Politics & Policy

Obamacare Isn’t Inevitable

‘Nil desperandum” — never despair. That is a sentiment that conservatives need to take to heart now that Congress has narrowly passed a bill that simultaneously undermines life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It takes some ingenuity to add to the costs, inefficiency, and dysfunctions that government has already bequeathed to our health-care system, but the Democrats have proven themselves up to the challenge. Almost nothing about this legislation is free of dispute, but we are convinced that it will increase taxes, increase premiums, and increase debt, while decreasing economic growth, job growth, and the quality of health care.

The Democrats had no mandate to take these steps. In 2008, the president campaigned both against forcing people to buy insurance and against taxing their benefits. The legislation runs counter to the campaign on both points. The president promised to change Washington. He has made its stench more noisome, winning this vote by using every kind of deceit and (legal) corruption, and over the objection of a bipartisan coalition representing most Americans.

We are now being told that the campaign to repeal this legislation is over before it has even begun, that Americans will come to appreciate the benefits that a bountiful government is giving them, and that the growth of the welfare state can never be reversed. We understand the odds against repeal. We understand, indeed, that complete repeal of every provision of the bill is impossible. The doughnut hole — a gap in Medicare’s prescription-drug coverage designed to encourage seniors to economize — has been filled, and it is not going to be re-opened.

But the larger thesis seems as superficially plausible, and as ultimately convincing, as were earlier predictions that state socialism or secularization were our inevitable future. It is quite possible that the majority of America that rejects this legislation will get its way in the next few years — if it is given the right leadership. And it is worth the effort to try.

It is possible, for example, that the results of the legislation will turn out to be unpleasant more quickly than most observers realize. The bill requires insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions the same as everyone else, and the only reason for people not to game the system — dropping their insurance until they get sick and the insurer has to take them — is because the law requires them to buy insurance or pay a fine. For many people, the fine will be a cheap price to avoid paying high premiums. The effect of the legislation could be to cause the number of healthy people with insurance to fall dramatically — and for premiums to rise, which would cause more people to drop their insurance. If this happens, we can expect liberals to agitate for a single-payer system; but we can also expect the public to blame the Democrats whose health-care system it will now be. A less lopsidedly Democratic Congress is not going to respond to this chaos by enacting single payer or strengthening the fines.

For that matter, the lengthy legislation could turn out to have little time bombs, the nature of which cannot currently be guessed. Nothing about the process that produced the legislation, after all, suggests that it was put together with careful consideration. Conservatives will be able to capitalize on the discrediting of Obamacare, however it takes place, only if they campaign this fall on a pledge to replace this government-heavy system with true reform. Republicans running against Democrats who voted for this legislation will have the easiest task. But even Republicans running against Democrats who voted against it can advance the cause by challenging those Democrats either to advocate repeal and replacement themselves or to expose themselves as false opponents of Obamacare.

Nor have pro-lifers lost the war. Pro-lifers should campaign this fall on a pledge to make the Hyde amendment — the partial ban on government funding of abortion, which now applies to portions of federal spending and has to be renewed each year — a permanent feature of law that applies to all federal spending. The Obama administration and most of liberaldom have pretended over the last year to favor both the principle in general and the Hyde amendment in particular. And the principle is popular. Their posturing, disingenuous though it was, has handed pro-lifers a winning issue.

The Democrats have abused the system, ignoring both the Founders’ design and public opinion. The first step toward undoing that abuse is to make them pay a political price for it.

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