The Corner

‘Good Government’ at Work? Liberals Spin the CLASS Act’s Demise

The Left is naturally reeling in the wake of the Obama administration’s announcement that is “does not see a viable path forward” for the implementation of the CLASS Act, which Rich discusses in his column today. That said, the lengths to which some have gone to spin this as some sort of moral victory for the president is truly breathtaking. Here’s Kevin Drum writing at Mother Jones:

What happened here is that government worked exactly the way it ought to. The CLASS Act was passed in a fog of rosy estimates and emotional appeals (it was one of Ted Kennedy’s longstanding priorities), and the Department of Health and Human Services immediately began the detailed work of writing the implementing regulations to get it up and running. And guess what? They did their work honestly and conscientiously. Even though it was a liberal program promoted by a longtime liberal icon, HHS analysts eventually concluded that its conservative critics were right and the program as passed was flawed. So they killed it. And most of the liberal healthcare wonks that I read seem to agree that, unfortunately, HHS was right.

This is how we all want government to work. And it turns out that Obama agrees. This is apparently how he wants government to work too, and it’s a pretty clear demonstration that Obama isn’t the kind of hyperpartisan extreme lefty that conservatives like to paint him as. He’s a guy who wants government to function well and honestly, and if it doesn’t, he’s willing to shut down a program that doesn’t work even though it upsets his own party and provides campaign fodder to his opponents. When was the last time a Republican president did anything like that?

Apparently, Obama is to be lauded for refusing to continue a fiscally unsustainable program based on “a fog of rosy estimates and emotional appeals” because doing so might upset his own party. If that is really where we set the bar for political courage these days, the country is truly doomed. Drum writes that the administration worked “honestly and conscientiously” to try to implement the program — after it was passed — despite repeated warnings that it simply was not feasible. Certainty Richard Foster, Medicare’s chief actuary, was honest and conscientious in his efforts to determine the program’s viability, which he found to be approximately nil:

“At first glance this proposal doesn’t look workable,” [Foster] wrote in an e-mail to other HHS officials [in May 2009]. “Due to the limited scope of the insurance coverage, the voluntary CLASS plan would probably not attract many participants other than individuals who already meet the criteria to qualify as beneficiaries.” Even so, Foster estimated that the CLASS program would have to enroll about 234 million people, which is greater than the entire U.S. population aged 20 and above, in order to sustain itself.

Of course, Obama bravely decided to ignore the quack rantings of “health-care experts” like Foster, who certainly wasn’t alone in his skepticism. On the other hand, perhaps a government that functions “well and honestly” could avoid enacting such a hopeless flawed program into law in the first place. Or is ‘we have to pass it so we can find out what’s in it and figure out the details later’ the new standard for good governance in Washington? It amounts to a legislative system modeled on the administration’s “green” energy loans program — sign a bunch of speculative, nice-sounding measures into law, and if a few of them turn out to be utter failures, well, then that’s just the way it goes.

Also, to say that Obama was “willing” to shut down the CLASS Act is clearly a stretch. The president’s “decision” is merely an acknowledgment of fiscal and political reality, that all the critics whose warning went unheeded were right all along. If Obama was seriously willing to risk upsetting his base in the name of good and honest government, he wouldn’t be threatening to veto a forthcoming measure to repeal the CLASS Act, and telling the program’s advocates that it is still alive and well:

“We do not support repeal,” [a White House] official said Monday. “Repealing the CLASS Act isn’t necessary or productive. What we should be doing is working together to address the long-term care challenges we face in this country.”

Over the weekend, The Hill has learned, an administration official called advocates of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act to reassure them that Obama is still committed to making the program work. That official also told advocates that widespread media reports on the program’s demise were wrong, leaving advocates scratching their heads.

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...