Sebelius, Survival, and Success

by Ramesh Ponnuru

In Bloomberg earlier this week, I argued that Obamacare’s enrollment figures did not make for a “success story,” only a “survival story.” It had achieved a modest increase in coverage rates, one that looks disappointing compared to earlier projections, and done so at a high cost. Those costs, I continue, are likely to mount and once again to put off into the distance its supporters’ expectation of future popularity.

Ezra Klein, quoting me, treats survival and success as the same thing. Sebelius is indeed, as he says, leaving at a relative high point–but it’s relative mainly to the state of the Obamacare project six months ago, which even its friends had to acknowledge was abysmal. From 2009 to mid-2013, nobody sold this law on the basis that by April 2014 it would have “won its survival.” That survival required, after all, merely a Democratic veto point over legislation, minimal public support, and the failure of the law to implode on its own. If Republicans have power in 2017 and self-perpetuation is the law’s most impressive accomplishment, it is not likely to continue to be one for long.

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