The Corner

Would You Buy an Obamacare-Backed Security?

Responses to my earlier post have come in two flavors:

1. Obama will not make a Clintonian pivot to the center because he is more left-wing ideologue than pure politico. I agree that Obama would prefer to govern to Clinton’s left. But I also think he would prefer a second term. I hope he listens to those on the left who are telling him that he can have both. But I don’t think he’s that dumb.

2. You are crazy to think Obamacare, once enacted, could be repealed: Maybe. But I would urge those of you who think this way to read (or re-read) Ramesh and Yuval’s excellent NR piece on this topic, which the editors in all their gracious beneficence have deigned to provide for free on NRO. I think it’s important, so I am reproducing the key passage in full:

Repeal is commonly judged impossible. Conservatives have long worried, and liberals have hoped, that nationalized health insurance would permanently shift our politics to the left: Americans would grow accustomed to depending on the federal government for their health coverage, and would attribute the system’s failures to underfunding rather than structural flaws. But Democrats have designed this year’s legislation in a way that makes this scenario unlikely to unfold anytime soon.

They wanted the Congressional Budget Office to report that their plan would spend less than $1 trillion over the next ten years, so they rigged the bill to generate such a report. They achieved that goal in part by making tax increases and Medicare cuts go into effect several years before the bill’s benefits do. This sequence is likely to create years of political vulnerability for the new scheme. Voters will see mostly pain, not gain, from the legislation in its first four years — and four years is a very long time in politics. Conservative politicians will not have to threaten existing benefits in order to press for repeal, and they will be able to point to the bill as an example of the Democrats’ misplaced priorities while championing their own version of health-care reform.

In recent months, many Democrats have operated from the assumption that they have to pass this bill to avoid political disaster, while Republicans have operated from the assumption that if the bill passes, they have lost the health-care fight permanently. Both assumptions now appear to be wrong. Instead of moving off the stage, health care, along with the economy, looks likely to remain atop the domestic agenda throughout this congressional-election year, especially if the Democrats pass a bill that the public hates and that will also put a drag on the economy.

Most voters still want what they have always wanted on health care: lower costs, higher take-home pay, and greater security — all accomplished with the least possible disruption to their current insurance arrangements. The Democrats are poised to pass a massively expensive bill that achieves essentially none of this. Republicans have tried to argue (as they should do much more forcefully over the next ten months) that a few changes to tax law and regulation could address these concerns much better, by fostering the development of a market in individually owned insurance policies. Those reforms would also increase the number of people with insurance. This modest and constructive agenda would not require fines on people who opt out of insurance, federal boards to decide what constitutes appropriate medical practice, or huge new taxes that stifle economic growth.

Such an argument, which can serve as a means of opposing Obamacare now and of calling for its replacement with actual health-care reform if it passes, is the obvious path for Republicans in 2010, since it will connect public unease with Obamacare to the case for economic growth through fiscal restraint. The Democrats’ economic platform is of a piece with the party’s assumptions that it can run Americans’ health care from Washington and that the appropriate response to public doubts is to hunker down. Passing the misbegotten bill will not remove the albatross from around the Democrats’ necks as long as Republicans persist in highlighting its many flaws. We have already seen this type of strategy work with a massively expensive bill that delivered very little in practice: Obama’s stimulus package has grown less and less popular since it passed, the opposite of what its backers thought would happen.

In their rush to pass something quickly, and their desire to mask the costs of their plan behind a moderate CBO score, the Democrats have created a bill that just might turn health care into a Republican issue. If Republicans embrace the opportunity by refusing to change the subject, by pressing the kinds of gradual concrete reforms they have been talking about all year, and by understanding how making a persistent case for conservative health-care reform can play to their strengths, they may find themselves with a great opportunity in 2010.

Think of the Democratic party as a bank, and Obamacare as a toxic asset. Trust me, I am not trying to employ reverse psychology on my friends to the left when I say please, by all means, add this massive liability to your balance sheet.

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