The Corner

‘Corporate Welfare!’ They Cried

As you’ve no doubt heard, a number of corporations with significant health-care obligations to retired workers are taking major hits to their quarterly earnings statements, thanks to an obscure provision tucked away in the Democrats’ health-care bill. The damage could total as much as $15 billion. And as you might imagine, opponents of Obamacare are pointing to the write-downs to affirm predictions they made about Obamacare being more expensive and disruptive than advertised.

But Obamacare supporters are trying to reframe the debate and make it about the provision in question, as I explain in my home-page piece today:

… liberal commentators are harmonizing around the charge that conservatives are hypocrites for supporting “corporate welfare” opportunistically. At ThinkProgress, Igor Volsky asked, “Why Aren’t Fiscal Conservatives Outraged By The Wasteful Prescription Drug Subsidy?” MarketWatch’s Cody Willard mocked, “HEY, BIG GOVERNMENT, KEEP YOUR DAMN HANDS OFF MY SUBSIDIES AND ENTITLEMENTS!” And the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein “>wrote, “Let’s be clear: It is corporate welfare being defended, not the market.”

The response to all of this is pitifully obvious: The retiree drug subsidy — this egregious example of “corporate welfare” — would not be necessary if a Republican-led government had not taken a Democrat-designed social-welfare apparatus and appended a massive expansion (now there’s your hypocrisy). In other words, this bit of corporate welfare was designed to keep people off of actual welfare, broadly defined. It takes some nerve to ignore this basic context when lobbing these accusations of hypocrisy.

But there is another, more important point to keep in mind here. The people hurling these accusations just supported one of the biggest corporate-welfare programs our nation has ever created. Obamacare subsidizes the purchase of health insurance and forces people to buy it. Many liberals who opposed the bill because it lacked a “public option” — a government-run insurance program — semi-accurately characterized it as a bonanza for the private insurance industry. As former DNC chair Howard Dean wrote in the Washington Post, the Senate bill “expands private insurers’ monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations” — and nothing in the package of reconciliation “fixes” that Obama signed on Tuesday would alter that basic fact.

Remember: Subsidies and tax breaks are are first sold as necessary carrots in the delicately balanced, expertly engineered Rube Goldberg machine that is our welfare state; they only get labeled as “corporate welfare” when the Democrats decide they want to take over an activity entirely.

Update: See here.


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