accuse these presidents of acting like monarchs. However, such accusations were heard when some presidents acted on domestic issues as well. Andrew Jackson’s “war” on the Second Bank of the United States prompted his Whig opponents to call him a king. In the 20th century the executive branch grew into the modern presidency, and talk of presidents as kings changed to one of an imperial presidency in which the occupant of the White House seemed to have usurped the congressional prerogative to declare war. But as we celebrate President’s Day, Barack Obama has turned that traditional debate about the presidency on its head. In doing so, he has resurrected centuries-old worries about an attack on the rule of law by an out-of-control president.

Unlike many of his predecessors, President Obama lacked the confidence and the support he needed to conduct military operations without prior congressional approval. The spectacle of the president asking Congress to authorize a strike on Syria’s chemical-weapons capacity last summer and then withdrawing that request once he realized he would lose illustrated not only his shaky personal standing but also an abdication on his part of the power to react to international threats that his predecessors had acquired. Yet even as Obama has become weaker in the category of foreign and defense policy, he has sought to expand his power elsewhere. The president’s decisions to selectively enforce laws, whether it be immigration regulations or the implementation of his own signature health-care legislation, has created a new kind of imperial presidency. The question now is no longer about the use of clear constitutional authority as commander in chief to conduct wars without much congressional or judicial oversight but about the way this president seems to prefer to govern at home without respect for the rule of law. This is creating a new kind of constitutional crisis that should trouble Americans even more than their past concerns about Mr. Obama’s predecessors.

Barack Obama is far from the first president to come to the conclusion that he should be able to govern on his own. All presidents have at times sought to ignore both the legislative and judicial branches. But the president’s decision to treat ObamaCare as a law that can be enacted according to his whims or political advantage is an extraordinary abuse of power. With more than two dozen delays of various aspects of the law over the past year, the administration has attempted a piecemeal implementation that will frontload its benefits and postpones much of the pain of the law’s provisions for both employers and the economy. While this has been defended as a response to the business community’s problems, that argument falls flat when one realizes that the delays are not so much about rescuing the economy from a massive federal power grab as they are merely putting off the disaster until after first the 2012 presidential election and now the 2014 midterms.

Put in the context of the president’s declaration about the use of executive orders in the State of the Union address, this creates the impression that there is a White House that appears to govern on its own without respect to either the Constitution or the will of the American people. By saying that he will govern wherever possible in the final three years of his term by executive orders rather than wait for Congress to pass the laws he wants, the president is signaling the beginning of a new constitutional order that puts past disputes about the use of force in a different perspective. If his predecessors often overstepped their authority or created new powers out of thin air it could be justified as flowing from their constitutional authority to protect and defend the United States from foreign enemies. But by declaring himself a one-man legislature and executive, this president presents a new threat to the rule of law that can’t be rationalized in that manner.

The American republic and its Constitution have proved that they can survive all manner of threats and political crises. That will also be true of Obama’s selective approach to being the country’s chief legal officer. But just as his predecessors have used past power grabs to justify their own expanding authority, so, too, will the presidents who follow Barack Obama into the Oval Office build on his abuses. That should cause all Americans, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, to fear for the future of the rule of law in this country. Though talk of presidential monarchs is as old as the United States, in this case, the worries may be justified.

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ObamaCare’s Potemkin Enrollment Figures

Yesterday, mainstream media outlets were trumpeting some good news about President Obama’s embattled signature health-care legislation. More than 1.1 million people enrolled in ObamaCare in January. That was a marked increase over previous months when a dysfunctional website and widespread skepticism about the law kept enrollment numbers down. While the million new ObamaCare customers were not enough by themselves to offset the dramatic shortfall in the enrollment figures that calls into question the ability of the scheme to pay for itself, the White House and Democrats were encouraged by the fact that a large number of this total were made up of those aged 18-34, who are presumably healthy.

Until now most of those buying ObamaCare were either sick, elderly, or had pre-existing conditions that made it hard for them to purchase insurance. Without a lot more of these young “invincibles,” the plan will simply sink under the weight of an avalanche of red ink. The January figures were enough to pump some badly need confidence about ObamaCare into the political atmosphere, especially after another discouraging administration decision earlier this week to postpone the employer mandate until 2015.

But just one day after that news reassured Democrats that ObamaCare would survive despite all of its problems, today we learn about a new aspect of the enrollment figures that undermines that optimistic story line. As the New York Times reports, of the millions who had purchased ObamaCare prior to last month a staggering 20 percent did not pay their premiums. Though these people are still being counted among the total of those who are enrolled, they are, in fact, not covered and won’t be until the bill is paid, assuming that ever happens. That means the figures the administration has been proclaiming as good news are entirely fictional. Whatever the reason for the failure to pay, be it inability or a lack of intention ever to do so, this massive shortfall makes it clear that the ObamaCare enrollment numbers are Potemkin figures that say nothing about the actual total of those covered by a plan that is already desperately short of the people needed for it to function.

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Yesterday, mainstream media outlets were trumpeting some good news about President Obama’s embattled signature health-care legislation. More than 1.1 million people enrolled in ObamaCare in January. That was a marked increase over previous months when a dysfunctional website and widespread skepticism about the law kept enrollment numbers down. While the million new ObamaCare customers were not enough by themselves to offset the dramatic shortfall in the enrollment figures that calls into question the ability of the scheme to pay for itself, the White House and Democrats were encouraged by the fact that a large number of this total were made up of those aged 18-34, who are presumably healthy.

Until now most of those buying ObamaCare were either sick, elderly, or had pre-existing conditions that made it hard for them to purchase insurance. Without a lot more of these young “invincibles,” the plan will simply sink under the weight of an avalanche of red ink. The January figures were enough to pump some badly need confidence about ObamaCare into the political atmosphere, especially after another discouraging administration decision earlier this week to postpone the employer mandate until 2015.

But just one day after that news reassured Democrats that ObamaCare would survive despite all of its problems, today we learn about a new aspect of the enrollment figures that undermines that optimistic story line. As the New York Times reports, of the millions who had purchased ObamaCare prior to last month a staggering 20 percent did not pay their premiums. Though these people are still being counted among the total of those who are enrolled, they are, in fact, not covered and won’t be until the bill is paid, assuming that ever happens. That means the figures the administration has been proclaiming as good news are entirely fictional. Whatever the reason for the failure to pay, be it inability or a lack of intention ever to do so, this massive shortfall makes it clear that the ObamaCare enrollment numbers are Potemkin figures that say nothing about the actual total of those covered by a plan that is already desperately short of the people needed for it to function.

The news about the nonpayment of premiums is startling:

Paying the first month’s premium is the final step in completing an enrollment. Under federal rules, people must pay the initial premium to have coverage take effect. In view of the chaotic debut of the federal marketplace and many state exchanges, the White House urged insurers to give people more time, and many agreed to do so. But, insurers said, some people missed even the extended deadlines.

Lindy Wagner, a spokeswoman for Blue Shield of California said that 80 percent of the people who signed up for its plans had paid by the company’s due date, Jan. 15. Blue Shield has about 30 percent of the exchange market in the state.

Matthew N. Wiggin, a spokesman for Aetna, said that about 70 percent of people who signed up for its health plans paid their premiums. For Aetna policies taking effect on Jan. 1, the deadline for payment was Jan. 14, and for products sold by Coventry Health Care, which is now part of Aetna, the deadline was Jan. 17.

Mark T. Bertolini, the chief executive of Aetna, said last week that the company had 135,000 “paid members,” out of 200,000 who began to enroll through the exchanges.

As we noted earlier this month, many of the state exchanges are having problems relating to dysfunctional websites or bad management. The result is chaos around the nation that undermines the happy talk emanating from the White House about the million new ObamaCare customers last month.

The question about nonpayment is not a technicality. Many of those purchasing the insurance may be first-time buyers and not understand that they must pay their bill before coverage starts rather than long after the fact, as they can with a credit card transaction. Or it may be that some enrolled with no intention of paying or thinking that the hype about the glories of ObamaCare they’ve heard in the mainstream media and from the president absolved them of the obligation to pay for it. But either way, the large number of non-payments renders the enrollment figures broadcast this week utterly meaningless.

We won’t know for months how many people are actually taking part in the problem, or whether they amount to anything close the figure needed for it to be fiscally solvent. Unless more young and healthy consumers buy into the plan, the massive wealth transfer envisioned by the law simply won’t take place. If so, the government will be forced to step in to save the health-care scheme with a bailout that will amount to a vast increase in the already staggering figures needed to pay for entitlements. Combined with the fact that the administration is seeking to postpone the most painful aspects of the law until after the midterm elections this fall, the long-term outlook for the law remains bleak. But whether it recovers from these blows or not, today’s news should inspire even more skepticism about ObamaCare in a public that never supported it in the first place.

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Why Have Health-Care Costs Been Rising so Much More Slowly of Late?

On a par with President Obama’s oft-repeated masterpiece of mendacity that “If you like your insurance plan you can keep your insurance plan,” is his claim that the Affordable Care Act has already begun to slow down the rise in medical costs.

There’s only one problem with that. The ACA came into effect (well, at least those parts Obama did not decide to waive on his own, non-existent authority) on October 1, 2013, and medical cost increases have been slowing for more than a decade. So what did cause the slow down?

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On a par with President Obama’s oft-repeated masterpiece of mendacity that “If you like your insurance plan you can keep your insurance plan,” is his claim that the Affordable Care Act has already begun to slow down the rise in medical costs.

There’s only one problem with that. The ACA came into effect (well, at least those parts Obama did not decide to waive on his own, non-existent authority) on October 1, 2013, and medical cost increases have been slowing for more than a decade. So what did cause the slow down?

John C. Goodman, head of the National Center for Policy Analysis, makes the argument that the causative agent has been the Health Savings Account, which first became legally possible in 2003. The HSA and its close cousin Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA) provide company employees with a high-deductible insurance plan to cover catastrophic events and a savings account that can be used to cover routine medical expenses. If the money in the savings account is not needed, it usually is added to the employee’s retirement account.

HSAs have grown by leaps and bounds since 2003. In 2005 there were about 1 million people covered by them. At the end of 2012, about 15 million were.

This structure has great economic advantages. For one thing, health insurance becomes health insurance, covering unexpected costs that would be financially calamitous, just like car and house insurance does. It does not cover routine expenses, such as the infamous birth-control pills, that are much more expensive to cover in what amounts to a pre-payment plan, as I have explained before.

But most important, it gets health-care consumers to ask the magic question: How much is this going to cost? When consumers have to ask that question, costs are kept under control much more easily. As Milton Friedman explained, no one spends other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own. When it becomes in a person’s self-interest to find the cheapest way to get a job done, he will find the cheapest way. If it makes no difference to him, why bother? Life is short enough.

This has had supply-side effects as well. As Goodman explains, “The emergence of so many people paying for care with their own money is also changing the supply side of the market, leading to walk-in clinics that post their prices and provide timely care, and places like Walmart that offer $4 generic drugs financed by cash, not costly insurance.”

Altogether, HSAs cost about 25 percent less than traditional health insurance.

HSAs were not legally possible before 2003 because Senator Ted Kennedy, who favored a single-payer system, used all of his very considerable legislative skill to keep them off the market. He feared, correctly, that they would work effectively to keep down costs and thus pose a threat to the socialization of health care he so wanted, so he fought them tooth-and-nail.

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Jefferson’s Lesson for Conservatives

Yesterday, timed almost perfectly with the unlawful extension of the ObamaCare employer-mandate delay, President Obama was touring Monticello with the visiting French president when he joked about breaking protocol there. “That’s the good thing as a President, I can do whatever I want,” he said according to the pool report. I’m never sure anymore if this sort of thing is really a gaffe, or if the president is just trolling conservatives. Either way, it got the requisite attention.

One of the comments was to note the irony of Obama making such imperious boasts at the home of a president who feared just such a display of lawless executive whim. At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey, for example, said: “That’s precisely the opposite of the example set by Jefferson, at least in terms of the presidency. Too bad Obama hasn’t learned that lesson yet.” And of course I agree … mostly. The truth is, Jefferson actually has something in common with Obama in this regard. Both found their presidencies weighed down by public disapproval. But Jefferson, of course, respected it–and in the end, like many things Jefferson set his mind to, took it a bit overboard.

But first he flexed more executive power than he’s remembered for. In 1807, when American ships were being abused on the open seas, Jefferson believed he had two options: go to war, or keep the traders in harbor. He opted for the second. His proposed trade embargo was an astoundingly bad idea, though it received congressional approval. But Jefferson was showing signs that his everyday personality was ill-suited to the presidency. Richard Brookhiser notes that:

There was a too-good-for-this-world streak in Jefferson’s character that showed itself in many ways, from his mountaintop house, to his dislike of face-to-face argument, to his pride, which also found expression in the embargo.

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Yesterday, timed almost perfectly with the unlawful extension of the ObamaCare employer-mandate delay, President Obama was touring Monticello with the visiting French president when he joked about breaking protocol there. “That’s the good thing as a President, I can do whatever I want,” he said according to the pool report. I’m never sure anymore if this sort of thing is really a gaffe, or if the president is just trolling conservatives. Either way, it got the requisite attention.

One of the comments was to note the irony of Obama making such imperious boasts at the home of a president who feared just such a display of lawless executive whim. At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey, for example, said: “That’s precisely the opposite of the example set by Jefferson, at least in terms of the presidency. Too bad Obama hasn’t learned that lesson yet.” And of course I agree … mostly. The truth is, Jefferson actually has something in common with Obama in this regard. Both found their presidencies weighed down by public disapproval. But Jefferson, of course, respected it–and in the end, like many things Jefferson set his mind to, took it a bit overboard.

But first he flexed more executive power than he’s remembered for. In 1807, when American ships were being abused on the open seas, Jefferson believed he had two options: go to war, or keep the traders in harbor. He opted for the second. His proposed trade embargo was an astoundingly bad idea, though it received congressional approval. But Jefferson was showing signs that his everyday personality was ill-suited to the presidency. Richard Brookhiser notes that:

There was a too-good-for-this-world streak in Jefferson’s character that showed itself in many ways, from his mountaintop house, to his dislike of face-to-face argument, to his pride, which also found expression in the embargo.

Jefferson’s secretary of state, James Madison, had much to do with the embargo policy. Madison thought American exceptionalism (though of course he didn’t use the term) would assert itself, and the American people would win this game of economic chicken. They did not. The two ignored a prescient warning from Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin that “Governmental prohibitions do always more mischief than had been calculated.” (Gallatin would be better remembered today, perhaps, had the Congress not blocked his nomination to be Madison’s secretary of state later on.)

But even more important, Gallatin cautioned that the difficulty of enforcing the embargo would force Jefferson to make a choice: “Congress must either vest the executive with the most arbitrary powers … or give it up altogether.” Gallatin had correctly predicted the course of the policy. Its failure took a toll on Jefferson. Brookhiser writes: “But the effort tore him up. Was he appalled by the means he had been driven to use? The party of liberty and light government was behaving more odiously than the Federalists had a decade earlier” by restricting free trade where the Federalists restricted free speech.

In any case, it sickened Jefferson, and he quite literally gave up on the presidency. He didn’t leave office–that might have been more of a scandal, but less of a constitutional offense than the course he chose, which was to simply have Madison, his unelected secretary of state, act as de facto president for the remainder of his last year in office. Madison was duly elected in the next election, but Jefferson’s actions risked undermining the system he helped create, and it was an insult to popular democracy.

The comparison between Jefferson and Obama can only be taken so far without becoming ludicrous. When Jefferson “gave up” on the process he bowed out quietly. When Obama did so, he simply discarded the process and did what he wanted. Hence, Obama’s “joke” isn’t really a joke except to the extent to which it’s on us. Nonetheless, there are a couple of lessons. One is that Madison eventually went to war, but did so from a position of greater weakness, lower public morale, and with a less prepared military. An instinct to avoid war is laudable, but in Jefferson and Madison’s case it resulted in rolling back economic freedom and nearly strangling the young nation’s economy. History has vindicated Gallatin, while also cruelly neglecting him.

The other lesson is one about the temptations of power. Jefferson turned out to be quite stubborn; his preferred policy could only be carried out by crossing his own principles, and that’s what he did. This is not to take away from Jefferson’s legacy, but to point out that Jefferson was a critic of John Adams’s crackdown on liberty when he was out of power, and ended up curbing freedom when his turn came.

Conservatives are noting that Obama is setting a disturbing precedent–but it’s one Democrats seemingly approve of. Thus it could be used in any number of ways by the next Republican president. Conservatives should resist the temptation to follow the left’s precedent the next time they have the chance. The extent of Obama’s lawlessness is the exception, and it should remain that way.

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