The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Sunday, November 24, 2013
Politics ... Public Policy ...

It looks like President Obama and the signature achievement of his Presidency, i.e. the Affordable Care Act which is commonly known as “Obamacare”, is experiencing some tough sledding. There’s a good article in the National Journal that sums up what is really happening now. In a nutshell, the wealth redistribution effects of ObamaCare are now being realized. And it is very uncertain that political support for it can be maintained now that more and more ordinary citizens are feeling the effects of these re-distributions.

These effects may get even worse in 2014 when the employer mandates fully kick in and a lot of people lose their employer health coverage (which is already starting, as some companies are dropping coverage of part-timers). The wealth redistribution from ObamaCare is generally from rich to poor, young to old, health to sick – and this has been allowable, up to a point, in US politics (Social Security and Medicare both do this).

HOWEVER – at some point, the political backlash from the rich (and the somewhat better off), the young and the healthy can get very strong. The primary example being cited is the failure of the 1988 Catastrophic Care Medicare expansion under Ronald Reagan. That initiative did not survive the objections of the better off people who paid higher Medicare contributions, even though it definitely would have helped the not-better-off. So, in 1989, “Cat Care” was repealed.

With 20-20 hindsight, it becomes clear that Obama picked a bad time for a major new social program – i.e., in the middle of an historic economic crisis. He probably thought or hoped that by the time the ACA really kicked in, e.g. now, the economy would be back to it’s old self, humming along at 3% growth per year and creating over 250K new jobs per month. Instead, it’s sputtering around at about half those rates. Unemployment has grudgingly come down from 10% to around 7.3%, but still has months or possibly years to go before reaching a more healthy 5%. There are way too many people who have been unemployed for way too long. And most people who are still working haven’t had a real raise in a long time, and are actually living on less. It’s hard for them to get excited about making health care universally available to the sick and the working poor (and even the not-so-poor).

And of course, Obama made a lot of personal enemies in the way that he muscled the ACA past all GOP objections in 2009. He threw all real compromise out the window and enacted the law without any minority support. Thus, he empowered a permanent opposition faction that is mechanically and heartlessly doing all it can to trip up the whole thing, regardless of its effect on real people. The sharks never went away, and thanks to a bad web site and the unforeseen number of existing insurance policy cancellations triggered by the law, blood is now in the water. Now that the GOP is stronger and controls the House, any legislative fixes are off the table.

So, I am not entirely optimistic about Obamacare at this point. The reaction against it could go on for years (it is now more than 3 years old and its popularity ratings, which were negative when it was enacted, are only getting worse). If the economy is still dragging in 2015, ObamaCare could become the showdown issue in the 2016 presidential election.

And unless Hillary Clinton can really come up with something better, the advantage goes to the GOP. Hillary already lost big on health care, back in Bill Clinton’s first term. She may be in for a second drubbing, unless she cuts bait and runs in opposition to Obama and the ACA (which ironically is similar to a semi-Republican alternative offered in opposition to Hillary’s 1993 plan).

And why not? Politics is a blood sport, and Barack Obama had no reticence about stealing the crown from Hillary in 2008. So don’t expect Hillary to embrace Obama and promise a continuation of his goals and initiatives in 2016. Obama’s final year in office could be quite sad, as the political parties and their candidates argue over how to best clean up the mess that he left. Just as Obama once promised to clean up George W. Bush’s mess.

Ah, American politics! Another form of mixed martial arts, quite entertaining in its own vicious fashion. It’s too bad that real people living real lives are the real losers from all of this. Obamacare may go down in history as the right policy that was carried out the wrong way at the wrong time.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:06 pm      

  1. Jim, When it comes to the mess Obamacare has become lately, I keep thinking of Clinton in his 2nd term, and the whole Lewinsky scandal. Clinton was even *impeached*. Yet, here he is now, smelling like a rose. Nobody seems to have any memory of what happened back in his 2nd term.

    [JIM G COMMENT: I myself tend to think of Bill Clinton’s FIRST term, and the doomed Health Security Act that Hillary cooked up. Let’s refresh our fond memories of Harry and Louise . . .]

    I tend to think that, whatever happens with Obamacare, likely Obama himself will end up smelling like a rose, even if it will take a few years after he is out of office. In fact, I heard a comment by some pundit on a TV program say that, if the website gets fixed (sooner rather than later) and people can start signing up and getting insurance, that in a year or so much of what is going on now will all be forgotten. I tho’t: That would not surprise me at all. Seems the public has a short memory.

    I’d like to take a small issue with your point about Obama making “a lot of personal enemies in the way he muscled the ACA past all GOP objections in 2009”. If I remember correctly, Obama only did that after it became clear that he simply would *not* get any cooperation, in any form, from the Tea Party people. In fact, I read this week that Ted Cruz is still working to make the minority Tea Party the majority. (I paraphrase, but that’s the idea.) So I basically cannot blame Obama for “muscling his way around” in that situation.

    As to the GOP and 2015, I heard something interesting about Chris Christie the other day. The pundits were saying that there are *plenty* of skeletons in Christie’s closet that simply are not spoken about these days. It seems Romney, when he vetted Christie for his VP, uncovered a bunch of “stuff” that would cause serious problems were Christie to run for president. And if Christie’s the “good” GOP side, the GOP may have a problem on their hands when it comes to winning the next election.
    Let me quote from : “the publication of a book, Double Down, which contains leaked research on Christie conducted by the Romney for President campaign in 2012.
    According to the authors, Romney and his team were shaken by what they discovered about Christie during “Project Goldfish,” as the hush-hush veep search process was known. His “disturbing” research file is littered with “garish controversies,” the authors write: a Justice Department investigation into his free-spending ways as U.S. attorney, his habit of steering government contracts to friends and political allies, a defamation lawsuit that emerged during a 1994 run for local office, a politically problematic lobbying career that included work on behalf of a financial firm that employed Bernie Madoff. And that’s not to mention the Romney team’s anxiety about the governor’s girth.
    And that largely excludes some of the scandals Christie has been involved in while in office which include patronage at public authorities, problematic uses of state vehicles, and a horrifying relationship with prison privatizers (stay tuned).”
    All I have to say is “who knew?!”

    But in the end I still say that Clinton is evidence of the short memory the public has.

    I might add on a personal note that yesterday I tried to log on to the Postal Service’s website. Ordering simply a couple of books of stamps took me about an hour – and, in the end, the order never went through. Oh, except for the charges on my credit card. Calling my credit card company today, they tell me that the P.O. does not accept the particular card I wanted to use; yet it was one of those on the site that was accepted! (Whaaaa?)

    All I could think of, if ordering a couple of books of stamps is such a mess, what must it be like to try to log on to the Obamacare website! I have also heard that within a year or so, should the Obamacare site be up and running, much of the fuss about the whole thing going on today will be forgotten. And I think that is true. If people can/could log on to the site, get what they want from it, few people would be complaining. MCS

    Comment by Mary — November 24, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

  2. I also do not share your opinion that in getting the ACA passed, “Obama threw all real real compromise out the window”. The opposite was true. Obama made it known that he could support all sorts of GOP initiatives – such as tort reform. Only after it became obvious that he wouldn’t get any GOP support did he try to get the bill passed with just Democrats.

    Comment by Zreebs — December 14, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

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