Friday, February 26, 2010

Blair Bipartisan Baloney

Well, I guess it's a good thing that I have a full-time job and a mountain of grading to do this week so I didn't have time to do more than check the highlights of the Blair Project health care summit. It's clear that the purpose was not to to actually craft a bipartisan compromise health care reform bill. The purpose was to present dual talking points and then have the President say that he's given it the ol' college try to find bipartisan ground and then wait a few weeks and push through his bill regardless. Whether that convinces anyone who didn't like the bill proposal before to like it better now is doubtful.

What it did do was expose for the cameras, as Peggy Noonan notes, that the President is very full of himself and not in a nice way.
Mr. Obama will not have helped himself by his manner. The summit highlighted, even showcased, something unappealing and unhelpful there, a tendency to attempt to show dominance and command by patronizing, even subtly bullying, even trimming. All people in public life have moments like this—most people do, in whatever walk—but you're not supposed to have them when you're trying to sway minds, reach out and build support.

Which left me doubting that was what he was actually trying to do.

The way the meeting was arranged, the president was the teacher, the lecturer. Arrayed before him were the bright if occasionally unruly students. He was keen to establish that it was his meeting—he decides who speaks next and who should wrap up, he decides what is and is not "a legitimate point." He was Mr. President, they were John and Lamar. He wielded a shiny pen like an anchorman eager to show depth and ease. He even said, "There was an imbalance in the opening statements because—I'm the president." Yowza. Grace shows strength, accommodation shows security. This showed—well, not strength. When Rep. Eric Cantor attempted to make a sharp point, the president took the camera off him by calling for his aides and conferring with them as Mr. Cantor spoke.

The president has entered a boorish phase.

This is not a good sign for his program, but tells us something about his likely next step.
And those are the moments that get played on the TV highlights since TV likes the confrontations, not the in-the-weeds discussion of policy details. If the purpose was to demonstrate that the Democrats were open to compromise and the Republicans were just being obdurate, I can't see that anyone would buy that story. Just having the Democrats claim 2/3 of the talking time reveals the emptiness of that pose. The Democrats want to pretend that their bill is actually quite close to what the Republicans want, but the back-and-forth demonstrated that there are major philosophical differences between the parties on how to address the problem of the uninsured facing rising health care costs. The Democrats want to use federal money to try to cover as many people as possible regardless of what that plan would do to the budget and health care costs. They illustrated their points with heart-breaking stories about sick people without insurance. They seem to think that we should remake 1/6 of the American economy based on anecdotes. The Republicans want to drive down health care costs through market-driven solutions. Republicans made the point that government interference in the markets that are actually helping to drive up costs. You can offer all soothing language you want about bipartisanship, but there is a reason why there are two different parties. They disagree on how to address those problems. Once the Democrats chose their big-government comprehensive path to reform, they were going to lose Republicans. And if the Democrats did what the Republicans (and the American people according to most polls) want and started over trying to negotiate a smaller bill that addressed certain elements of the problem, the Democrats would be giving up on their vision of a massive comprehensive fix. They are not going to bridge that divide.

The Democrats like to pretend that the Republicans don't have ideas, but one thing that was clear from yesterday was that the Republicans do indeed have ideas, but they're just different from what the Democrats regard as necessary because those ideas aren't based on the idea of having the federal government take care of every element of the problem. If you don't believe in market-based reforms, then it will indeed seem to you that the Republicans aren't offering up any ideas.
The morning was dominated by an argument over whether ObamaCare would lower insurance costs, and the exchange was telling. Republicans, led by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, rightly said that premiums would increase, while the President disagreed. "This is an example of where we've got to get our facts straight," he said, in keeping with his strategy of depicting any disagreement as factually challenged or politically motivated.

One fact is that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that premiums in the individual market would jump by 10% to 13% in 2016 because the government will mandate that consumers buy richer benefits than they otherwise would. Mr. Obama eventually conceded that point but said these mandates are simple consumer protections. "Yes, I am paying 10% to 13% more because instead of buying an apple, I'm getting an orange," Mr. Obama said. "We want competition, we just want some minimum standards."

Well, yes, politicians always claim their standards are the minimum. Despite vastly different consumer health needs and preferences, the core of ObamaCare is the brute-force regulatory standardization of benefits and how they should be paid for, so that government can afford to subsidize health care for all. West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller let the mask slip when he said the goal is to stomp on the insurers and "clip their wings in every way you can," because it is "a rapacious industry that does what it wants." Mr. Rockefeller added that "Sometimes decisions have to come from Washington."

Mr. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican, posed the fundamental question: "Should people in Washington decide exactly how this works and what you can and cannot buy?"
Yup, that's what the Democrats want. And now that they've had their seven-hour televised pretense at being bipartisan, they can then try to scream that the Republicans won't play the game by their rules and go ahead and push forward what they have been planning to push forward anyway.

And while the Democrats like portraying the insurance companies as an evil industry raking in rapacious industry because they know that people often don't like their insurance companies. But they are not gaining obscene profits as the Associated Press demonstrated last year in a fact-check story.
Quick quiz: What do these enterprises have in common? Farm and construction machinery, Tupperware, the railroads, Hershey sweets, Yum food brands and Yahoo? Answer: They're all more profitable than the health insurance industry.

In the health care debate, Democrats and their allies have gone after insurance companies as rapacious profiteers making "immoral" and "obscene" returns while "the bodies pile up."

Ledgers tell a different reality. Health insurance profit margins typically run about 6 percent, give or take a point or two. That's anemic compared with other forms of insurance and a broad array of industries, even some beleaguered ones.

Profits barely exceeded 2 percent of revenues in the latest annual measure. This partly explains why the credit ratings of some of the largest insurers were downgraded to negative from stable heading into this year, as investors were warned of a stagnant if not shrinking market for private plans.

Insurers are an expedient target for leaders who want a government-run plan in the marketplace. Such a public option would force private insurers to trim profits and restrain premiums to compete, the argument goes. This would "keep insurance companies honest," says President Barack Obama.

.... Health insurers posted a 2.2 percent profit margin last year, placing them 35th on the Fortune 500 list of top industries. As is typical, other health sectors did much better - drugs and medical products and services were both in the top 10.
Their program does nothing to address the looming financial crisis in Medicare. They use the money raised by their new taxes in their bill and cuts in Medicare spending to fund their new entitlement, thus adding to the financial problem, rather than dealing with it. And they think the country should lie back and take it whether we like it or not. They probably have the votes in the Senate to do this; all eyes now will turn to the House and see if Nancy Pelosi can whip her caucus in line to dive off that cliff one more time.