Commentary Magazine


Buyer’s Remorse from ObamaCare Backers?

One of the key selling points for ObamaCare was President Obama’s repeated promise that if you like your current health insurance plan, you can keep it. This posed a challenge to the president because not only was it clearly untrue, but the health-care reform law was specifically designed to prevent many people from being able to keep their insurance. The most humorous moment in the frantic effort to sell the public on ObamaCare based on false pretenses was when ABC News finally asked Obama to explain the claim:

“When I say ‘If you have your plan and you like it,… or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don’t have to change plans,’” the president said after we asked him about this, “what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.”

Ah. The government would merely create the conditions in which people would be forced off their insurance, but there’d be no paper trail on each particular such decision that led directly back to the president, so the rest is just details. ABC News, to its credit, pointed out that the president was acknowledging that his pledge “isn’t literally true.” But now some of the president’s allies who helped elect Democrats and then sell their health-care reform, and who inexplicably believed this ridiculous claim the president was making, feel duped. They are the unions, and they are not happy, as Avik Roy explains:

Last Thursday, representatives of three of the nation’s largest unions fired off a letter to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, warning that Obamacare would “shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

The letter was penned by James P. Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Joseph Hansen, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; and Donald “D.” Taylor, president of UNITE-HERE, a union representing hotel, airport, food service, gaming, and textile workers.

“When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act,” they begin, “you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat…We have been strong supporters of the notion that all Americans should have access to quality, affordable health care. We have also been strong supporters of you. In campaign after campaign we have put boots on the ground, gone door-to-door to get out the vote, run phone banks and raised money to secure this vision. Now this vision has come back to haunt us.”

The letter goes on to warn of the law’s “unintended consequences” and “perverse incentives.” It’s bad for business and for the health of so many Americans, they say. Their criticisms of the law are correct, of course. The problem with fixing the law, as we’ve already seen with the employer mandate suspension, is that the law’s manifest blunders are connected, and the worst elements of the law are also its funding mechanisms. The whole thing is a terrible piece of legislation, and even its major backers are now either finally admitting or finally realizing that the public had to be misled in order to get the bill passed.

The law remains unpopular for this reason, but it is truly amazing the lengths to which some commentators will go to explain away the public opposition to a plainly bad law sold on dishonest claims. Here’s the Economist, for example, musing about Democrats’ communication deficit:

When Republicans and Democrats use different terms for the same thing, the Republican phrase is nearly always shorter and more concrete, observes Joseph Romm, the author of “Language Intelligence”. He has a point. When arguing about abortion, Republicans favour “life” (evocative) while Democrats talk about “choice” (abstract). Republicans talk about “taxes” and “spending” while Democrats want to raise “revenue” for “investment”. George W. Bush had the “Patriot Act”, whereas Mr Obama has the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. The former is an awful law that is hard to oppose; the latter an awful mouthful that is hard to remember.

Actually, people commonly call it ObamaCare, which is easy to remember and just as easy to dislike according to the public. But of course the rest of that paragraph is risible as well. On the abortion issue, the term “choice” may be (to put it kindly) “abstract,” but surely for Democrats it’s a lot better than the “evocative” version of what they’re advocating. And the point about “taxes” and “spending” versus “revenue” and “investment” is rather obvious: one is literal, the other an attempt by the entity taking your money to avoid saying so.

And that is really what this communication issue is all about, in the end. Democrats are advocating terrible public policy on a whole host of important issues, and admitting what they are doing is a nonstarter for those who want to win reelection. Finding good names for bad ideas is a clever way to get around this, but wouldn’t it just be easier if Democrats came up with good ideas?

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