Watching President Obama’s press conference Thursday, I almost started humming the old ditty “The Farmer in the Dell” because all I could think was: “The cheese stands alone.”
The president did his level best to explain that he was as in the dark as anybody about the problems with his signature legislation.
He explained that he was not “informed directly” that the Healthcare.gov website was about as ready to run as a three-legged horse at the Preakness Stakes. Apparently, the old saw that the “buck stops” with the president never took into account the possibility that the buck could get lost in interoffice mail.
While all of the attention has been focused on the executive branch’s spectacular failure, it’s worth taking a moment to note that Obama was not the sole author of this disaster.
You can absolve Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — of blame for the website’s dysfunction. The record is pretty clear that the White House froze them out of that process. That was why Democratic senator Max Baucus, an architect of the law, finally went public with his prediction of a “train wreck” — because he was sick of being kept out of the loop on the site’s progress.
In our system, Congress allocates money for stuff it wants and then lets the executive branch implement the law. If the president messes up, Congress gets to come in afterward to criticize and offer ways to clean up the mess.
But you can’t let Congress off the hook for the underlying driver of this calamity: the lie that “if you like your health plan, you can keep it. Period.” This is now beyond dispute, though there’s still some squabbling about the “L” word itself. It wasn’t a lie, Obama and his defenders insist, it was simply an “incorrect promise,” in the words of the New York Times. I somehow doubt that locution would provide much cover for an adulterer who tells his wife, “Honey, I didn’t break my wedding vows. That was just an incorrect promise.”
But whatever label you want to put on that untruth, Obama wasn’t alone in offering it. Moreover, even though the legislation may go by the moniker “Obamacare,” the fact is the president didn’t write the law. Congress did, specifically congressional Democrats, with virtually no Republican input.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid insisted that the Affordable Care Act “means making sure you can keep your family’s doctor or keep your health care plan, if you like it.” His number two, Senate majority whip Dick Durbin, said, “We are going to put in any legislation considered by the House and Senate the protection that you, as an individual, keep the health insurance you have, if that is what you want.” Senator Patty Murray, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said it too: “If you like what you have today, that will be what you have when this legislation is passed.” Democratic senators Chuck Schumer, Max Baucus, Jeanne Shaheen, Jay Rockefeller, Bob Casey, and many, many other Democrats spouted the same talking points.
Heck, Nancy Pelosi’s website still says that under Obamacare you can “Keep your doctor, and your current plan, if you like them.”
There’s a lot of chatter in Washington that Democrats on the Hill feel like they were lied to or misled by the White House. But if you understand how our Constitution works — and they should, given that they only took an oath to defend it — it’s Obama who should feel lied to.
The law is really quite clear. It was so clear that the Congressional Budget Office — their own in-house think tank — said that millions would lose their health-care plans. Obama even said so with the Democratic leadership in the room.
More to the point, the law was intended to cause millions of people to lose their existing plans so they would enter the exchanges.
Now the same people who literally wrote the law feel betrayed when the law does exactly what they intended. That’s like getting mad at a remote-control car when you crash it. Yes, the website’s failures make the panic more acute, but the fact remains that the Affordable Care Act is doing precisely what it’s supposed to do.
A great many Democrats voted for the Iraq war and then, when the war became unpopular, claimed they’d been lied to by President Bush. That was dishonorable enough. But at least the Democrats could claim they didn’t have all of the information.
When it comes to the quagmire of Obamacare, the only liars they should be mad at are Democrats.
— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at email@example.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.