Writing for Salon, Brian Beutler speculated that if President Obama was lying about whether people could keep their current insurance plans under Obamacare, it was a “noble lie.” Several other commentators have made similar observations. Obamacare may be a mess; it may be built on a framework of legal, political, and economic distortions; and it may have been pushed through by playing the hardest of political hardball. But the president’s heart was in the right place.
So many defenses of big government in the face of repeated failure seem to boil down this: Don’t judge us by results, judge us by our good intentions.
In this case, there clearly was a problem before Obamacare. Health care in America cost more than in any other country, and that cost did not always correlate with results. At the same time, too many Americans lacked health insurance, making it difficult for them to get the care they needed.
The president’s inclination was to ignore possible market-based fixes and turn to a government solution — despite the fact that many of the problems in the health-care system could be traced to earlier government interventions, and despite the government’s long track record of failure in addressing other social and economic problems. That he was trying to do something was good enough.
The president continues to make this case, arguing that he won’t reconsider the health-care law because “I’m not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time.” Yet even by this standard, Obamacare fails. According to the Congressional Budget Office, by 2023, long after the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented (and the website is presumably working), 31 million Americans will remain uninsured.
Sometimes good intentions are not enough.
Of course, Obamacare is hardly the only government program that’s failed to live up to its good intentions. Take government’s efforts to lift Americans out of poverty. No one can deny that trying to reduce poverty and help those in need is a worthy goal. But the federal government spends $680 billion per year on 126 anti-poverty programs. State and local governments spend an additional $280 billion. That’s close to $1 trillion. In fact, since Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty half a century ago, we’ve spent more than $15 trillion on the effort, but poverty rates have barely budged.