Politics & Policy

Talking Cure, Again

President Obama began his speech tonight by noting that liberals have been trying to foist “comprehensive health reform” on this nation for nearly seven decades. (He did not use these exact words.) These decades of failure have not led liberals to reconsider their basic assumptions about the proper role of government in American health care. It was thus overly optimistic to expect a few difficult months to make Obama rethink his health-care initiative.

Neither the government-heavy substance nor the dishonest and demagogic tactics have changed. The president denounced “scare tactics” — in a speech that warned that failure to go along with his plans would cause people to die. He pretended that preventive care will “save money,” even though this claim has been authoritatively and repeatedly debunked. He claimed, in defiance of every independent assessment, that the legislation before Congress will reduce costs. He denied that the legislation he supports will spend federal dollars on abortion, which can be true only if he has some private and novel definition of “federal dollars.” He denied that it will cover illegal immigrants, even though Democratic congressmen have specifically voted not to require verification of legal residence.

Obama told people with insurance that “nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.” Note the careful formulation, which is technically true but deliberately misleading. The president knows full well that his plan will cause millions of people to lose their current coverage and that they are not going to catch the fact that his statement does not quite deny it. Obama said that “what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan” is “more security and stability.” Many of them can, in fact, expect to lose their coverage while paying higher premiums and taxes. Many other Americans can expect to lose their jobs thanks to Obama’s “employer mandate.”

The president’s stated goals — stability, cost control, and expanded coverage — are reasonable ones. All of them would be better served by a gradual transition toward a system in which people buy insurance for themselves rather than relying on their employers or governments, and in which neither the tax code nor regulations impede them from so doing.

President Obama said that “the time for bickering is over” and that he will not “waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it.” You would not guess it from his speech, but it is possible sincerely to believe that it is better policy to scrap this plan and start over. If by “bickering” Obama means opposition in principle to his plan to vastly expand the federal role in health care, then there has never been a better time for it.

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