Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Cruising the Web

Charles C. W. Cooke reviews how Obama and his supporters changed their promises for what Obamacare would do and cost. They made very specific, repeated statements before the bill passed.
To recap, then: Before, during, and after passage, Americans were promised that Obamacare was going to lower premiums for “everyone” (the goal of merely maintaining premiums being too modest); it was not going to interfere with anybody’s health care or health insurance if they already had it; and it was not going change anybody’s patient-doctor relationship. The message was unmistakable: All the government wanted to do was extend health insurance to people who didn’t have it. This wouldn’t affect you. No need to worry. Period. Move along.

What was not claimed was that Obamacare was necessary because health care is a “right,” as the president has recently taken to arguing; that redistribution was critical for “fairness”; or that some would win and some would lose but that, overall, it would be a solid compromise. Instead, unmistakable promises, easy enough to check in the age of the Internet, were repeatedly made by the architects and cheerleaders of reform.

In the meantime, Obama’s many apologists in the Washington press corps have switched emphasis. Ezra Klein, a consistently dishonest and credulous proponent of the law, explained bluntly in the Washington Post in June of this year why some people will have to pay more for their insurance under the new regime:
Some people will find the new rules make insurance more expensive. That’s in part because their health insurance was made cheap by turning away sick people. The new rules also won’t allow for as much discrimination based on age or gender. The flip side of that, of course, is that many will suddenly find their health insurance is much cheaper, or they will find that, for the first time, they’re not turned away when they try to buy health insurance.
Klein is almost certainly right here — although it would have been nice if he’d thought to mention this when the damn thing was being debated. Nevertheless, he is making a completely different argument from the one upon which the president has routinely relied.
But now that the bill is being enacted, the bill's supporters have switched and are making totally different defenses of the bill. And people who haven't been paying attention are surprised now to find out how the bill is affecting their health care costs.
Looking back, it is amazing that Obama wasn’t laughed off the stage at the outset. His central claim — that premiums would drop for the typical family by $2,500 — could literally have been taken from the back of an envelope. As the New York Times explained back in 2008, the $2,500 number came from economist David Cutler, who predicted that Obamacare would reduce all health-care spending by $200 billion a year. Candidate Obama, looking for a good sound bite, simply divided this number by the number of families in the United States; then, calculating inexplicably that total health-care spending and family health-insurance premiums were exactly the same thing, he concluded that all money saved would be returned to the people. That Obama considered this a reasonable way of selling a plan that reorganized one-sixth of the economy betrays either a fundamental economic illiteracy or a deeply troubling readiness to mislead.

At the beginning of his big health-care speech in Maryland yesterday, the president told the crowd that, as regards the “reforms that we are making to our health-care system,” “there’s been a lot of things said, a lot of misinformation, a lot of confusion.” He is right, of course. The debate has been mired in dishonesty and casuistry from the very start. And nobody has contributed to this with more enthusiasm and with a louder megaphone than Barack Obama himself.

Haul out your teeny, tiny violins for federal workers who, the Associated Press tells us, are sick and tired of being pawns in political debates.
But federal employees today are working under a three-year pay freeze. Earlier this year, many were furloughed when automatic spending cuts took hold, and about 800,000 were told not to report the money during the current shutdown. There are proposals in Congress to increase retirement contributions for government workers and politicians regularly lash out at federal workers as lazy, overpaid and unnecessary....Rick Swenson, of Catonsville, Md., said he retired in 2012 after spending 38 years working at the U.S. Agriculture Department because he was worried his retirement benefits would be cut and was tired of the constant criticism that was directed at federal workers.

‘You hear a lot of snide commentary about government people and what a cushy job they have and all that kind of stuff,’’ said Swenson, 60, who worked as an administrative officer. ‘‘It certainly doesn’t help your morale.’’

Swenson, said most federal employees still have a strong belief in the mission of the government and want to do public service. But ‘‘it’s getting tougher and tougher because we've seen a great erosion in pay and benefits.’’
Yes, I'm sure that this is all true and it's demoralizing. But do workers in the private sector experience anything different? And they don't have job tenure. And there are a lot of industries such as oil and tobacco and even banking or Wall Street which are demonized by the public. Somehow, these workers expect to be admired and not be affected by political debates while they keep generous benefits and pay without having to worry about how fluctuations in the economy will affect their jobs. Please. No one is guaranteed such bliss at their jobs.

Now there is a new defense for Obama's hypocrisy in voting against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator. Apparently, that was okay because he knew that the Republicans in Congress would save him from having his position enacted.
Changing a stance on an issue can be forgiven if the person has had genuine change of heart. But Tomasky is arguing precisely the opposite:

That even at the time Obama knew what he was voting for would be dangerous to the economy if it actually happened. The fact that he expected others to save him from the consequences of his stance only tells us how cynical he was from the start.
While not excusing mistakes that the Republicans have made, Megan McArdle explains why the administration is to blame for the failures in the launching of the healthcare exchanges.
But I do not think that the Republicans can be blamed for this particular disaster. They did not force the administration to wait until late 2011 to begin awarding important contracts for implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Presumably, they were also not skulking around the Department of Health and Human Services, writing the memos that delayed, until February of this year, the deadline for states to declare whether they’d be running their own exchanges....

In short, the administration passed a law with an unrealistically aggressive implementation schedule. And because of the way it passed it, it had no way to finesse that deadline. The exchanges had to go live on Tuesday no matter how badly they were working -- heck, even if they weren’t working at all and no one had ever managed to successfully complete a test run. Because the alternative was asking Republicans for a delay … and having them enthusiastically agree to put the law off for a minimum of a year, and preferably longer.
Then the administration made things worse by waiting -- waiting to hand out the contracts and waiting to see if it could pick up a few extra states to run their own exchanges. Yes, there was a lot of uncertainty around the Supreme Court case and the midterm elections. And even if you are proceeding with all due speed, writing rules for implementation takes time. But even with those caveats, the administration clearly took a very tight schedule and made things even worse.
So no, this is not a good project undone by Republican “sabotage,” as I saw suggested on Twitter this morning. It’s a potentially good IT project undone by system design and deadlines chosen for political reasons, rather than feasibility. What we’ve been through in the last week, I’d argue, is the inevitable result.
The WSJ writes exactly what I've thought about Eric Holder's grandstanding play in suing to block North Carolina's new voting law. It's not about any real belief that the law is unconstitutional. It's all about whipping up minority voters so they'll come out to vote for Democrats next year. Increasing racial animosities is just a side benefit for Holder.

I tell my U.S. History students that they can use the advice about partisanship, foreign entanglements, and sectionalism in George Washington's Farewell Address as the framework for almost essay they have to write in my class since it is so clear that the country did not take his advice. And now opinion writers can do the same thing.
Most of all, however, President Obama should remember a fundamental warning in George Washington’s Farewell Address. Speaking to his new nation for the last time, America’s first President said that “the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.” While all sides would do well to heed Washington’s similarly strong advice about “the baneful effects of the spirit of party,” Mr. Obama in particular needs to stop trying to substitute regulations for laws and to act like the leader of one branch of government rather than a wise and benevolent autocrat. Yet if he ignored his own chief of staff on what appears to have been one of his highest priorities in office, the President likely has little time for the parting thoughts of our republic’s greatest founding father.
As liberal Todd S. Purdum wrote last week, Obama is reaping what he sowed in how the Democrats pushed through the bill in the first place rejecting any compromise with any moderate Republicans. This was contrary to how any major, historic legislation passed Congress.
No major law of the 20th century — not Medicare, nor the 1957, 1964 and 1965 civil rights and voting rights acts, nor the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act nor Social Security — passed the Congress by anything like the narrow, partisan margin of Obamacare. The Senate approved that 60-39 — a virtual squeaker by that chamber’s modern standards — and the House by just seven votes, 219-212.
The National Mall is closed off so that people can't walk in the park, but now it's okay for an immigration rally attended by Democratic politicians to take place there even though it's been closed for the shutdown.

Apparently, the Republicans are no longer "holding a gun to the head" of the administration. Now they're just "threatening" all sorts of bad stuff.

Glenn Reynolds links to a story from Blount County, Tennessee about how the Park Service's seemingly unending battle to make the government shutdown hurt the most innocent bystanders endangered the lives of schoolchildren.
The National Park Service also closed the Foothills Parkway, a major thoroughfare in the county. The closure came without warning and left the local school district scrambling to get children back to their homes.

The children live in the eastern Tennessee community of Top of the World – serviced by School Bus 49. Normally, the bus travels along the Foothills Parkway. Other roads leading to the isolated mountain community are impassible by bus.

“It’s dangerous,” said Nancy Kemp, the spokesperson for Blount County Schools.”It’s very curvy and straight up the mountain. It’s just not a safe route.”

One local resident told Knoxville television station WBIR that the alternative roads are “white knuckle routes.”

The closure caught locals by surprise and left the school district scrambling to alert parents that they would need to find a way to get their kids back home. And until the partial government shutdown ends, school buses will not run. That means parents will have to transport their children to and from school using treacherous “white knuckle routes.”
The community even came up with a plan to keep the park open with local funds, but the Department of the Interior isn't interested in a no-cost way to help local communities. All they care about is giving it to people good and hard so that they will, as the administration hopes, put pressure on Congress. Talk about bargaining with a gun to the head.

David Gelerntner has some messaging advice for Republicans.
Congressional Republicans ought to memorize, and preface their every statement with, some simple formula. “One: Make Congress and the White House obey the same Obamacare rules you do. Two: Obama let business off for a year; we want workers to be let off for a year too. That’s the GOP plan. What part don’t you like?”

For Republicans who are feeling glum about the impact of the shutdown on 2014, here is an optimistic look at eight reasons why the shutdown won't hurt them. Meanwhile, Republican governors are demonstrating in what Republican governance can accomplish.