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Barack Obama raised near-millennial expectations last year. If elected, he’d transform the dreary realities of Washington with his blazing freshness. He’d win over Republicans with his engaging post-partisanship. He’d solve longstanding national problems with his nonideological pragmatism.
None of this overpromising was ever very likely to come to fruition. But Obama has now fallen down on a much more elemental test of leadership: He can’t tell the truth about his signature initiative.
Obama’s health-care push has been the most dishonest White House advocacy in recent memory. What he says about reform bears no relation to the legislation he wants Congress to pass as soon as recalcitrant Democrats can be bludgeoned into line. According to Obama, no one will lose his private coverage; costs will be controlled; and the legislation will be paid for. Obama must know that these are all politically necessary things to say, and also that none of them describes Nancy Pelosi’s handiwork.
Obama can’t bring himself to grapple with “reality-based” health-care reform, because it belies too many of his most essential sound bites. In the campaign, Obama said, “We need to tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.” On health care, Obama knows that if he doesn’t keep telling people what they want to hear — regardless of the facts — all is lost.
The Left branded George W. Bush a “liar” for making assertions about Iraq’s weapons that were supported by the evidence, but turned out not to be true. Obama is saying things that aren’t even supported by the evidence. They are routinely debunked by the independent Congressional Budget Office, but that doesn’t stop Obama from continuing to say them. It’s as if the CIA issued reports every other week in 2002 explaining that no, Iraq didn’t have a nuclear program nor any stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and Bush kept warning of the nonexistent WMD anyway.
Since the phantom cost-saving measures that Obama touts can’t be detected by anyone else, including Blue Dog Democrats and the CBO, Obama’s team came up with a deus ex machina. They’d create a council to come up with recommendations for Medicare. If Obama accepted them, they’d automatically go into effect unless Congress voted to block them. CBO looked at the council and estimated it’d only save a minuscule $2 billion during the next ten years, adding that “the probability is high that no savings would be realized.”
Will this stop Obama from selling health-care reform as a cost savings? Of course not. He can’t admit that he is bending the famous cost curve upward, any more than he can admit that the House plan might throw millions of people out of their private coverage or that the bill will — despite its raft of new taxes — add another $239 billion to the deficit over ten years. In its latest missive, the CBO says the numbers get even worse beyond the ten-year window. So the entire budgetary rationale of Obamacare — improving the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook — has been obliterated.
Obama’s plan is becoming one of the most implausible and thoroughly discredited free lunches in American history. Asked at his press conference last week what sacrifices people would have to make in the cause of reducing costs, Obama said, manfully, that “they’re going to have to give up paying for things that don’t make them healthier.” As if the only factor adding to costs is greedy otolaryngologists extracting kids’ tonsils unnecessarily, the strange anecdote of wasteful health spending that Obama invoked at his presser.
Surely, the public is beginning to miss Obama circa the fall of 2008. It voted for him because he seemed reasonable, different, and moderate. He could recapture that appeal by pronouncing the health-care effort so far an unfortunate misfire and starting again on a truly bipartisan basis. But he prefers to risk going down fighting — and dissembling — on behalf of his grand, misbegotten scheme.