Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obamacare

The GOP 2016 Field Prepares New Assaults on ObamaCare

If those who declared debates over the onerous Affordable Care Act dead and buried in the wake of the Supreme Court’s verdict in King v. Burwell had any sense of history, they would have known that their prediction was more a statement of faith than objective assessment of prevailing political realities. ObamaCare will never be the “settled law” its supporters wish it were until the public sheds its suspicion of it. Jonathan Tobin is correct to observe that the Court’s decision in King likely preserves elements of the law as part of the American social compact, although that was probably the case the moment the bill was signed. Those who want to see the law repealed root and branch and return to the status quo ante are going to have to give up that ghost, but the idea that the ACA as a political issue is now moot is groundless. In fact, the Court’s decision in King has only made it more likely that the GOP will continue its crusade against Barack Obama’s health care reform law. Read More

If those who declared debates over the onerous Affordable Care Act dead and buried in the wake of the Supreme Court’s verdict in King v. Burwell had any sense of history, they would have known that their prediction was more a statement of faith than objective assessment of prevailing political realities. ObamaCare will never be the “settled law” its supporters wish it were until the public sheds its suspicion of it. Jonathan Tobin is correct to observe that the Court’s decision in King likely preserves elements of the law as part of the American social compact, although that was probably the case the moment the bill was signed. Those who want to see the law repealed root and branch and return to the status quo ante are going to have to give up that ghost, but the idea that the ACA as a political issue is now moot is groundless. In fact, the Court’s decision in King has only made it more likely that the GOP will continue its crusade against Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

Republicans are rightfully aghast at the deplorable logic the majority of Supreme Court justices used to justify yet another reinterpretation of the Affordable Care Act. The Court abandoned its role as a neutral arbiter of legal text, ignored precedent, and virtually rewrote the statute so that the federal government could do legally what it had been doing illegally for months. The GOP’s more cynical elements are surely thanking the Supreme Court under their breaths, however, for this latest bit of jurisprudential gymnastics. If the Court had ruled in the opposite direction, Republicans would have faced a dramatic political conundrum. They would have been compelled to reintroduce those subsidies the Court stripped from the law into the majority of states that did not elect to establish their own federal insurance exchange marketplace. They would have been forced to endorse, all or in part, the mandates that oblige Americans to purchase a product from a private service provider at gunpoint. They would have invited a civil war that would have torn the party apart and might have cleaved the conservative wing away from the GOP permanently. The Roberts Court rescued the Republican Party from this trap.

The Affordable Care Act now continues its fraught implementation without having any bipartisan imprimatur. The GOP put not a single fingerprint on this law in 2010, and they were not compelled to lay a hand on it in the intervening years. As such, Republicans can continue to campaign against this law in whole rather than in part, and a variety of prominent 2016 candidates have elected to do just that.

The next stage in the GOP’s fight against the Affordable Care Act will be a legislative one. It has centered on the expansion of the “nuclear option” invoked by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013. While in the majority, the outgoing Democratic Senate leader altered Senate guidelines so that rule changes need only be approved by a simple majority and then eliminated the minority right of filibuster for judicial nominations. Now, a handful of Republican 2016 candidates contend that this rule change should be expanded so that the filibuster cannot prevent a narrow GOP majority from repealing the ACA altogether in 2017.

“I think we Republicans first need to unify behind the replacement,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told radio host Hugh Hewitt last week. When asked if he would be open to breaking the filibuster to “ram though repeal and replacement,” Bush said that he would “consider that.”

Another frontrunner in the race to secure the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, endorsed the idea more emphatically.

“There are a lot of Republican Senators who love the filibuster. Rick Santorum told me you don’t need to break the filibuster to repeal ObamaCare,” Hewitt asked the Badger State governor. “But if it’s necessary to do so, will you urge your Republican colleagues to invoke the Harry Reid rule that he used last year that he used to break the filibuster to repeal ObamaCare root and branch?”

“Yes,” Walker replied. “Absolutely.”

Expect this new line of attack against ObamaCare to soon become part of the Republican Party’s 2016 platform.

When Democrats sacrificed the rights of the minority in the Senate for fleeting and temporary gain, they knew they would be inviting this sort of backlash. But, despite myriad provocations, the GOP Senate majority has thus far declined to give their colleagues a dose of their own medicine. In February, Democrats successfully blocked a proposal to defund elements of the Department of Homeland Security that would forestall the implementation of the president’s constitutionally dubious executive actions on immigration. The move was so brazen that it “radicalized” even otherwise temperate voices within the party like the columnist Charles Krauthammer. “Go bold. Go nuclear. Abolish the filibuster,” he advised. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to scorch the earth.

His was a move that proved prescient; if the GOP accelerates the pace of the dilution of minority rights in the upper chamber begun by Democrats, they should do so only when the party’s governing coalition is at stake. If a Republican presidential candidate won the White House in November 2016, he or she would almost certainly also have Republican majorities in Congress. To fail to do all within their power to dismantle ObamaCare in that eventuality would rightly be seen as a gross betrayal of the new governing majority’s mandate.

Let’s be clear: there is a lot not to like about the virtual abolishment of the filibuster. Minority rights are a cherished parliamentary tool, and growing factionalism in Congress will only be exacerbated by the filibuster’s effective elimination. Moreover, it’s quite untoward for presidential contenders like Walker and Bush to fail to observe that their province as president ends at the steps of the Capitol Building. It would perhaps have been more republican if they had responded to this line of inquiry by deferring to the leader of the Senate in the 115th Congress, whoever that might be. But the estimable era of Coolidge-esque stoicism is over. It is now the role of America’s chief executive to lead on virtually all matters of state, including those that should be the exclusive domain of the legislative branch.

The fight over the Affordable Care Act is far from over, although the nation might have witnessed the end of the beginning last week. The battle over the future of this controversial law and its impact on American society now shifts back to the political battlefield, onto the shoulders of the field of presidential contenders and, ultimately, the 2016 electorate.

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Wait Until 2017? ObamaCare Likely to Live Forever Now

Just as he did three years ago in the original case affirming the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature health care legislation, Chief Justice John Roberts found a way to avoid having the U.S. Supreme Court bear the responsibility for stopping the Affordable Care Act. By declaring that the language in the law saying that insurance subsidies would be made available in exchanges “established by the states” was ambiguous rather than a seemingly straightforward rule, the chief justice allowed the subsidies to continue coming directly from the federal government in the states where no exchanges were set up. Today’s decision in King v. Burwell is a huge victory for President Obama’s legacy and assures ObamaCare’s survival unless Republicans are able to repeal it by taking the presidency and retaining control of Congress in 2016, and even then it is not certain that they’d be able to repeal it without coming up with a viable alternative, something they are unlikely to be able to do. But it is also a tactical political win for the GOP since the overturning of the subsidies would have put Congress in a position of having to come up with a fix that would have allowed millions of Americans to keep their insurance.

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Just as he did three years ago in the original case affirming the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature health care legislation, Chief Justice John Roberts found a way to avoid having the U.S. Supreme Court bear the responsibility for stopping the Affordable Care Act. By declaring that the language in the law saying that insurance subsidies would be made available in exchanges “established by the states” was ambiguous rather than a seemingly straightforward rule, the chief justice allowed the subsidies to continue coming directly from the federal government in the states where no exchanges were set up. Today’s decision in King v. Burwell is a huge victory for President Obama’s legacy and assures ObamaCare’s survival unless Republicans are able to repeal it by taking the presidency and retaining control of Congress in 2016, and even then it is not certain that they’d be able to repeal it without coming up with a viable alternative, something they are unlikely to be able to do. But it is also a tactical political win for the GOP since the overturning of the subsidies would have put Congress in a position of having to come up with a fix that would have allowed millions of Americans to keep their insurance.

As it was in 2012, one has to try and read between the lines to understand the tortured reasoning supporting Roberts’ majority opinion. The assertion that the plain English of “established by the states” is hard to credit. But, like his insistence that ObamaCare mandates were a tax (a position that neither the government nor those suing to have it overturned held) rather than a clearly unconstitutional infringement of the Constitution, Roberts has managed to come up with a rationale that allows the court to let ObamaCare survive in spite of the strong legal reasons why it should be halted. Yet, in doing so, rather than keeping the court out of politics, the chief justice has actually done more to undermine its credibility than any controversy stemming from its overturning of the statute would have done. In his stinging and brilliant dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia rightly says that the law ought now to be called “SCOTUScare” rather than ObamaCare since it is only alive due to the judicial somersaults that Roberts turned to keep it going. The idea that the court upholds the law without respect to political fears was always a tenuous hope, but now it is completely dead.

As for the future of the law, it must be conceded that the chances are good that it is now a permanent part of the country’s legal landscape. Should Republicans sweep both Congress and the presidency next year, it is likely they would take up repeal in January 2017. But just as the possibility of the subsidies being taken away set off a divisive battle inside the GOP over what to do about the plight of the millions who would then lose their insurance, repeal is no longer merely a matter of starting over from scratch. Any attempt to overturn a law that would have already been in operation for years will be a perilous undertaking fraught with political danger for Republicans. Their presidential candidates will all pledge to throw it out in the coming campaign, but that will be easier said than done. The odds are that John Roberts has ensured that this legal monstrosity will live forever.

In the short term ObamaCare survival is a boost for Republicans since a win for the plaintiffs would have meant that Congress would have been forced to wrestle with the difficult problem of finding a patch that would have let the subsidies stay in place. That would have been an impossible task as conservatives would never have endorsed anything that let ObamaCare linger on in any form, and the president wouldn’t have signed even the most reasonable of compromises. Their inevitable failure to deal with the problem would have given Democrats a powerful cudgel with which they could have abused the GOP next year. The millions who lost their insurance as a result of the overturning of the subsidies would have become poster children for Republican heartlessness.

But while they may be breathing a sigh of relief over dodging this bullet, conservatives should be mourning what Roberts has done in his two ObamaCare decisions.

By twisting itself into a pretzel in order to let the law stand, the court has allowed the Democrats to massively expand the power and the reach of government in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. The ObamaCare mandates create a dynamic that does more than offer cheap insurance to more people than would have otherwise been covered. It also allows the federal government to embark on a path in which it will be making far-reaching decisions about the future of American health care. It has already created rules that infringe on religious liberty and create distortions in the marketplace that will lead to massive increases in premiums while also losing jobs. While many, especially among the poor, are net winners, it has also created a large number of net losers who will never be compensated for the president’s broken promises about keeping their insurance and doctors if they liked them.

President Obama’s legacy as the man who pushed a health care law through Congress that few understood is now secure. Some Americans will benefit from this, but many others will be paying dearly for this unwieldy law. Most of all, future generations will recognize the court’s decisions as a crucial moment when our liberties were diminished. That is something for which all those involved in passing and preserving this disaster should be held accountable by history, if not the ballot box.

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The GOP’s King v. Burwell Trap

Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act are licking their chops at the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling in the upcoming King v. Burwell case against the government. By doing so, the Court would strip ObamaCare of the very rule that make so many ACA-related plans “affordable”: namely, the federal subsidies for those insured who purchased their plans in states that elected not to establish their own insurance exchange marketplaces. Thousands would instantly find the already dubiously named health care reform law prohibitively expensive, making an already unpopular law even more so. But Republicans are, for the most part, agreed that to allow those who were tricked into buying an unsustainable health insurance plan to go uncovered would be both morally wrong and politically disastrous. Until a more permanent solution is worked out, even conservative lawmakers agree the subsidies must be restored, albeit temporarily. But this is a fraught course, and Republicans would do well to take stock of the high stakes should they pursue it. Read More

Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act are licking their chops at the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling in the upcoming King v. Burwell case against the government. By doing so, the Court would strip ObamaCare of the very rule that make so many ACA-related plans “affordable”: namely, the federal subsidies for those insured who purchased their plans in states that elected not to establish their own insurance exchange marketplaces. Thousands would instantly find the already dubiously named health care reform law prohibitively expensive, making an already unpopular law even more so. But Republicans are, for the most part, agreed that to allow those who were tricked into buying an unsustainable health insurance plan to go uncovered would be both morally wrong and politically disastrous. Until a more permanent solution is worked out, even conservative lawmakers agree the subsidies must be restored, albeit temporarily. But this is a fraught course, and Republicans would do well to take stock of the high stakes should they pursue it.

The following is, of course, premised on the notion that the Supreme Court elects to rule on the law as it is written rather than to rewrite it entirely. It is not as though there is no precedent for the latter. In 2012, the Roberts Court effectively ignored the administration and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli who argued that the penalty associated with not purchasing insurance was not a tax and ruled that it was, in fact, a tax. The Court could easily determine that the intent of the law was clear (though the justices must ignore one of its framers in order to reach this conclusion), restore the subsidies to states that operate only a federal exchange, and leave ObamaCare intact.

If the Court rules in the alternative, however, the GOP’s course is clear. They will communicate to the public that this law is hopelessly flawed, and it must be fully repealed. They will note that the only way that can be done is when this recalcitrant president, who views this law that has created so much hardship as a legacy item, is gone. As part of the party’s 2016 pitch, they will note that only a Republican-led Congress and a Republican president will fully repeal the ACA. Only then will congressional Republicans embark on a course of restoring subsidies to those states that lost them until early in 2017.

But grassroots conservatives will resent and stridently oppose a clean reinstitution of ObamaCare subsidies, so the GOP in Congress will seek a concession from the president. And it will have to be substantial. Anything other than a clean restoration of subsidies will be met with a veto threat from the president, so Republicans are advised to go for broke. The repeal of the individual or employer mandates — preferably both – would do the trick. Even the elimination of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) might be a palatable tradeoff for conservative voters. It would be an uphill battle to force Senate Democrats to sign on to this approach, but Republicans would do well to try and to try hard. If the GOP cannot send a bill to the president’s desk that seeks substantial changes to ObamaCare, the consequences for the party will be significant.

“Can’t see GOP voting to re-victimize millions of people by legalizing the mandates,” wrote American Commitment President Phil Kerpen. “I’d give up on the party.” He wouldn’t be alone. Republicans are in a politically advantageous position with regards to the ACA insofar as not a single Republican has so much as a fingerprint on it. It is a wholly-owned Democratic enterprise, and the members of the president’s party have coveted that condition figuring that, some day, they will eventually get credit for the law’s net positive effects. If Republicans fail to secure a presidential veto on the repeal of one of this law’s more odious mandates and kicks the whole can down the road into 2017 – mandates and all – conservatives and liberals will declare that Republicans have abandoned their traditional antipathy toward those mandates and legitimized them. And they will have a point.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse saw much of this coming. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in mid-March, and in subsequent legislation, he proposed an 18-month Cobra extension for workers who lose their health coverage in the wake of a verdict in King that cuts against the administration. “Second, Republicans need to unify around a specific set of constructive, longer-term solutions, and then turn the 2016 presidential election into a referendum on two competing visions of health care,” the senator wrote.

But even this will be met with virtually the same criticism from the right if the GOP simply extended the law in its present form. “Sasse’s plan reinforces the notion that we have an uninsured problem rather than a price-controlled marketplace problem that needs less government interference,” The Federalist’s David Harsanyi contended in a reply to Sasse’s op-ed. “Once you’ve acquiesced to the idea that billions in subsidies are needed, the idea becomes bipartisan.”

There is almost no way to escape this criticism without coalescing behind and promoting a comprehensive alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have been unable to do that, and they squandered precious weeks in which they could have been making the case for a conservative alternative to the ACA to the public. Today, Republicans have few viable options available to them that could preserve the noble opposition to ObamaCare that they secured in 2010. One would be to force the president’s hand and compel him to veto a repeal of the ACA’s burdensome mandates before inevitably bowing to political realities. The Congressional GOP, a deeply unpopular set of prominent targets, will still draw fire from their conservative base voters and even a few 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls for allegedly “embracing” ObamaCare, but it will be baseless criticism. If, however, they merely reintroduce subsidies and the mandates with a modest concession like the repeal of the medical device tax, Republicans will invite a mutiny. And they would deserve it.

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The White House’s Latest ObamaCare Lie

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was pitched and eventually sold to the American public on a foundation of lies. Many of the most egregious examples of the calculated mendacity of ObamaCare’s designers were exposed by the law’s very implementation, but a few of its more subtle deceptions and the duplicity of the law’s authors was revealed in a series of videos featuring the refreshingly honest Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and health care policy advisor Jonathan Gruber. It is fitting that, just days before the Supreme Court issues what might be its most far-reaching verdict regarding the ACA’s fraudulence, Gruber is again in the news. Read More

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was pitched and eventually sold to the American public on a foundation of lies. Many of the most egregious examples of the calculated mendacity of ObamaCare’s designers were exposed by the law’s very implementation, but a few of its more subtle deceptions and the duplicity of the law’s authors was revealed in a series of videos featuring the refreshingly honest Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and health care policy advisor Jonathan Gruber. It is fitting that, just days before the Supreme Court issues what might be its most far-reaching verdict regarding the ACA’s fraudulence, Gruber is again in the news.

As soon as the Affordable Care Act was implemented and revealed its hideous, multifarious visage to the public, the lies at the heart of the law became apparent even to observers committed to ensuring its success.

Premiums rose both for those on and off Affordable Care Act-related plans. Patients began losing their cherished and long-patronized doctors. The Supreme Court virtually rewrote the law when it ignored the administration and the solicitor general when it determined that the government had no right to penalize the public for failing to purchase health insurance. None of this would have come as a surprise to anyone who attended one of Gruber’s many lectures.

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” the health care policy advisor conceded, because “if CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.”

As for the substance of the case the Court will rule on before the end of the month in King v. Burwell, Gruber appeared to validate the claims of those who believe the law was intentionally crafted to deny states the subsidies they presently enjoy if they did not set up a state-run insurance exchange. “There’s a lot of responsibilities on the states to set up these exchanges, like we did in Massachusetts, to regulate them and run them,” Gruber insisted in 2011. “Will people understand that, gee, if your governor doesn’t set up an exchange, you’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens?”

Later that year, Gruber expanded on his frustrations with those Republicans who opposed this monstrous social engineering scheme that had taken the form of a health care reform bill. “If you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens doesn’t get their tax credits,” he noted.

Most infamously, Gruber insisted that none of this would have been possible if not for him and his fellows’ faith in the “stupidity of the American voter.” He added “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”

Perhaps fearing the obvious political fallout that would eventually result from these acerbic statements, those who invested their futures in the ACA rushed to insist that they had never heard of the man once praised by Democrats as the most accomplished man in his field. “I don’t know who he is,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of Gruber. “He didn’t help write our bill.”

“I just heard about this,” President Barack Obama insisted amid growing national scandal. “The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is no reflection on the actual process that was run.”

According to emails belatedly obtained by House Oversight Committee investigators, however, Gruber had more fingerprints on the bill than its crafters would have preferred to admit. “The emails show frequent consultations between Mr. Gruber and top Obama administration staffers and advisers in the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services on the Affordable Care Act,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. “They show he informed HHS about interviews with reporters and discussions with lawmakers, and he consulted with HHS about how to publicly describe his role.”

The emails show Mr. Gruber was in touch with key advisers such as Peter Orszag, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House that oversaw federal programs.

He was also in contact with Jason Furman, an economic adviser to the president, and Ezekiel Emanuel, who was then a special adviser for health policy at OMB.

One email indicates Mr. Gruber was invited to meet with Mr. Obama. In a July 2009 email, he wrote that Mr. Orszag had “invited me to meet with the head honcho to talk about cost control.”

“Thank you for being an integral part of getting us to this historic moment,” according to Sept. 9, 2009 email to Mr. Gruber from Jeanne Lambrew, a top Obama administration health adviser who worked at HHS and the White House. In a November 2009 email, she called Mr. Gruber “our hero.”

The report quotes a Health and Human Services spokeswoman who adopted the supremely cynical tactic of insisting that all these new revelations contained in emails that the administration sought to keep secret amounted to “old news.” The transition from the Obama to Clinton White House appears to be proceeding apace.

It’s appropriate that Gruber would again become the focus of national controversy with just days to go before the Court decides whether it will again rewrite this hastily crafted law passed only as a result of parliamentary trickery. With just hours to go before that fateful moment, the nation was again reminded of the dishonesty that taints this law. Every step of the way, this White House has tried to foist onto the public legislation that would have long ago been scrapped had they been honest about its designs and effects. This latest bit of compulsive mendacity from the administration is sadly all too familiar.

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Obama Will Take Poor Down With Him If SCOTUS Sinks OCare

With the clock ticking down before the U.S. Supreme Court decides the fate of ObamaCare, most of the attention and pressure is on Congressional Republicans. If the Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, conservatives will celebrate the implosion of President Obama’s unpopular signature health-care legislation. But they will also be placed in a difficult political position since the demise of the federal subsidies for insurance will deprive millions of the coverage they obtained as a result of the law’s passage. That possibility looms as a distinct political liability for the GOP heading into 2016 unless Congress can pass at least a temporary fix for the bill that will enable the ObamaCare subsidies to continue until a long-term solution is found once a new president is elected. But as much as that puts the onus on House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to find a way to get their fractious caucuses to agree on a plan, the real obstacle to a resolution of this potential crisis is at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If President Obama is, as he claims, unwilling to compromise and accept a fix that will not ensure the law’s permanence, it will be him and not the GOP who should be blamed for the problems of the uninsured.

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With the clock ticking down before the U.S. Supreme Court decides the fate of ObamaCare, most of the attention and pressure is on Congressional Republicans. If the Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, conservatives will celebrate the implosion of President Obama’s unpopular signature health-care legislation. But they will also be placed in a difficult political position since the demise of the federal subsidies for insurance will deprive millions of the coverage they obtained as a result of the law’s passage. That possibility looms as a distinct political liability for the GOP heading into 2016 unless Congress can pass at least a temporary fix for the bill that will enable the ObamaCare subsidies to continue until a long-term solution is found once a new president is elected. But as much as that puts the onus on House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to find a way to get their fractious caucuses to agree on a plan, the real obstacle to a resolution of this potential crisis is at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If President Obama is, as he claims, unwilling to compromise and accept a fix that will not ensure the law’s permanence, it will be him and not the GOP who should be blamed for the problems of the uninsured.

The growing debate over how to deal with the aftermath of an end to the subsidies may be cut short if the Court upholds the law in its current form. After the shocking decision of Chief Justice John Roberts to uphold ObamaCare’s constitutionality on grounds at odds with both of the parties to the case, it is impossible to predict how the vote will go. But though there is a good chance that Roberts will care more about the politics of the decision than the Constitution, it is entirely possible that this time the majority will defend the principle that the law means what it says. That would mean it would decide that the words “established by the states” in the text of the legislation would mean that subsidies are illegal if they are only provided by the federal government.

As I noted last month, such a decision would create a new set of people affected by the law that can’t be ignored. Just as its passage meant that millions of consumers lost their existing coverage (contradicting President Obama’s oft-repeated pledge that such a thing would never happen), thus creating a large number of embittered opponents of the law, the end of the subsidies will mean yet another group will come into existence. These people will be looking to blame those who caused their entitlement to vanish.

There’s little question their anger will be focused on members of the GOP, who have repeatedly attempted to repeal the misnamed Affordable Care Act. But if, as they should, Boehner and McConnell get their members behind a temporary fix to the problem created by King v. Burwell, the failure of the initiative will likely belong to the president, not the Tea Party.

Though Republicans are being chided for not having already put a fix in place, there are a number of reasonable proposals already being debated that have been put forward by Republicans like Senators Ron Johnson and Bill Cassidy. While not ideal for either defenders of the law or those who want to see it completely repealed, they have the virtue of protecting those who are getting the subsidies.

But sensing political weakness on the part of its opponents, the White House is sending clear signals that it will not agree to any compromise that alters ObamaCare or fails to establish its permanence. As was the case during the government shutdown debate in the fall of 2013, when conservatives sought to defund ObamaCare as the price of keeping Washington funded, it is the White House that is the most intransigent player in the game.

But while in 2013 that meant preserving a law that had yet to be implemented, Obama’s willingness to take the country to the brink this time will have a devastating impact on precisely those persons he sought to help.

This sort of confrontation brings out the worst in the president because it tempts him to demonstrate the defining characteristics of his interactions with Congress: a refusal to compromise on any terms but his own and the temptation to demonize opponents rather than work with them.

This White House has already proven its skill when taking Congressional Republicans to the brink but if it allows the subsides to expire when they might have been saved it will take more than the cheers of the liberal mainstream media to portray the president as being in the right. It wasn’t hard to beat down Republicans in 2013 as they self-destructed but it may not be as easy if a fix is delivered to his desk or if a Democratic filibuster in the Senate spikes it.

If Obama and the Democrats prevent passage of a subsidy solution and simply assume the public will blame Republicans, they may be surprised this time. ObamaCare has never been popular and the country knows that if it is in peril of being overturned by the court it is because it was passed in a slipshod and rushed manner in order to avoid further debate that might have improved it. Rather than his legacy being a health-care law, such a decision would ensure that posterity remembers Barack Obama as a president that preferred to see the poor suffer rather than bend a little and compromise with his opponents.

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Obama Instructs the Court

Presidents nearly always come with fully-functional egos. After all, climbing the greasy pole of American politics requires rich reserves of self-confidence. And self-confidence is equally necessary to being an effective president. No one wants a Captain Queeg in the White House. But Barack Obama combines his egocentricity with an almost boundless intellectual arrogance. It is one of the primary reasons his presidency has been so devoid of successes and so filled with failures and disasters. Only Woodrow Wilson comes anywhere close to being in the same league. And look what happened to him.

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Presidents nearly always come with fully-functional egos. After all, climbing the greasy pole of American politics requires rich reserves of self-confidence. And self-confidence is equally necessary to being an effective president. No one wants a Captain Queeg in the White House. But Barack Obama combines his egocentricity with an almost boundless intellectual arrogance. It is one of the primary reasons his presidency has been so devoid of successes and so filled with failures and disasters. Only Woodrow Wilson comes anywhere close to being in the same league. And look what happened to him.

The reason, as Noemie Emery points out in the Washington Examiner, is that men like Obama and Wilson can’t learn from their mistakes because they cannot admit, or even conceive, that they can make mistakes.

The conventional view of what has gone wrong — that Obama lacked experience, and that first-term senators should be viewed with suspicion — is undercut by the fact that he has had six years of experience, and failed to learn from it. At home and abroad, Obama makes mistakes over and over, with the same result, and takes nothing from them. He disses his friends, placates aggressors and seems surprised that aggressors advance and whole regions catch fire.

His arrogance keeps him from even listening to anyone who disagrees with him.

He refuses to bargain with Congress, insults opponents, imposes unpopular policies by fiat and seems surprised when his measures result in court challenges, when polarization increases, opposition solidifies, divisions harden and gridlock prevails. Deal-making is the essence of politics, but Obama finds it demeaning, so he resorts to brute force when he has the means to (as in the still-festering matter of healthcare). Alternatively, as with immigration, Obama resorts to executive actions that stir angry resistance and are frequently halted by courts.

Yesterday, at a news conference in Germany, Obama criticized the Supreme Court for a decision the court has not yet even made. It is not uncommon for presidents to criticize the court after decisions they don’t like (Andrew Jackson famously said in one case, “the court has made its decision, now let it enforce it”), but only Obama, as far as I know, has shown so little respect for a co-equal branch of government as to, effectively, instruct the court on its duty. He’s done it before.

Yesterday’s instructions to the court are with regard to King v. Burwell and whether federal subsidies are available in the federal health insurance exchanges. Obama said that it, “should be an easy case. Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.” I imagine the Supreme Court justices — not without their own egos by any means — appreciated that from someone who has not spent 30 seconds on even a night court bench. The decision, opines Obama, is “not something that should be done based on a twisted interpretation of four words, in, as we were reminded repeatedly, a couple-thousand-page piece of legislation.”

Is it really a “twisted interpretation” to think that “established by the states,” means, well, “established by the states”?

We’ll all find out what the Supreme Court thinks it means by the end of the month. It is not unprecedented, by any means, for the court to change its mind at the last minute. Telling the court what its obligations are is a pretty good way of nudging a justice or two to decide against the administration.

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Double-Digit Hikes Prove ObamaCare Isn’t Affordable

It may be hard to remember it at times, but the official name of President Obama’s signature health care legislation is the Affordable Care Act, not ObamaCare. That moniker was affixed to the monstrosity passed by the Democratic Congress in 2010 in the hope that it would lower health care costs even though few of its architects had any idea of what it would actually mean. For the initial period of its launch, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s famous comment about the bill needing to be passed before anyone knew what was in it, primarily applied to the impact that the various mandates it imposed on businesses, institutions, and individuals would have on the country. But now it is increasingly clear that whatever it might have accomplished in allowing some to acquire insurance while causing millions of others to lose their coverage, the one thing we know for sure that it hasn’t done is lower costs. That was confirmed again on Monday when the administration announced double-digit price hikes for individuals who have purchased ObamaCare policies.

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It may be hard to remember it at times, but the official name of President Obama’s signature health care legislation is the Affordable Care Act, not ObamaCare. That moniker was affixed to the monstrosity passed by the Democratic Congress in 2010 in the hope that it would lower health care costs even though few of its architects had any idea of what it would actually mean. For the initial period of its launch, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s famous comment about the bill needing to be passed before anyone knew what was in it, primarily applied to the impact that the various mandates it imposed on businesses, institutions, and individuals would have on the country. But now it is increasingly clear that whatever it might have accomplished in allowing some to acquire insurance while causing millions of others to lose their coverage, the one thing we know for sure that it hasn’t done is lower costs. That was confirmed again on Monday when the administration announced double-digit price hikes for individuals who have purchased ObamaCare policies.

It is instructive to remember that when critics said last year that ObamaCare prices would soon skyrocket, the administration dismissed such predictions as partisan scaremongering. But, now that it has announced the hikes, expect to hear about how it wasn’t as bad as it might have been or efforts to place the blame on insurance companies or the rising cost of drugs. But whatever the excuses that might be found for the increases, the plain fact is that the notion that allowing a federal bureaucracy to begin to control the health care industry would lower prices rather than set off a long term sharp increase was a myth. Moreover, those who were promised cheap insurance were sold a bill of goods. No matter how the White House chooses to spin this development, it’s obvious that the Affordable Care Act is becoming a lot less affordable, even for those who were net winners as opposed to the many who turned out to be net losers.

That this news comes as the nation waits to hear the verdict of the U.S. Supreme Court in the King v. Burwell case is doubly ironic. If the court applies the letter of the law to decide the case, it will end the federal subsidies to consumers in states without their own health care exchanges. That will create a chaotic situation in which up to seven million people who benefitted from the bill will find themselves stuck with insurance that will be far more expensive than they thought. Unless Congress and the White House agree on a fix that would allow the subsidies to continue — and the chances of that happening are somewhere between zero and non-existent — there’s no question the result will be chaos, and many will be hurt by the development. The prospect of such a mess has caused some to speculate that the court will — as it did with its original and utterly illogical verdict in the case that approved a blatantly unconstitutional law — uphold the legality of the subsidies for political rather than legal reasons.

But the staggering price hikes announced on Monday remind us that the law the administration desperately wants to preserve hasn’t lived up to its billing. ObamaCare forced millions to lose their existing coverage or the doctors they liked despite the president’s oft-repeated promises. It has imposed controversial mandates on businesses and institutions that have raised serious questions about religious freedom as the government invented some rights while trashing others. Moreover we have yet to see the full impact of the employer and individual mandates as the administration sought to postpone the painful aspects of the bill as opposed to the more popular ones in a vain effort to save the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. Contrary to the expectations of both supporters and its opponents, ObamaCare hasn’t turned out to be another version of Social Security or Medicare. Unlike those pieces of legislation, ObamaCare created a vast population of net losers, something that has ensured that it continues to be deeply unpopular.

But the failure of the new system to control costs in such a way as to prevent these kind of massive price increases for consumers, gives the lie to the belief that there was anything affordable about this act.

As I wrote last week, Congress needs to prepare for the possibility that King v. Burwell will overturn the ObamaCare applecart. But even as we worry about the impact of such a decision, let’s dismiss the idea that what it might destroy was not already a terrible, unpopular mess that has disrupted the health care system and hasn’t controlled costs. Though it ought to be replaced by something that takes the government out of health care while helping those who will be hurt by its demise and enact reforms that will lower rather than increase prices, ObamaCare is a disaster that still deserves to be repealed if the court lets it survive and limp into an uncertain and pricey future.

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The Economics of Birth Control Drugs

The Hill is reporting that Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is introducing a bill that would require drug companies that produce birth control drugs to apply to the FDA to have them be sold over the counter. These drugs have been on the market now for decades with few if any side-effects, and most such drugs go over the counter quite soon. Senator Gardner has six Republican co-sponsors.

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The Hill is reporting that Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is introducing a bill that would require drug companies that produce birth control drugs to apply to the FDA to have them be sold over the counter. These drugs have been on the market now for decades with few if any side-effects, and most such drugs go over the counter quite soon. Senator Gardner has six Republican co-sponsors.

It’s only common sense to make safe drugs with no abuse potential as easily available as possible, right? But guess who opposes the measure. Planned Parenthood, among other liberal organizations. They have one stated objection and one unstated. The latter is that if a woman can just walk into a drug store and buy birth control pills, she won’t need to go to Planned Parenthood first to get a prescription. Planned Parenthood would become, in effect, the world’s largest abortion clinic.

But their stated objection is that if birth control is OTC, then insurance companies might stop paying for it, just as they don’t pay for aspirin, cold medicines, and Tums.

Of course, insurance companies shouldn’t be paying for it even if it’s a prescription drug.

Insurance is meant to protect people and organizations from large expenses that cannot be predicted, such as a house fire or an automobile accident. Everyone who sends a premium to an insurance company hopes that he won’t have to make a claim. What insurance does not and should not cover are routine, predictable expenses, such as, with automobiles, oil changes. Equally, health insurance should cover large, unpredictable expenses, such as serious illness. They should not cover routine, predictable expenses such as birth control. But Obamacare forces them to, at great expense to the women who take birth control pills.

Here’s the economics-101 reason:  Covering such expenses is not insurance at all, it’s a prepayment plan and a very expensive one.

Because insurance companies don’t cover oil changes, the car owner drops by the garage four times a year, gets his oil changed, pays the garage $25 and drives off, for an annual expense of $100. But if the federal government in its infinite wisdom were to decide to force automobile insurance companies to pay for oil changes, the garage owner would bill the insurance company instead. But because that requires clerical effort and he has to wait for his money, the garage owner won’t charge $25, he’ll charge, say, $30. When the insurance company gets the claim, it will run it through its own clerical process and, eventually, cut a check and send it to the garage.

But that overhead has to covered by the premium as well, as does the company’s need to make a profit. So the insurance company will jack up the premium by, say $10 per oil change. So now, instead of the four annual oil changes costing $100, they cost $160 in increased insurance premiums.

And liberals think that birth control, thanks to Obamacare, is now “free.”  Milton Friedman, call your office.

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On ObamaCare, Stupid Defense May Not Work for Administration or the GOP

We are only weeks away from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that will decide the fate of ObamaCare. If the high court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could bring down the entire edifice constructed by the architects of the Affordable Care Act. The case of King v. Burwell hinges on the fact that the law enacted by Congress says that federal subsidies for consumers could only be available where exchanges were “established by the state.” Since only 16 states and the District of Columbia have such exchanges, the money spent by the government to subsidize ObamaCare insurance elsewhere is technically in violation of the 900-page law. That has left Democrats crying foul over the fact that a mere technicality or as a front-page feature in the New York Times has it, “four words” could toss the president’s domestic legacy into history’s dust pile. Their excuse is that it was all a big mistake, but while it’s possible that Chief Justice John Roberts will find a reason to save the law again, the stupid defense doesn’t usually work in court. But while the prospect of winning the case excites Republicans, they need to remember that the same principle sometimes applies in politics. If ObamaCare comes crashing down, the same sort of stupid defense won’t help them if they aren’t ready with an alternative to deal with those who will be hurt by the chaos caused by the law’s demise.

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We are only weeks away from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that will decide the fate of ObamaCare. If the high court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could bring down the entire edifice constructed by the architects of the Affordable Care Act. The case of King v. Burwell hinges on the fact that the law enacted by Congress says that federal subsidies for consumers could only be available where exchanges were “established by the state.” Since only 16 states and the District of Columbia have such exchanges, the money spent by the government to subsidize ObamaCare insurance elsewhere is technically in violation of the 900-page law. That has left Democrats crying foul over the fact that a mere technicality or as a front-page feature in the New York Times has it, “four words” could toss the president’s domestic legacy into history’s dust pile. Their excuse is that it was all a big mistake, but while it’s possible that Chief Justice John Roberts will find a reason to save the law again, the stupid defense doesn’t usually work in court. But while the prospect of winning the case excites Republicans, they need to remember that the same principle sometimes applies in politics. If ObamaCare comes crashing down, the same sort of stupid defense won’t help them if they aren’t ready with an alternative to deal with those who will be hurt by the chaos caused by the law’s demise.

The Times’ deep dive into the legislative history of the ACA is a fascinating study in minutiae that largely misses the point. We all know that the people who wanted the federal government to largely take over the portion of the American economy intended it to do so throughout the country, so identifying which staffers screwed up is interesting but not particularly significant. Since, as a general rule, courts enforce laws as they are written rather than as some people want them to be read, it doesn’t matter who made the typo. The only thing that matters is that it was made and never corrected. More important than which staffers drafted the bad language is the fact that Democrats passed the bill in this incoherent form because Scott Brown’s election in 2010 deprived them of their cloture-proof 60-seat majority. That meant they would, in then Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s memorable phrase, “have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.”

Nor are Democrats in a position to complain about losing ObamaCare on a technicality since it got Constitutional approval from this same court on just as hazy a point when Chief Justice Roberts ruled it a tax despite the government’s insistence that it was not.

Yet if Roberts decides that, as he did in 2012, he didn’t want the responsibility for toppling the president’s signature health care legislation even if it was blatantly unconstitutional, he may decide the stupid excuse is enough to give the law a pass even if its text clearly forbids the government from subsidizing insurance in states where there is no exchange.

But the same stupid label will apply to Republicans if they are not prepared if Roberts decides this time to decide a case on law rather than politics. As Politico notes, there are a number of GOP plans circulating for how to deal with the aftermath of King v. Burwell if the plaintiffs prevail.

Some Republicans, especially many in the House, believe that any stopgap measure passed to ease the pain of those who would lose their federal insurance subsidies would be a mistake. Their argument is that no matter how it is done, such an effort would more or less leave ObamaCare in place and make it much harder to repeal even if a Republican is elected president in 2016 and comes into office with a GOP Congress pledged to do that.

They’re right about that. But the problem is that a collapse of the law will result in many millions of Americans being deprived of health insurance and hand the Democrats an effective cudgel with which they can beat the GOP in 2016. Just as the existence of millions of Americans who are net losers because of the law’s passage has fueled its persistent unpopularity, the law’s chaotic collapse will make those who have helped destroy it look not only heartless but also stupid.

That’s why the party needs to get behind one of the major proposals being floated in Congress for picking up the pieces after King v. Burwell. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has a compromise measure that would restore the subsidies but only at the cost of the president agreeing to the end of the individual and employer mandates which make it so oppressive. That’s much too moderate for many House Republicans. Ways and Means Chair Rep. Paul Ryan and some of his colleagues who have came up with a well considered “exit ramp” for the law for states that would minimize problems for consumers while ending this ruinous experiment in national health care.

That might also be too much for those who simply want to repeal the mess Pelosi passed. But the GOP needs to get its act together, and soon, and attempt to pass one of these proposals even if President Obama isn’t likely to buy into even the most generous of compromises.

It’s true that ultimate responsibility for the collapse of ObamaCare belongs to the president and the idiots who passed a badly drafted bill without understanding its implications. But if Republicans don’t prepare an alternative soon, they will also be judged as having failed the stupid test with consequences that will be felt in November 2016.

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ObamaCare, SCOTUS and the Constitution

Yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing on the King v. Burwell challenge to ObamaCare produced a lot of the usual tealeaf reading from SCOTUS watchers. Most of those who commented on the proceedings concentrated on trying to figure out the outcome by interpreting the comments from the bench. There seems little doubt that seven of the judges’ votes are already a given with the four liberals lining up behind the legality of the federal subsidies being given to consumers in states that did not set up their own ObamaCare exchange and three conservatives believing them to contradict the text of the law. That means the speculation centers on the thinking of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s usual swing vote and that of Chief Justice John Roberts, who usually lines up with the other conservatives but abandoned them in 2012 in order to register an illogical opinion that allowed ObamaCare to survive a constitutional challenge that was far more substantial than the one put forward in the current case. That means there’s no telling how the case will be decided. But if Roberts does another ideological somersault in order to avoid getting the court in the middle of a political tangle it will be another telling blow to the system of checks and balances created by the Founders.

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Yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing on the King v. Burwell challenge to ObamaCare produced a lot of the usual tealeaf reading from SCOTUS watchers. Most of those who commented on the proceedings concentrated on trying to figure out the outcome by interpreting the comments from the bench. There seems little doubt that seven of the judges’ votes are already a given with the four liberals lining up behind the legality of the federal subsidies being given to consumers in states that did not set up their own ObamaCare exchange and three conservatives believing them to contradict the text of the law. That means the speculation centers on the thinking of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s usual swing vote and that of Chief Justice John Roberts, who usually lines up with the other conservatives but abandoned them in 2012 in order to register an illogical opinion that allowed ObamaCare to survive a constitutional challenge that was far more substantial than the one put forward in the current case. That means there’s no telling how the case will be decided. But if Roberts does another ideological somersault in order to avoid getting the court in the middle of a political tangle it will be another telling blow to the system of checks and balances created by the Founders.

ObamaCare defenders have tried to argue that the challenge to the law is a narrow technicality that ought not to invalidate the president’s signature health care legislation. From the frame of reference of most liberals, the Affordable Care Act is, however flawed it might be, another step on the inevitable path to an enlightened society that the left has been pulling the country toward for the last century. The idea of striking down a key element of the enforcement of a law simply because it is contradicted by the text of the legislation strikes them as unfair as well as bad policy.

This is hypocritical cant since Roberts’ decision that validated the law’s constitutionality was itself based on a technicality — the notion that it was a tax even though its authors and the president claimed it was nothing of the kind — and liberals cheered rather than complained about the convoluted and narrow reasoning behind the decision.

But the claim that the absence of language in the statute that would authorize the federal government to set up exchanges in states that refused to operate them is a technicality is a false argument. The legislative history shows that the intent was to force states to run the exchanges and that having Washington step in where they didn’t was contrary to its purpose.

That means the outcome of King v. Burwell hinges on whether a majority of justices think the purpose of the Supreme Court is to interpret the laws as they were written or to simply judge them on the desires of the political forces that back the program. Four liberals say to hell with the text of the law. Three conservatives say the law must be judged by its text not the desire of the administration to see its unpopular achievement preserved in spite of its obvious shortcomings.

That leaves Kennedy and Roberts to decide whether they are prepared to do what the Court couldn’t bring itself to do in 2012: take a stand on the Constitution even if it meant that their institution would be seen as responsible for an outcome that would offend one half of the electorate.

Interpretations of Roberts’ bizarre opinion on the original ObamaCare case have been all over the map but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the chief justice was convinced it would be bad for the high court if it decided something that would better be determined by the voters. He seemed to be challenging the country in his opinion (which confirmed that the law violated the Commerce clause but then said it was alright because it was a tax) to make up their own minds on the law by either voting for President Obama or his opponent Mitt Romney who vowed the law’s repeal would be his top priority.

This is not the first time in history the Supreme Court has gotten out of the way and let the politicians and the voters decide major issues. But for Roberts to find two separate excuses to defy logic and render something legal that is clearly anything but would be egregious.

It’s easy to sympathize with Roberts’ desire to avoid having a court with a narrow conservative majority be seen as partisans in the way it did when Bush v. Gore was decided. If the court is to punt every time the fates put it in a position to perform its constitutional obligation to provide a legal check to the legislative and executive branches, why do we have a judiciary? It is the duty of the court to speak up when Congress or the president overstep their power or create laws that don’t stand up to scrutiny. If Roberts is going to decide King v. Burwell on the same bizarre lines that he used last time, it will do more damage to the court than any political brickbats that are tossed in its direction by angry supporters of the president.

If Roberts and Kennedy honestly thinks the federal exchanges are legal, then they should rule accordingly. But if they don’t but let them stand for fear of being criticized then they will deserve the opprobrium that conservatives and posterity will heap on them.

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Obama Administration Again Proves It Cannot Be Trusted with Your Data

Yesterday’s important ObamaCare revelation was the latest in a series of Obama-era developments in which big-government projects prove their conservative critics correct. This particular aspect of the administrative state is, however, worse than incompetence. It’s yet another proof that the government cannot be trusted with the private information it gathers from the public.

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Yesterday’s important ObamaCare revelation was the latest in a series of Obama-era developments in which big-government projects prove their conservative critics correct. This particular aspect of the administrative state is, however, worse than incompetence. It’s yet another proof that the government cannot be trusted with the private information it gathers from the public.

This has been an ongoing debate that conservatives have lately been winning handily. Democrats moved to require more transparency in those who make political donations, though the Democrats sought to protect major liberal donor groups like unions. Conservatives said the information would be used to harass and target donors. The Obama administration then promptly proved conservatives right, by doing just that.

Then the IRS scandal came to light. Conservative and pro-Israel groups were targeted for nonprofit status, and part of the targeting was invasive questioning. It was unnecessary and unfairly applied, but conservatives also said the IRS couldn’t be trusted with the information. The IRS then proved them right, going on a leaking spree and releasing confidential information, in some cases to ideological allies for cooperative (and very much illegal) targeting. Concerns about government use of private information have infused opposition to gun-control legislation as well.

And now comes perhaps the least surprising entry in the list: the government’s ObamaCare website is sharing insurance customers’ personal information with advertisers. The Obama campaign and administration have already perfected the art of borderline stalkerish email spamming. Now they want to share the wealth. The AP reports:

The government’s health insurance website is quietly sending consumers’ personal data to private companies that specialize in advertising and analyzing Internet data for performance and marketing, The Associated Press has learned.

The scope of what is disclosed or how it might be used was not immediately clear, but it can include age, income, ZIP code, whether a person smokes, and if a person is pregnant. It can include a computer’s Internet address, which can identify a person’s name or address when combined with other information collected by sophisticated online marketing or advertising firms.

Your address, family plans, and personal habits. The Obama administration wants to share this information with strangers. Besides for the obvious general creepiness of this administration’s behavior on almost every subject, why are they doing this? For precisely the Orwellian reasons you would imagine:

The Obama administration says HealthCare.gov’s connections to data firms were intended to help improve the consumer experience. Officials said outside firms are barred from using the data to further their own business interests.

There is no evidence that personal information has been misused. But connections to dozens of third-party tech firms were documented by technology experts who analyzed HealthCare.gov and then confirmed by AP. A handful of the companies were also collecting highly specific information. That combination is raising concerns.

Let’s agree to disagree on the definition of “misused,” shall we? The first part is truly rich: the government just wants to “improve the consumer experience.” It doesn’t matter that you didn’t, well, ask them to. The government knows what’s best for you, and what’s best for you is the government’s ability to make a quick buck by invading your privacy.

As I said, this isn’t really all that surprising. But it does reinforce an important point: the government cannot be trusted with your personal information. This is a plain fact. It’s possible in the future we’ll have a non-creepy administration. That time is not now.

And it’s not just about what the Obama administration chooses to do with your personal information. It’s also that the ObamaCare portal doesn’t protect that information from companies it didn’t intend to permit to violate you, as opposed to the ones it did:

A former White House chief information officer, Theresa Payton, said third-party vendors are a weak link on any website. She questioned both the number of vendors on HealthCare.gov and the specific details some of them are collecting.

“You don’t need all of that data to do customer service,” said Payton, who served under President George W. Bush. “We know hackers are just waiting at the door, salivating to get at this data.”

Indeed they are. Considering the Obama administration’s record on protecting information from hackers–having social media accounts hacked by ISIS fanboys, the Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning affairs–the public is right to be concerned. In privacy, as in pretty much everything else, the administration has no idea what it’s doing, and seemingly no appetite to remedy that.

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‘Wellness or Else’: ObamaCare’s Fine Print

Whether it’s the politicization of holidays, infringements on religious liberty, programs seeking to get Americans to inform on one another, or the weaponization of the bureaucracy such as the IRS targeting program, a steady feature of the Obama years has been the attempts to erode civil society. The latest example has to do with ObamaCare.

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Whether it’s the politicization of holidays, infringements on religious liberty, programs seeking to get Americans to inform on one another, or the weaponization of the bureaucracy such as the IRS targeting program, a steady feature of the Obama years has been the attempts to erode civil society. The latest example has to do with ObamaCare.

The unpopular health-care reform law contained in it rules that increased businesses’ ability to incentivize better health among their employees. Since ObamaCare contained an insurance mandate, it also included allowances for companies to try to recoup some of the health-care costs they were now shouldering. Those rules went into effect in 2014, and their effects–while predictable–are starting to show.

Reuters notes that the workplace “wellness” programs, which “big business lobbied for,” can take the form of “either rewards or penalties.” This is ostensibly to defray health costs if employees opt out of workplace wellness programs. Apparently about a quarter of companies are choosing penalties. And, of course, they’re not stopping at the wellness programs:

For some companies, however, just signing up for a wellness program isn’t enough. They’re linking financial incentives to specific goals such as losing weight, reducing cholesterol, or keeping blood glucose under control. The number of businesses imposing such outcomes-based wellness plans is expected to double this year to 46 percent, the survey found.

“Wellness-or-else is the trend,” said workplace consultant Jon Robison of Salveo Partners.

Incentives typically take the form of cash payments or reductions in employee deductibles. Penalties include higher premiums and lower company contributions for out-of-pocket health costs.

Financial incentives, many companies say, are critical to encouraging workers to participate in wellness programs, which executives believe will save money in the long run.

“Employers are carrying a major burden of healthcare in this country and are trying to do the right thing,” said Stephanie Pronk, a vice president at benefits consultant Aon Hewitt. “They need to improve employees’ health so they can lead productive lives at home and at work, but also to control their healthcare costs.”

Could there possibly be a better motto not just for ObamaCare but for liberal nanny staters’ agenda overall than “Wellness-or-else”? At one time the great fear was that ObamaCare would put a bureaucrat between you and your doctor. That is indeed what happened, but now they’ve added to it: before you can get to the bureaucrat that is between you and your doctor, you first must be examined by your supervisor at work. Then you can see your bureaucrat. Then you can see your doctor–if you’re lucky, anyway, since ObamaCare also took away many patients’ access to their doctors or put Americans on Medicaid which had nonexistent doctors.

But it’s not just about the intrusive nature of all this. There are two more major problems with it. First, it may be flatly illegal:

Last year, Honeywell was sued over its wellness program by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC argued that requiring workers to answer personal questions in the health questionnaire – including if they ever feel depressed and whether they’ve been diagnosed with a long list of illnesses – can violate federal law if they involve disabilities, as these examples do. And, if answering is not voluntary.

“Financial incentives and disincentives may make the programs involuntary” and thus illegal, said Chris Kuczynski, an assistant legal counsel at the EEOC.

And second, it isn’t saving money on health expenditures so much as lining the pockets of those seeking to impose the penalties:

But there is almost no evidence that workplace wellness programs significantly reduce those costs. That’s why the financial penalties are so important to companies, critics and researchers say. They boost corporate profits by levying fines that outweigh any savings from wellness programs.

“There seems little question that you can make wellness programs save money with high enough penalties that essentially shift more healthcare costs to workers,” said health policy expert Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Exactly. The program, as currently set up, is not saving on overall health spending. It’s merely shifting that cost even more onto patients. It should be obvious at this point why businesses lobbied for these obnoxious Orwellian scams.

Health spending was supposed to be a major target of ObamaCare’s reforms. And maybe it will, somehow, still get there. But right now, what’s clear is that the law as written is designed to reward big business by fleecing the taxpayer. That was always the plan, but incentivizing company executives to decide their employees are overweight and then penalize them for it is a particularly cruel way to go about it.

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Harvard Profs Discover Joys of ObamaCare

Liberal academics have always been among those who have been the most ardent supporters of ObamaCare. But the Harvard faculty is now discovering the joys of ObamaCare and, as the New York Times reports, are no more pleased with it than many other Americans. That this same group, many of whose members played prominent roles in promoting the passage of the Affordable Care Act, should now be experiencing its problems is cold comfort to fellow sufferers. But the outrage that Harvard professors are venting about being asked to pay more for fewer benefits is a delightful example of liberal hypocrisy at its worst.

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Liberal academics have always been among those who have been the most ardent supporters of ObamaCare. But the Harvard faculty is now discovering the joys of ObamaCare and, as the New York Times reports, are no more pleased with it than many other Americans. That this same group, many of whose members played prominent roles in promoting the passage of the Affordable Care Act, should now be experiencing its problems is cold comfort to fellow sufferers. But the outrage that Harvard professors are venting about being asked to pay more for fewer benefits is a delightful example of liberal hypocrisy at its worst.

The Harvard story is yet another example of the basic political problem with the ACA. Prior to its implementation, both its supporters and many of its critics believed that once in force it would become as popular as Social Security or Medicare and become politically untouchable. But that failed to take into account the fact that unlike those venerable government benefit programs that are viewed as harming no one (except, perhaps, the taxpayers of the future), ObamaCare is a scheme that creates winners and losers.

In the case of those who purchased their insurance on their own, we learned in the last year that President Obama’s oft-repeated promise that consumers could keep their insurance policies and doctors if they liked them under the ACA was a lie. But the damage is not limited to those several million unhappy ObamaCare losers. As Harvard’s faculty learned, the law will have a far-reaching impact even on those who are covered by large, successful employers like Harvard.

In the case of the university, the problem is the so-called “Cadillac tax” that penalizes those insurance plans that offer, as Harvard’s previously did, high-quality benefits at reasonable prices. This tax penalizes consumers who have been able to acquire good plans in order to pay for all the free services that ObamaCare provides to less fortunate citizens, many millions of whom must be considered net winners from the law.

As the Times notes, the new Harvard plan is, in fact, far more generous than the sort of coverage people who buy ObamaCare policies online can expect. But it is not what Harvard employees are accustomed to receiving and they don’t like it. If the university were to try and craft a plan that would limit health-care providers to only the cheapest available in the Boston area, they’d have to eliminate Harvard’s own teaching hospitals, or “discourage their use” by those covered by the scheme.

But rather than meekly the accept the higher costs for insurance as the price that must be paid for expanding society’s social safety net, many of the same liberal Harvard faculty that helped sell the country on the ACA are now crying foul. They see the new reality as nothing less than a pay cut. One economics professor summed up the problem this way:

But Jerry R. Green, a professor of economics and a former provost who has been on the Harvard faculty for more than four decades, said the new out-of-pocket costs could lead people to defer medical care or diagnostic tests, causing more serious illnesses and costly complications in the future.

“It’s equivalent to taxing the sick,” Professor Green said. “I don’t think there’s any government in the world that would tax the sick.”

Ah, but he’s wrong there. By attempting to transform its health-care industry in this manner, the United States is seeking to make those middle-class consumers who sometimes get sick pay a lot more in order to provide coverage for those who are less wealthy. Like it or not, as Harvard teachers are learning, ObamaCare is Robin Hood-style leveling except the government is stealing from the middle class to give to the poor.

Some on the faculty are right to observe that it was unrealistic for pro-ObamaCare types like the Harvard faculty to imagine that they would be held exempt from being hurt by the ACA’s mandates.

Meredith B. Rosenthal, a professor of health economics and policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, said she was puzzled by the outcry. “The changes in Harvard faculty benefits are parallel to changes that all Americans are seeing,” she said. “Indeed, they have come to our front door much later than to others.”

Yet even more to the point was another comment from a faculty member:

“It seems that Harvard is trying to save money by shifting costs to sick people,” said Mary C. Waters, a professor of sociology. “I don’t understand why a university with Harvard’s incredible resources would do this. What is the crisis?”

Waters seems to be saying that Harvard is a rich enough institution that it should merely absorb the higher health-care costs caused by the ACA. But like any large company, even a non-profit with an enormous endowment, Harvard feels it must behave in the same fashion as the rest of the country and pass along the costs mandated by the ObamaCare tax. But the real disconnect is her failure to understand that the same argument—the lack of a genuine crisis creating a need for immediate and radical changes—was one that critics of the law rightly made before its passage.

It is true that many Americans benefit from the ACA. But as Harvard professors have now learned, the number of losers may well exceed those of the winners. In the process, a massive dislocation of one sixth of the nation’s economy has occurred with even more trouble to come this year as the individual mandates go into effect, possibly sending rates skyrocketing and perhaps also negatively impacting employment figures at a time when the nation is hoping that a full recovery from the 2008 recession is finally taking place.

The point is the United States didn’t have to turn its health-care system upside down while vastly increasing the power of the federal government in 2009 and 2010 when President Obama insisted that the Democratic Congress do just that. Measures that might have helped the nation recover should have been a higher priority. There were also possible fixes for the uninsured that didn’t involve this sort of transformation. But the Democrats went ahead and passed this law on a narrow party-line vote even though they had little or no idea, as then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted, what was in it.

But she wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what was coming. Most Americans, including many liberals who were among the most ardent backers of this scheme, had no idea that it would mean forcing them to pay more for health insurance and, unlike in the case of Harvard, often also mean that they would lose access to providers they were pleased with and policies that made sense for them.

We may well mock liberals like the denizens of Harvard’s faculty lounges who blithely support huge changes that aimed at social transformation yet believed they could keep their own “Cadillac plans” without higher costs. But the problem here is that the entire nation was sold a bill of goods and is now being forced to swallow a bad deal in order to achieve gains that may not be commensurate with the pain that comes with them. That is why those who still blithely assume that the debate about this law is over are dead wrong.

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My Appearance on C-SPAN

This morning I was on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, talking about the mood of America and its causes, economic trends, the Obama presidency and the Affordable Care Act, the 2016 presidential race, and the anti-police bias of Mayor de Blasio, Attorney General Holder, and President Obama. All in roughly 45 minutes. For those interested, the link can be found here.

This morning I was on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, talking about the mood of America and its causes, economic trends, the Obama presidency and the Affordable Care Act, the 2016 presidential race, and the anti-police bias of Mayor de Blasio, Attorney General Holder, and President Obama. All in roughly 45 minutes. For those interested, the link can be found here.

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The CBO and Republicans’ Right to Govern

When ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber recently found himself in hot water over his videotaped comments admitting to misleading Americans in order to pass the ACA, part of his argument was that getting the Congressional Budget Office’s blessing for the legislation required dishonesty and a lack of transparency. In doing so, Gruber found himself in the hot seat in congressional hearings, but he may have also done tremendous, and possibly irreversible, damage to the CBO. If that turns out to be the case, hindsight will eventually see current CBO chief Doug Elmendorf as the first casualty of that institutional damage.

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When ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber recently found himself in hot water over his videotaped comments admitting to misleading Americans in order to pass the ACA, part of his argument was that getting the Congressional Budget Office’s blessing for the legislation required dishonesty and a lack of transparency. In doing so, Gruber found himself in the hot seat in congressional hearings, but he may have also done tremendous, and possibly irreversible, damage to the CBO. If that turns out to be the case, hindsight will eventually see current CBO chief Doug Elmendorf as the first casualty of that institutional damage.

The CBO is the ostensibly nonpartisan budget office that scores legislation based on its projected economic impact. With Republicans winning the Senate and thus controlling both houses of Congress in January, they will get to pick the next CBO director. And they have already decided it won’t be Doug Elmendorf. Republicans were divided on the merits of keeping Elmendorf, but one argument in favor of keeping him was actually an argument against it, if critics of the conservative wing of the party think through the implications of it.

Part of what bothers conservatives about the current CBO director is not only that he presided over the scoring of ObamaCare but that, as Jeffrey H. Anderson pointed out last month, the CBO apparently “effectively used Jonathan Gruber’s model” to do so. Gruber was being paid a healthy sum by the Obama administration to sell the ACA to all quarters. Anderson sums it up this way: “In other words, an overwhelming number of the ostensibly independent statements or scores that were made or published in support of Obamacare —from Krugman, Klein, Brownstein, the DNC, Reid, Pelosi, Sebelius, and even, to a significant degree, the CBO itself — were traceable to the support of one man and his model. And that man was Jonathan Gruber, who was secretly under contract with the Obama administration.”

Were Elmendorf to stay on, conservatives fear that their own future health-care legislation would be scored the same way, using Gruber’s model or its replica. If so, it would hamstring future reforms by requiring certain features, like the hated individual mandate.

But there’s another convincing reason for Republicans to appoint a new CBO head, and it’s actually the subtext of one of the reasons supposedly in favor of keeping Elmendorf. Conservative wonks tend to like Elmendorf. Here is Keith Hennessey’s argument for keeping him (made, obviously, before the GOP decided not to reappoint Elmendorf for another term), which others have echoed:

Dr. Elmendorf is not a conservative. He was originally chosen to head CBO by Congressional Democrats. He came from the left-of-center Brookings Institution. I think he is registered as an independent. I don’t know how he votes but I’d bet he’s a moderate/centrist Democrat.

I want to move economic policy to the right, not to the center-left. I think Dr. Elmendorf is the best pick for CBO because (a) he is unbiased and intellectually honest; (b) his background insulates his rulings and the Congressional Republicans who choose to reappoint him from accusations of bias; and, most importantly, (c) this combination greatly disadvantages the progressive Left who both dominate current economic debate within the Democratic party and who cannot refrain from intellectual overreach.

This is not a meritless argument, but it is one that unfortunately accepts too much of an already damaging narrative about conservatives. Hennessey notes, correctly, that Elmendorf rejected some of the Obama administration’s wackier claims, such as those underpinning the left’s deluded case for raising the minimum wage. He also points out that when this happened, conservatives “won those debates in part thanks to an assist from a CBO that was and was described as unbiased and nonpartisan.” (Emphasis in the original.)

But to get a sense of how such a debate harms conservatives, it helps to flip it. What happens if and when a GOP-appointed CBO head comes to a conclusion that damages liberal conventional wisdom? Hennessey imagines the scene: “The press coverage and public debate would have instead been about how “Congressional Republicans and their hand-picked conservative CBO Director said ______________.” … That is unfair. It is also an unavoidable consequence of a biased press corps that free market and small government conservatives would be foolish to ignore.”

I’m not so sure. It’s easy for those who are part of the policy debate to see these things as important. But it’s hard to ignore the idea that this overstates the role of the CBO in the public debate.

What it really boils down to is this: Republicans should be allowed to govern. Sometimes media bias can and should be heeded and even accepted. This is not one of those times, because to accept this narrative is to chip away at the idea that conservative governance is legitimate governance.

We see this in other areas as well, of course. Democrats populate the Justice Department with leftist legal bureaucrats, and the moment a Republican tries to add a few conservatives to the mix the media loses its mind, screeching “politicization!” The subtext of these fights is that conservatism is an ideology, while liberalism is nonpartisan good government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Republicans ought to be allowed to govern too. When the GOP wins elections, those elections should have consequences as well. And they should not accept the idea that when conservatives run the government they are merely renting space from the left. If the media wants to run with biased stories about it, let them. The alternative is preemptive surrender before the GOP’s new majority is even seated.

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Obama’s Still In Charge But Also Still Failing

President Obama used the opening statement for his end of year press conference to boast of his achievements even if many of the questions revolved around his lackluster response to the North Korean cyber terror attack on Sony. But the main theme of most of the coverage of the president today centered on the theme that he has responded to his party’s landslide defeat in the midterm elections by seeking to revive his presidency with unilateral actions. These initiatives, such as his opening to Cuba and executive orders on immigration show he’s still in charge and capable of using his power and establishing his legacy despite the opposition of Congress and even the majority of Americans. But while the mainstream media is applauding the signs of life out of White House that appeared dead in the water last month, this recent surge of activity should not be mistaken for policy success. Though any president has the ability to act whenever he wants, the same failures that have dogged him during his first six years in office haven’t disappeared.

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President Obama used the opening statement for his end of year press conference to boast of his achievements even if many of the questions revolved around his lackluster response to the North Korean cyber terror attack on Sony. But the main theme of most of the coverage of the president today centered on the theme that he has responded to his party’s landslide defeat in the midterm elections by seeking to revive his presidency with unilateral actions. These initiatives, such as his opening to Cuba and executive orders on immigration show he’s still in charge and capable of using his power and establishing his legacy despite the opposition of Congress and even the majority of Americans. But while the mainstream media is applauding the signs of life out of White House that appeared dead in the water last month, this recent surge of activity should not be mistaken for policy success. Though any president has the ability to act whenever he wants, the same failures that have dogged him during his first six years in office haven’t disappeared.

There’s no doubt that those who were completely writing off the president’s ability to influence events after the beating Democrats took were exaggerating. Though his policies, which he said were on the ballot, were repudiated, Congress in the hands of Republicans and his personal favorability ratings continuing to head south, the president remains the most powerful man in the world. With the vast power of the federal government at his disposal and no limits on his ability to act, save those specifically charted out by the Constitution and Congress, any president can dominate any news cycle or make a wide variety of decisions that can not easily be reversed by either the legislature or the judiciary.

Moreover, unlike some of his predecessors, Obama’s personality is such that he views checks on his actions, whether in the form of Congressional action or the verdict of the ballot box, as challenges to be met rather than judgments that must be respected. Just as this is a top-down administration in which the Cabinet acts as a body of sycophants and middlemen rather than advisors, this is not a president who listens to advice or criticism that doesn’t conform to his original ideas. It should therefore come as no surprise that now that he is faced with a Congress controlled by his opponents, Obama should come to the conclusion that Constitutional boundaries should be ignored in his zeal to do, as he likes.

But his ability to act on his own should not be mistaken for actual policy successes.

On immigration, the president has finally done what some of his supporters wanted in terms of granting amnesty to more than 5 million illegal aliens and there is very little that is effective that his critics can do about it.

On Cuba, the new Congress can block funding for a new embassy in Havana, refuse to lift the embargo or confirm a new ambassador. But much of the new opening to the despotic regime will go one no matter what Congress says.

Looking ahead to other possible presidential actions, if he makes enough concessions and the Iranians are feeling generous, Obama may get a nuclear deal with the Islamist state. That, too, will be interpreted as a sign of life in what would otherwise be considered a lame duck presidency.

But none of this will change the fact that Obama’s ideological fixation with outreach to tyrants has not made the world better or increased America’s security or influence. To the contrary, with ISIS on the rise in the Middle East, Iran successfully challenging for regional hegemony via its successes in Syria, its alliance with Hamas and its intimidation of moderate Arab nations, and likely to gain U.S. acquiescence to it becoming a nuclear threshold state, Obama is leaving the world a more dangerous place than when he entered the White House. Nor will his Cuban gambit make the island a more democratic or free place.

On domestic policy, his admirers cite his immigration executive orders as a sign that he can govern despite the opposition of Congress. But by acting in this extralegal fashion, Obama has actually doomed for the foreseeable future any chance of working out a compromise with Republicans to pass some kind of immigration reform. Flexing his muscles in this fashion and showing his contempt for the law has convinced even many moderate Republicans that he can’t be trusted to enforce any legislation that he doesn’t like or benefit from. Nor will the problems that he postponed in the implementation of ObamaCare but which will begin to be felt in 2015 do much to bolster confidence in his judgment or the wisdom of his efforts.

So while the last month has been full of presidential sound and fury, these actions only mask a deeper malaise that won’t be fixed by Obama’s characteristic hubris about his actions. The failures of his first six years still hang over this presidency and are why he remains deeply unpopular. He will retain the ability to impact the country until the moment his successor takes the oath of office. But no one should mistake this flurry of activity for presidential success. As the months wind down in what he termed today the fourth quarter of his time in the White House, Obama will be relevant but his failures will continue to haunt the nation and cloud his legacy.

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Governing Solo? Two Can Play That Game

President Obama is making no secret of his intentions to go it alone in the last two years of his presidency. After insisting his policies were on the ballot in the midterms, he and his presidency received a monumental drubbing. Obama asked the people to vote based on his agenda, and the people complied, unambiguously rejecting it. But neither the voters nor the system of checks and balances–to say nothing of constitutional precedent–have played much of a role in his actions, and they won’t start now. There is a difference, however, in how Congress can push back.

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President Obama is making no secret of his intentions to go it alone in the last two years of his presidency. After insisting his policies were on the ballot in the midterms, he and his presidency received a monumental drubbing. Obama asked the people to vote based on his agenda, and the people complied, unambiguously rejecting it. But neither the voters nor the system of checks and balances–to say nothing of constitutional precedent–have played much of a role in his actions, and they won’t start now. There is a difference, however, in how Congress can push back.

In Bob Gates’s first (and, frankly, more enlightening) memoir of his service at the CIA and National Security Council during the Cold War, he writes of the battles between the Nixon administration and Congress after the Watergate scandal broke. Gates describes it as a last straw for Congress’s patience with the increasing power of the presidency, but in the process makes a key observation about the separation of powers:

Our system of “checks and balances” by which each of the three branches of government keeps the other two from becoming too powerful works wonderfully, but it is neither a gentle nor a subtle process. Nor does it function normally as a routine, frequent series of minor adjustments. It is more comparable to the swings of a pendulum than a balancing scale—and one branch (or the mood of the country as a whole) reacts usually only when another branch has acted so stupidly or so egregiously to expand its power as to compel a response. Vietnam and the way Lyndon Johnson escalated and fought the war provoked the congressional attack on the powers of the Presidency. Dislike of Nixon, the way in which he and Kissinger negotiated secretly and deviously, and finally Watergate and Nixon’s cover-up greatly magnified the intensity of the attack.

In this period of presidential weakness, Congress sought to capture for itself and from the President a coequal (and, at times, dominant) role in foreign affairs that it had not had since before World War II and America’s emergence as a superpower.

Gates’s description of the “pendulum” is accurate. Presidents accumulate power incrementally, sometimes setting new precedents and sometimes merely expanding on previous encroachments. Especially in wartime, Congress tends to give the president a fair amount of latitude. Additionally, there isn’t all that much Congress can do, since most of Congress rarely wants to be seen as undercutting the war effort or not supporting the troops. Eventually, however, it becomes clear that too many lines have been crossed.

And his assertion that Congress was seeking not merely to punish Nixon but also to reclaim its own proper place in the American system of government is highly relevant to the looming battle between a Republican-controlled Congress and President Obama, especially with a restive conservative flank that believes the troubling expansion of presidential power predates Obama and thus has a long list of objections.

When the Republicans were a minority in the Senate and only controlled the House, their attempts to rein in the president were legalistic. They could sue the president, as Speaker John Boehner announced they would over delays in ObamaCare implementation. They can challenge the president in the courts, where judges have found various Obama power grabs to be unconstitutional. And they can hold oversight hearings, as they have with the IRS corruption scandal, Benghazi, and others.

All this enables the minority party to make its voice heard. The hearings play on the fact that the president’s bully pulpit makes it easier for him to get through to the American people than it is for Republicans in Congress, who have the additional obstacle of a media seeking to protect the president. And judicial challenges can be effective too in undoing policy.

But there hasn’t been much room for Congress to reassert its authority because Democrats held the majority in the Senate. This meant that Harry Reid, who was happy to cede Congress’s authority to the president, relied on gridlock and parliamentary schemes to enable Obama. Republicans couldn’t get bills to the floor for a vote, and they weren’t allowed amendments on bills that Reid would bring to the floor.

But now they’re in the majority. And as the Wall Street Journal hints in a story about Obama’s solo act, that changes the calculus:

Mr. Obama’s actions have signaled a lack of concern about damaging congressional relations, [Ari Fleischer] said. And the next Congress could respond by taking actions the White House opposes, such as approving sanctions on Iran over the objections of the president.

“If the president disregards Congress, then Congress can disregard the president,” Mr. Fleischer said.

Indeed it can. That’s not to say it can simply legislate whatever it wants. It’ll need Democratic votes in some cases, especially if the GOP puts the filibuster back in its place after Reid removed it. And Obama can always veto such bills.

But the reason Reid wouldn’t allow a vote on so many of the Republicans’ ideas is that they are popular enough to pass and to put pressure on the president to sign. Either way, by actually passing legislation, the Republicans will be doing what Reid and the Democrats refused to: protect the system of checks and balances and reclaim some of Congress’s territory that has been annexed by Obama.

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The Medicaid Scam and ObamaCare Lies

Yesterday’s congressional oversight hearing on ObamaCare was, to those interested enough to watch, mostly about Jonathan Gruber, the ObamaCare architect who was caught on video repeatedly bragging to audiences about the level of dishonesty required to pass ObamaCare. Yet the hearing was also called for another reason: the Obama administration had been caught falsifying more enrollment numbers.

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Yesterday’s congressional oversight hearing on ObamaCare was, to those interested enough to watch, mostly about Jonathan Gruber, the ObamaCare architect who was caught on video repeatedly bragging to audiences about the level of dishonesty required to pass ObamaCare. Yet the hearing was also called for another reason: the Obama administration had been caught falsifying more enrollment numbers.

To that end Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was also at the hearing to be questioned by the committee. When the enrollment numbers were not meeting their benchmark, the government simply fudged the stats by counting dental plans, thus boosting the numbers by hundreds of thousands of enrollees. There won’t be any real consequences for the government repeatedly lying to the people, and so it won’t stop: central planners cannot keep honest records and still convince the people they are on the right track. Never have, never will.

But Tavenner’s appearance coincided with another revelation that will give her heartburn. The New York Times reports that the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general has concluded his investigation into the availability of doctors for those covered under Medicaid–a major source of insurance coverage expansion under ObamaCare. What he found won’t shock you: enrollees are being lied to, again. The Times explains:

Large numbers of doctors who are listed as serving Medicaid patients are not available to treat them, federal investigators said in a new report.

“Half of providers could not offer appointments to enrollees,” the investigators said in the report, which will be issued on Tuesday.

Many of the doctors were not accepting new Medicaid patients or could not be found at their last known addresses, according to the report from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The study raises questions about access to care for people gaining Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The health law is fueling rapid growth in Medicaid, with enrollment up by nine million people, or 16 percent, in the last year, the department said. Most of the new beneficiaries are enrolled in private health plans that use a network of doctors to manage their care.

Patients select doctors from a list of providers affiliated with each Medicaid health plan. The investigators, led by the inspector general, Daniel R. Levinson, called doctors’ offices and found that in many cases the doctors were unavailable or unable to make appointments.

It’s worth reading the whole story, because it’s just filled with such tidbits. Some are absurd, like the fact that “More than one-third of providers could not be found at the location listed by a Medicaid managed-care plan.” One-third of providers can’t even be found! The rest of the details, though, evince mostly outrage.

What is the result of the fact that Medicaid only pretends to offer health care? Well, the report, summarized by the Times and scheduled for release on Tuesday, offers the kind of brilliant insight we all have come to expect from a federal bureaucracy whose management would have to improve greatly just to be considered mediocre:

“When providers listed as participating in a plan cannot offer appointments, it may create a significant obstacle for an enrollee seeking care,” Mr. Levinson said. “Moreover, it raises questions about the adequacy of provider networks. It suggests that the actual size of provider networks may be considerably smaller than what is presented by Medicaid managed-care plans.”

Yes, when you can’t see your doctor, it “may”–may!–be an obstacle for you. The government apparently believes that Medicaid enrollees consider medical appointments roughly on par with social calls. It “may” be an obstacle to seeking care because, perhaps, the appointment with your doctor was to watch the game together, or some such. If you are actually seeking medical attention, however, the government’s disappearing doctor is always an obstacle.

And I’m not sure it “raises questions about the adequacy of provider networks” so much as it makes declaratory statements about the provider networks, such as: The networks are terrible.

Here’s another one: “a number of obstetricians had wait times of more than one month, and one had wait times of more than two months for an enrollee who was eight weeks pregnant. Such lengthy wait times could result in a pregnant enrollee receiving no prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy.” Completely unacceptable.

The Times, of course, gets a quote from Tavenner in response. Behold: “Inaccurate provider directory data may unnecessarily delay an enrollee from selecting a provider.” Tavenner is, just as a reminder, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. So enrollees are in great hands.

Medicaid is rife with such problems. The government is failing those who come to it for health care. So of course, under Obama, the government decided to put itself in charge of far more of the health sector. It is a general problem that the administration doesn’t know what it’s doing. When that incompetence is applied to health care, it becomes exponentially more dangerous for the citizens the government is supposed to be protecting. Heads should roll. They won’t, but they should.

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Dem Civil War and Demographic Destiny

Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Schumer’s political analysis is must reading for both conservatives and liberals. Though he insists that tackling health care was a good idea in principle, he points out that although the plight of uninsured and rising health-care costs are important problems, 85 percent of Americans were getting their insurance from either their employers or the government (via Medicare or Medicaid). Since most of the uninsured are either not registered or don’t vote even if they are:

To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense. So when Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, the Democrats are not paying enough attention to “me.”

But Schumer shouldn’t have stopped with his second-guessing of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. The same argument can be made about President Obama’s executive orders mandating amnesty for five million illegal immigrants.

Though this measure is assumed, with reason, to be popular among Hispanic voters, the notion that it will ensure their monolithic support for Democrats in the future is a theory, not a certainty. But even if we are prepared to make that assumption, by investing so heavily in a measure that is focused on appealing only to minorities and which, at the same time, has the potential to alienate large numbers of working class and middle class voters who worry about the nation’s inability to control its borders and intensely dislike the president’s end run around the Constitution to accomplish this goal, they increased their demographic weakness in other areas.

Republicans have spent the years since their 2012 loss in the presidential election pondering their problems with Hispanics, African-Americans, unmarried women, and young voters. The ensuing debate has created an ongoing argument between those who urge greater outreach to these constituencies and those who believe the GOP has to concentrate on mobilizing its base. One needn’t choose either option to the exclusion of the other, but this discussion has become a keynote of the simmering conflict between the party establishment and its Tea Party and conservative base.

But while the mainstream press has obsessed about this Republican civil war, it ignores the looming battle among Democrats. That civil war pits people like Schumer, who may be hardcore liberals but understand that ideological policies carry a hefty price tag, against left-wingers like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who appears to speak for the Democratic base in the same way that Ted Cruz represents Tea Partiers. Democrats paid the price that Schumer spoke of in the form of two midterm election landslides even if Barack Obama’s historic status and personal popularity enabled them to hold onto the White House in 2012.

The two presidential wins interspersed with two midterm losses has led many pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle to conclude that the two parties are fated to continue this pattern because of the larger turnout of Democratic constituencies in presidential years. That has led many to embrace the notion that demography is destiny, which holds that the increasingly larger share of votes cast by non-whites will not only ensure that the pattern continues but that Republicans will never again win the presidency until they become more attractive to minorities. That’s not an idea that the GOP should ignore, but it may be that the Democrats’ decision to embrace policies that alienate a far larger group—white middle class and working class male voters—will be as much of handicap in 2016 as it was in 2014.

All indications are that, like that ultimate weathervane Hillary Clinton, many Democrats prefer to follow Warren’s example and steer to the left. That may endear them to minorities as well as their liberal base. But in doing so they may be the ones dooming themselves to future disasters, not Republicans who understand that so long as they avoid looking foolish or extreme they are well positioned to reap the benefits of opposition to both ObamaCare and amnesty for illegals. Having spent the last six years branding their opponents as extremists, it seems Democrats have forgotten that the same problem exists on the left as it does on the right.

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More ObamaCare Lies Matter

Two weeks after the country first digested the revelation that one of the architects of ObamaCare confessed that its passage was largely the product of a series of deceptions aimed at deceiving the Congressional Budget Office, Congress, and an American public that was too “stupid” to grasp what was going on, it turned out the falsehoods haven’t ended. As open enrollment began for a new year of ObamaCare policies, it was revealed that some of the numbers promoted by the administration as proof of the Affordable Care Act’s success were falsified. While in and of itself this latest problem is not proof that the ACA is doomed, with the law’s existing credibility gap growing and more problems looming ahead in the coming year in which the balance between those who gain from the law may be matched by those who lose from it, perhaps its time for the administration to stop pretending this isn’t a pattern.

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Two weeks after the country first digested the revelation that one of the architects of ObamaCare confessed that its passage was largely the product of a series of deceptions aimed at deceiving the Congressional Budget Office, Congress, and an American public that was too “stupid” to grasp what was going on, it turned out the falsehoods haven’t ended. As open enrollment began for a new year of ObamaCare policies, it was revealed that some of the numbers promoted by the administration as proof of the Affordable Care Act’s success were falsified. While in and of itself this latest problem is not proof that the ACA is doomed, with the law’s existing credibility gap growing and more problems looming ahead in the coming year in which the balance between those who gain from the law may be matched by those who lose from it, perhaps its time for the administration to stop pretending this isn’t a pattern.

As Politico reported:

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s committee revealed Thursday that nearly 400,000 dental plans were included in recent enrollment figures that made it appear — wrongly — that the administration had hit the 7 million target for ObamaCare’s first year. The panel has called CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and former ObamaCare adviser Jonathan Gruber— the center of a separate flare-up over the law’s passage — to testify next month about the “repeated transparency failures and outright deceptions.”

The second season of ObamaCare began last Saturday, and there’s been no enrollment update since Sunday morning, when HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell tweeted that there were more than half a million log-ins on HealthCare.gov on the first day and that 100,000 applications were submitted. By contrast, several of the 13 health insurance exchanges run by states have been regularly releasing traffic and enrollment-related data. Massachusetts is issuing daily traffic counts.

If this kind of fibbing seems familiar, it should be. From its inception, the ACA has been passed and sold to the American people in the way that Gruber described in his offensive video clips: as something that it was not. And whenever figures have been needed to analyze what was going on, it seems that the administration treats the public like a first grade arithmetic class: every figure gets rounded up.

While Obama, let alone the signature health-care legislation that is informally named for him, did not invent government falsehoods, this predilection for lying is not a minor issue given that these numbers are being used to defend its success as well as its legitimacy. And though its advocates think its acceptance is a done deal, what will happen in 2015 will make any further fibbing even more important. With the imposition of individual and employer mandates looming, the importance of the number of ObamaCare policies sold will be matched by the impact of the bill on employment as well as the insurance rates that may skyrocket in the new year.

In its initial enrollment periods the only significant figures about the ACA were the total of enrolled and throughout the process we have seen these numbers manipulated to include unpaid policies and now plans that are unrelated to the actual legislation. If this continues as the accounting becomes more complex, then it will be impossible for anyone to know what is going on or whether it is helping or hurting more Americans. In the first year, we know millions lost their insurance or their doctors despite promises from the president that this wouldn’t happen. In the second, the toll will extend to different groups that may soon find themselves counted among the growing numbers of ACA losers to be matched up against the millions who have benefited by receiving insurance that they might not otherwise have obtained.

A government with a credibility gap is always in trouble. But an Obama administration that can be counted on to tell the truth about ObamaCare is a government with an approval rating that will not only sink lower in the polls but also be unable to justify the president’s main legislative achievement. If its honesty does not improve, don’t count on its health-care law being able to move smoothly into a period of greater acceptance.

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