Last night, after a gathering of politios here in Washington, a prominent writer and authority on health care detailed for me the tremendous gloom among Capitol Hill Republicans and conservatives about Obamacare in recent days.
The just-announce full-year postponement in implementing the employer mandate was not an admission of failure, I was told, but an application of strategic delay. The idea was to put off some of the most objectionable parts of the law while aggressively signing people up. Remember, this insider went on, most of the people Obamacare targets have health insurance now. By luring them into the program, the administration gets them to surrender their current coverage. That way, when, after the 2014 midterm elections, the employer mandate starts to bite and calls for repeal become more urgent, these millions will be locked into the president’s system without a safety net. They will become a core constituency for blocking repeal. There is nothing that can be done to stop this.
The unilateral suspension of the employer mandate has Republicans particularly shocked and depressed. A president can’t just suspend a law, they say. That’s government by decree. But it turns out that, in its thousands of pages, the Affordable Care Act included a provision allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to suspend provisions that appeared unworkable and recast the program at will.
By the way, if all this sounds familiar to you, it may be that you heard Rush Limbaugh take a similar same line on his show yesterday – or caught a Fox News clip of him, as I did when I got home last night. Limbaugh’s sources and mine may be the same.
But it turns out that there is another view circulating in conservative circles. It is that, instead of shying away from Obamacare as an issue, Republicans should be doubling down on it. The big GOP failure in the last presidential campaign, these advocates argue, was that we had a presidential candidate who could not argue in any coherent fashion against Obamacare at all. Since November, where our candidates have sounded a clear trumpet of opposition, they have won. Where their trumpet has been uncertain or silent, they have lost.
I share this last second view. There is tremendous public opposition to Obamacare – and for good reason.
It is not just that, as the Wall Street Journal editorial page reported this morning, “the unfortunate government official charged with designing [the president’s much touted online insurance exchange] declared in March that his team had given up on creating ‘a world-class user experience,’ adding, ‘Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world user experience.’” Senator Max Baucus’s prediction of an Obamacare “train wreck” comes to life.
It is also that, and polling confirms this, American voters feel that the entire program is becoming a way of dispensing favors to insiders. Some groups get waivers. Some don’t. Some are hit with taxes. Taxes are set aside for others. By administration policy, there will be no one looking to see if people who sign up for benefits are actually qualified. We were promised fairness. We are getting cronyism.
But then, of course, how could it be different? Isn’t this what happens when Congress passes thousand-plus page bills no one has read? Or perhaps someone did read it, and government by decree – and a stealth path to a single payer system – was exactly what they intended.