Commentary Magazine


The Competing Efforts to “Fix” ObamaCare

Last month, Dave Weigel unearthed a nearly forgotten quote from then-Senator Barack Obama in an interview with the New Yorker: “There’s an old saying in politics: when your opponent’s in trouble, just get out of the way … in political terms, I don’t think that Democrats are obligated to solve Iraq for the Administration.” Weigel was writing in the context of the deterioration of questions asked to aspiring presidents on Meet the Press, and the host at the time, Tim Russert, had used this quote in his first question to Obama.

The question was whether or not there is a “nonpolitical”–i.e. moral–obligation, if not a political one. It’s worth noting that Obama answered in the affirmative, and offered this:

And so what I’ve been saying of late on the campaign trail is that, given the rapidly deteriorating situation down there, it is incumbent upon all the leadership in Washington to execute a serious change of course in Iraq, and I think that involves a phased—the beginnings of a phased withdrawal that would put more of the onus on the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to make a decision about what kind of Iraq they want, and also to engage the regional powers—whether it’s Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria—to say, “You can’t sit on the sidelines. You have a stake in a stabilized Iraq.”

Obama’s only “idea” (to use that word loosely) to save Iraq was to abandon it. He didn’t want to help the Republicans fix the security mess there, and he didn’t want the Republicans to help the Iraqis fix the security mess in their own country. He wanted to leave and hand it off to Iran. Keep this in mind as you read Byron York’s article on the Democrats’ latest ObamaCare strategy:

The national health care scheme they designed is so complex and has already embedded itself so deeply in the health care system, they argue, that it can never be repealed. The only course now is for lawmakers of both parties to “fix” Obamacare’s problems.

The argument will be heard more and more as the burdens imposed by Obamacare — cancelled policies, higher premiums, higher deductibles, narrower doctor networks, restricted choices of prescription drugs and more — become a reality for millions of Americans. The situation could become even more politically charged if, as many experts expect, the burdens that have so far beset those in the individual insurance market spread to the small-group market and ultimately to the larger universe of all people who receive coverage through their jobs.

In such a scenario, Democrats will ratchet up their demands that Republicans join them in “fixing” the law. They will condemn Republicans who declare Obamacare beyond repair and decline to go along. And at the same time, Democrats will steadfastly refuse to back down in their full support of the law they — and they alone — passed that is causing all the trouble. The blame, they will argue, lies with the GOP.

York writes that it just might work because “In a weird irony, the more serious the problems of Obamacare become, the less likely some Republicans are to demand repeal.” Perhaps, but there’s another way of looking at this. Conservatives are already highly resistant to this because that has been the concern all along–that the disastrous law will have seeped so far into the bureaucratic gears that by the time it became obvious just how damaging ObamaCare was it would be too late to rid the country of it.

That was the mindset behind the government shutdown, which was a last-ditch effort to stop ObamaCare from leaving the gate. Yet it didn’t quite happen that way. Most people who understood health care knew the law was poorly designed, but the extent of the failure and ineptitude from the Obama administration still surprised most of them–and it certainly surprised the public, who naively took Obama at his word and woke up to the reality of the president’s many false promises.

That meant that the administration chose to delay some aspects of the law of their own accord, and the ones they couldn’t delay were so incompetently administered that broad acceptance of the law as the new normal was still in question. It is precisely because ObamaCare is still somehow not quite a sure thing that Democrats must insist that it is. And what better way for Democrats to redirect voter anger about ObamaCare than to have a surge in Republicans suddenly putting their names on it.

Bizarrely, this creates a perverse incentive for Democrats to impede efforts to radically alter the law because doing so would undermine their attempts to get the GOP to own the more problematic elements of it, and it would cast doubt on their claim that ObamaCare is too deeply embedded in the system to be removed. Therein lies the reason Democrats are fighting an uphill battle–not impossible, but against the odds–to get Republican support for their “fixes”: what they will propose won’t really solve the problems at all.

Republicans certainly feel some responsibility to try and lift the burden of ObamaCare off the shoulders of the people. And Democrats will continue to obstruct this effort at every turn.

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