Critical Condition

Daniels Backing Down on WSJ Op-Ed? Not Exactly

I predicted last week that some conservatives would grumble about Gov. Mitch Daniels’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and the accompanying letter to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. I was correct — my friends Jeff Anderson and John Graham have both expressed concern that the op-ed means that Daniels is giving up opposition to Obamacare too soon.

According to today’s Politico Pulse, Daniels himself may have had some second thoughts about the idea. Pulse’s headline — “DANIELS: BACKING OFF THE WSJ OP-ED?” — was far more titillating than what he actually said on the subject, though. According to the body of the item, “When pressed specifically on how long he would wait for HHS to make his demanded changes, Daniels said, ‘That will be a ways down the trail. They deserve some time to concentrate on this.’” 

This does not exactly strike me as a full-blown retreat. As I wrote earlier, Daniels and other governors critical of the bill are in a tough spot. Unlike legislators or, ahem, pundits, they cannot afford to see if the law is overturned legislatively or judicially. If the repeal efforts fail (and I sincerely hope that those efforts succeed), governors who did not implement the law will have the federal government design the exchanges for them. This might help stoke the fire of opposition to the bill, but it will not help the citizens of states subjected to these one-size-fits-all plans. In contrast, if enough governors do what Daniels and his colleagues are advocating, we could potentially have a workable series of state networks where conservatives can put their ideas regarding value-driven health care into motion. Clearly many (mostly blue) states will implement the bad plan, but they will do so no matter what Daniels and other like-minded individuals do.

Secretary Sebelius, in a piece in the Washington Post, claimed that “the law already gives states most of the resources and flexibility they’re asking for.” According to a former colleague of mine who is now a state health official, this claim is disingenuous at best. States have already encountered a host of federal encroachments that suggest that the federal government would make it difficult for them to establish exchanges as the governors see fit. Still, the Sebelius op-ed suggests that Anderson and Graham are right on the politics: The Obama administration will point to any cooperation from Republican governors as a sign that the bill is more flexible than it really is and that opposition to it is not as great as once supposed. This is probably why, as the Pulse item indicated, Daniels is in no rush to get a response to his letter to Sebelius.


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