The Corner

The Future Politics of Obamacare

In the latest NR, I go through what the first steps in any strategy to repeal Obamacare would have to be. Jonathan Bernstein takes exception in Salon: “The problem with the piece is that, barring a real chance of repeal anytime soon, what’s left is basically electoral advice to Republicans — healthcare is a winner! — but it can only do so by playing fast-and-loose with the evidence.” I am not completely sure what that sentence would mean if translated into English, but Bernstein does not do a very good job of backing up the claim about my playing fast-and-loose with the evidence.

I wrote, for example, that “the popularity of some elements of the plan obviously does not stop majorities from disliking Obamacare as a whole.” Bernstein comments: “One could just as easily say that the unpopularity of reform as a whole doesn’t stop majorities from loving the details.” Well, one couldn’t say that just as accurately, at least without a qualifying “some of” before “the details.” Anyway, the whole point of that passage in my article was to counter the idea that Republicans should refrain from calling for repeal because of the popularity of some provisions of Obamacare. It is not especially controversial to claim that in the political debate so far, the unpopularity of Obamacare as a whole has overshadowed the popularity of some of its provisions. Liberals know this. They’ve been complaining about it. I go on to argue that there is no reason to expect this to change. Bernstein presents no counter-argument.

Bernstein: “Generally, Ponnuru’s interpretation continues to be radically partisan. Thus when seniors start getting rebate donut hole checks, somehow that’s going to be a disaster for the Dems, because apparently those who get the checks won’t much care while those who don’t will be wildly jealous. This seems extraordinarily improbable to me; getting a check seems a lot more noticeable than not getting a check.” In my passage on the possibility that these checks will backfire, I count two “may”s and one “could.” My point, which Bernstein is distorting, is that these checks are not guaranteed to help the Democrats this year.

“Ponnuru also expects tax credits for small business to backfire… one wonders whether he is as careful to imagine all the ways that Republican-backed tax cuts might not work.” That’s a distortion, and anyway Bernstein’s point is irrelevant sniping. Maybe I should try harder to imagine the drawbacks of Republican policies; that has nothing to do with whether I’m right in the instant case.

“What I don’t understand is how he thinks that problems with implementation [of the high-risk pools] in 2010-2012 will help the GOP’s argument, since it will leave them attacking high risk pools — which is their solution, and which the Democrats can point out will soon be phased out in favor of an outright ban on rejecting customers.  He may be right that ACA’s interim high risk pools are inadequately funded, but does he really want to add ’spend a lot more on these high risk pools that aren’t working well’ to ’spend more on Medicare’ in the GOP 2012 platform?”

Bernstein can’t imagine how the failure of the first stages of implementation of Obamacare might help Republicans? Really? Republicans won’t have to “attack high-risk pools.” They’ll only have to say that Obamacare was not well-designed and that there are better solutions. Do I really want Republicans to come out for well-designed, adequately funded risk pools? Yes. It’d be cheaper than Obamacare.

“I have no better guess about where the polling is going than Ponnuru does (well, maybe a little better, since I can at least read actual polls instead of, as he apparently does, simply assuming that they must support whatever he wants them to support).” Here Bernstein is just referring back to his earlier comments, which I guess he considers so devastating that they justify his bitchiness. Sorry, I’m not impressed.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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