‐ Our World War II vets surely remember when “To the barricades!” had an entirely different meaning.
‐ The Obama administration celebrated the shutdown face-off by barricading open-air public monuments and scenic-view stops on public highways, and telling fishing boats to stay out of Florida Bay (between the Everglades and the Keys). They also blocked parking lots at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. Now Mount Vernon is certainly a national monument, but it has been owned since the 1850s by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, a private organization that has never taken a cent of government money. Washington, remember, was the man who wrote his cousin (July 20, 1774): “I think the Parliament of Great Britain hath no more Right to put their hands into my Pocket, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours, for money.” One can only imagine the frigid gravity with which he would regard Park Service hacks putting barriers in front of his house.
‐ The rollout of the Obamacare exchanges was an ill omen indeed. Websites intended to be used to enroll people in the program went down and stayed down, and many of those that were up were dysfunctional. Many did not have prices available, so those who wanted to enroll were expected to do so flying blind. Infogix, a firm that handles data issues for major insurers such as WellPoint, Cigna, and several Blue Cross groups, estimated that as few as one application in 100 could be processed. “It is extraordinary that these systems weren’t ready,” said Infogix CEO Sumit Nijhawan. Other insurers had higher estimates, but even they said that less than half of applications could be processed. The fact is that nobody froze his toes off at Valley Forge to set up an insurance brokerage, and the federal government is showing itself inept at the business into which it has inserted itself. Obamacare is deeply flawed conceptually, and it is as flawed in the particular as it is in the general, as the rollout is showing. If a medical device had Obamacare’s failure rate, it would be forced off the market. So should be Obamacare.
‐ President Obama’s big health-care speech, delivered in Largo, Md., in September, represented a new low for clarity and for honesty. Hidden among the usual hits was an attempt to cast the link between the funding of the law and the raising of the debt ceiling as illegitimate. Obamacare, the president said, has “nothing to do with a budget.” Really? This was a law, remember, that was crowbarred through Congress using reconciliation, a procedure reserved for budgetary matters; that increases the size of the federal budget by between 5 and 10 percent; that was sold as a deficit-reduction measure; and that boasts an unprecedented mandate that was questionably declared a tax by the Supreme Court. Obama’s claim has nothing to do with the truth.
‐ Before another audience, Obama sneered, “If you’re working here and in the middle of the day you just stopped and said, ‘. . . I’m gonna shut down the whole plant until I get something,’ you’d get fired.” Strangely, his audience cheered. When workers shut down a plant until they get what they want, it is called a strike, and President Obama and his party are notable supporters of the right to conduct one. Either he has unilaterally suspended the National Labor Relations Act, in which case he has our admiration, or he simply cannot hear himself when he speaks, in which case he has our envy.
‐ The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), more or less the arbiter of the global “climate-change consensus,” in September released its fifth report, reaching pretty much the same conclusion as its other reports: Humans continue to push carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to almost unprecedented heights, while temperatures are rising to exceptionally warm levels (though the temperature projections are slightly milder than those in the previous IPCC report, in 2007), and the IPCC now says with 95 percent certainty that humans have caused that warming and will continue to do so, up from 90 percent in 2007. The report essentially elides the fact, which has become widely accepted only in the past couple of years, that warming appears to have slowed or stopped over the past 15 years, while carbon dioxide levels continue to soar. This calls into question the reliability of the models used to describe the key relationship at the heart of climate-change predictions: the relationship between greenhouse-gas levels and global temperatures, both atmospheric and oceanic. The IPCC report, for all its rigor and complexity, does not adequately address these issues. One variable remains predictable in all this: aversion to reexamining the most alarmist conclusions.
#page#‐ The Supreme Court has approved voter-ID laws and struck down perpetual preclearance requirements under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and one might think these decisions had restored the VRA to its intended role of stopping true voter suppression. But, as Blutarsky said in Animal House, “Nothing’s over until we say it is!” In that spirit, Attorney General Eric Holder is suing North Carolina over recent changes in its election laws, most notably a photo-ID requirement and a reduction in the number of the days for early voting. And Holder is asking not just for these provisions to be struck down, but for the entire state of North Carolina to be placed under preclearance (not even the original VRA went that far), using Section 3’s little-known “bail-in” provision. To win, Holder must prove that North Carolina has intentionally violated the Constitution with the goal of restricting voting rights on racial grounds, admittedly a tall order. But even if he doesn’t succeed, this black attorney general, serving under a twice-elected black president, can still use the allegation to give his dwindling band of liberal true believers one more excuse to convince themselves that nothing has changed since 1963.
‐ This summer, the Obama administration sued the state of Louisiana over its private-school-voucher program for low-income students in failing schools, in the name of fighting segregation. The Department of Justice contended that the program impedes integration, in violation of longstanding desegregation orders. This attack on a program that benefits, almost exclusively, poor blacks may have seemed misguided from the start, but now we know just how hollow it is: A new study from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas found that student transfers in the program made both the schools they left and the schools they arrived at more integrated. School choice is accomplishing, gradually, what forced busing and government fiats never have accomplished, including at the private schools to which students are sent. At least as long as the Justice Department doesn’t get its way.
‐ So it turns out that Bill de Blasio, probable next mayor of New York, and his wife, Chirlane McCray, spent their 1994 honeymoon in Cuba. Were flights to North Korea too expensive? New York City is a liberal place, and some people cling to youthful folly even into their thirties. But to think of someone like de Blasio celebrating his happiness in a despotism so opposed to so many of his own ostensible ideals is, sadly, not very surprising.
‐ Wendy Davis, who attracted national attention by trying to protect the abortionists of Texas from safety regulation and to keep abortion legal after the 20th week of pregnancy, is running for governor. Candidates with extreme pro-abortion positions can be elected in many parts of the country (and even win the presidency). Unfortunately for her, Texas is probably not one of them — let alone one of those few places where a candidate defined almost exclusively by enthusiasm for abortion can win high office. Davis can expect to be celebrated in the press, to garner contributions from liberals nationwide, and to lose.
‐ Next year’s Republican primary in Georgia’s eleventh congressional district is likely to be a crowded slugfest. The incumbent, Representative Phil Gingrey, is running for the state’s open Senate seat, and seven Republicans seek to replace him. One is former representative Bob Barr, a loud voice of the Republican Revolution of 1994, and the Libertarian party’s presidential candidate in 2008. Barr’s shift from down-the-line conservative to Libertarian-party standard-bearer reflected dramatic shifts in viewpoint. He voted for policies taking a hard line in the war on drugs, then renounced them. He introduced and voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, then later insisted that marriage policies should be set only by states. He voted for the PATRIOT Act, then spent much of the following decade calling it a dangerous overreach of governmental power. He went from drawing a tough line on illegal immigration to telling Libertarian audiences he didn’t support a border fence. Once a consistent pro-lifer, Barr avoided the issue entirely as the Libertarian nominee, deflecting questions about abortion. Now that Barr is running in a deeply conservative district in the suburbs northwest of Atlanta, his tune changes again. His campaign website declares: “Bob has the experience needed to stand up for family values and most importantly protecting the sanctity of human life.” Georgia’s voters can do better than endorse this latest batch of cynical repositioning.
‐ Everything was set for Carnegie Hall’s opening night: The Philadelphia Orchestra would play, Yannick Nézet-Séguin would conduct, Joshua Bell would solo on his violin, etc. But the stagehands decided Carnegie Hall would not have an opening night: They struck, meaning the concert could not take place. Carnegie Hall’s stagehands are among the luckiest people on earth. The top guy makes $530,000. And don’t lose sleep over his colleagues: They all make more than $400,000. Carnegie Hall was establishing an Education Wing, and trying to afford to do so. Hall officials wanted the union out of this wing; the union said nothing doing. Soon, a compromise was reached. But the ability of a handful of unionized millionaires to prevent Opening Night for thousands is hard to understand. This is worse than the tail wagging the dog: This is the tail banishing the dog from the house. There are countless unemployed people in this country who would be happy to set out chairs and stands, for less than $400,000.
#page#Apples and Obama
The online rollout of Obamacare is already the biggest IT disaster in American history. Admittedly, this is a fairly short history. If the Internet had existed during the New Deal, you can be sure that there would have been problems downloading all of those NRA codes (at which point, in Joe Biden’s telling, FDR would have gone on TV to reassure the American people).
President Obama tried to shrug off the “glitches.” “Like every new law, every new product rollout, there are going to be some glitches in the sign-up process along the way that we will fix,” he insisted. “Consider that just a couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system, and within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it.”
People have had a lot of fun with this low-gear spin. Apple doesn’t force you to pay a fine if you don’t buy an iPhone. If the late Steve Jobs had handled the rollout of its most important product in a generation this badly, he’d probably have been looking for a new job. The “glitch” in the iPhone operating system didn’t stop people from being able to use the product, and it was seamlessly fixed after a few days. The Healthcare.gov “glitches” are in fact structural defects that may take weeks or months to repair. Apple doesn’t use tax dollars . . .
Oh, you get it. You could go on all day pointing out flaws in the president’s analogy because, well, it’s not a very good analogy.
A better, more illuminating comparison is between the Obama campaign’s technological brilliance and the Obama administration’s thumbless grasp of very similar technology. It’s a time-honored observation by pols and pundits to note that there’s a difference between campaigning and governing. “You campaign in poetry,” Mario Cuomo famously observed, and “you govern in prose.”
I think it’s fair to say that no president has been more confused on this basic point than Barack Obama. In fairness, the distinction between campaigning and governing has been getting blurrier for decades, but Obama has taken things to a whole new level. He eschews much of the nitty-gritty detail work of politics, preferring to give big speeches to friendly crowds. He even turned his presidential-campaign apparatus into a permanent independent political army to pressure the political world from outside the traditional two-party system.
And, so far, it’s failed. Organizing for America pulled out all the stops on gun control. They couldn’t even achieve Obama’s fairly humble goal of getting a vote in Congress — they didn’t even aim for a legislative win, just a vote. OFA has also worked tirelessly in the effort to get young people to sign up for Obamacare (the system will go into an actuarial death spiral if the young and healthy don’t buy more insurance than they need or want). It’s impossible to know exactly how that’s going, since the enrollment process has gone about as smoothly as a Miley Cyrus performance at the Vatican. But there are good reasons to believe that getting young people to vote as a feel-good exercise is a lot easier than getting them to write a check for insurance products.
While it’s fun to joke that the Obama administration relied on the best and the brightest Amish computer programmers available, there’s an important lesson here. A lot of people love politics because they love the excitement of campaigning. They love the feeling of shared effort, the strategizing, whatever. And because they know and love the politics, they think they know and love governing, too. But there are very different skill sets applicable to these very different worlds. On the campaign trail, shovel-ready jobs are everywhere. In the government, shovel-ready jobs are an inside joke. It’s a shame and a marvel that, five years into his presidency, Barack Obama still doesn’t understand that.
#page#‐ American Special Forces captured Abu Anas al-Libi, the al-Qaeda terrorist responsible for the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and set the stage for 9/11. Anas was snatched at his house in Tripoli. Justice delayed can be just fine. On the same day, another American raid — half a continent away, at the town of Barawe on the Somali coast — killed the bodyguards of a planner of the Westgate-mall attack, though the target escaped. We salute the enterprise and skill of our troops, and the resolve of President Obama in dispatching them. Such whack-a-mole must be a technique in any anti-terrorist repertoire. But we would have more confidence in it if the administration were not so feckless in dealing with proto-Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, or with established terrorist despots in Syria and Iran.
‐ The removal by the army of former president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt set off attacks on Copts all over the country in a sort of unofficial but determined jihad. What happened in Delga is symptomatic. The town is 150 miles south of Cairo, and Copts formed a third of the population of 120,000. Calls went out that Muslims in Cairo were under attack, “and everyone with a weapon” should save them from the Christian infidels. The result, as absurd as the calls themselves, was an attack on the Copts of Delga. In the course of several weeks of violence, pro-Morsi forces captured the town from the authorities; vandalized dozens of Coptic properties, including the 1,600-year-old monastery of the Virgin Mary; and drove out the bishop and well over a hundred families. Hani Iskander Thomas had owned a barbershop; a mob broke in, and beat and killed him. A video shows his body being dragged from the first floor, attached to a tractor, and driven around the streets before burial. The Muslims of Delga then exhumed the corpse and kept on dragging it around. Homer describes Achilles tying the body of Hector to his chariot and dragging it around, but at least Hector had lost his life in combat. Far from anything epic, the lynching of Hani Iskander Thomas shows only how barbarity persists down the ages.
‐ If there’s one thing Barack Obama is proud of, it’s being different from George W. Bush. That, he is. Bush sent Nowruz greetings — i.e., New Year’s greetings — to the people of Iran. When Obama came in, he sent such greetings to “the people and leaders of Iran.” He referred to the country as “the Islamic Republic of Iran” — just the way the theocrats want it. Ordinary Iranians, and certainly the democrats, have a different view of their country. In his recent speech to the United Nations, Obama twice referred to the head mullah, Khamenei, as “Supreme Leader.” There are all sorts of things an American president must do for the sake of diplomacy. This is not one of them.
‐ Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s instantly famous charm offensive did indeed charm Christiane Amanpour of CNN. Rouhani shares the view of his regime that the Holocaust did not happen, or that if it did, not many died. She asked him whether he accepted the Holocaust for what it is. His answer in Farsi and its translation in English generated textual criticism. CNN has published a transcript that shows Rouhani to be a master of weasel words: He does not deny the Holocaust, exactly, but neither does he say it is a fact of history. Amanpour tried to make a scoop out of his ambiguity. On her CNN website she made out that he admitted that the Holocaust had happened. Fars, the official Iranian news agency, at once accused CNN and Amanpour of fabrication, putting words into Rouhani’s mouth. He does not believe in the fact of the Holocaust, according to the agency, and CNN and Amanpour should account for “untrustworthy and misleading coverage.” If it had been true that Rouhani accepted and deplored the Holocaust, of course, her report would have condemned him to spend the rest of his life in house arrest, or worse.
‐ Things are desperate in Greece, and Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-Nazi party, is a function of that despair, all very déjà vu. Nikos Michaloliakos, the 56-year-old party leader, enjoys the title of Führer. The party emblem is a warped swastika. Members, of whom there are 400,000, do the straight-arm salute. “Blood, honor, Golden Dawn,” they like to chant. Golden Dawn holds 18 of the 300 parliamentary seats and ostensibly has been going from strength to strength, becoming the third most popular party in the country and positioned to challenge and even bring down the governing coalition. Until, that was, a Golden Dawn member assassinated in the street Pavlos Fyssas, a hip-hop artist and so, by definition, a leftist. Wearing balaclavas and body armor, the police arrested 18 prominent party members — lawmakers among them — and have a list of some 30 more to round up on a charge of belonging to a criminal organization. A legal report links Golden Dawn to the murder of Fyssas, another killing, three attempted murders, and numerous assaults. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras vows to wipe out Golden Dawn. His grandfather committed suicide in the war, when the German swastika flew on the Acropolis. Should the Golden Dawn parliamentarians be acquitted, Samaras may have committed political suicide.
‐ A lawyer from Finland, Kari Silvennoinen, flew into Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport for a meeting with a partner, Vasily Davydov (they are pursuing a criminal case to be heard in Finland). Whereupon Silvennoinen was arrested and held overnight without food or water. He was allowed to call Davydov, who in turn spoke to the border guards, concluding that they just wanted to scare the two of them off the case. But there’s more to this. In Soviet days the Finns practiced Finlandization, a policy of appeasing their demanding neighbor. Not Kari Silvennoinen: He is the author of The Soviet Guilt and Soviet War Crimes against Finland, titles that speak for themselves. Putin has certainly found a target who can understand his gesture.
#page#‐ Kenyan soldiers and doctors, cataloguing the victims of the al-Shabab attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, were stunned by the savagery of the terrorists. Hostages were hung from hooks; children were stabbed with knives; eyes, ears, noses, digits, genitals were gouged out or ripped off with pliers. This tracks the behavior of al-Shabab’s allies and soulmates, al-Qaeda, wherever they took control in Iraq (bestial behavior that finally turned local Sunnis against them). Islamo-terrorists claim to be defending Islam. That is a question for theologians. What they manifestly believe in is death — the death of others, followed by their own, with an erotic absorption in the process. The only words that seem appropriate are Julia Ward Howe’s: “Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel.”
‐ “‘If only you had been a boy,’ my mother complained,” Nancy Verhelst, 44, related before her euthanasia in Brussels on September 30, explaining what she experienced as the theme of her childhood. As an adult, she underwent sex-change surgery. It was botched, and the cause of her subsequent depression was no more mysterious than the cause of the longstanding sexual-identity crisis that set in motion the events of her painful life and her responses to them. She felt unloved as a girl and harmed by the operation that turned out badly. Each event led her to make a decision against her body, and the doctors in both cases respected her autonomy. What they lost sight of was her self.
‐ Guido Barilla, chairman of the eponymous pasta firm, caused a kerfuffle when he said that he would not choose to use a gay couple in company advertisements, “not out of a lack of respect, but because I do not see it like they do. [My idea of] family is a classic family, where the woman has a fundamental role.” He said that he welcomed gay customers but affirmed that those who dislike his views could always “eat another pasta.” The usual firestorm of enraged wailing erupted, and Barilla backed down in the face of boycott threats. The takeaway from the Barilla megillah is an unfortunately familiar one: Suggest that a family needs a wife and mother and you are in the crosshairs.
‐ Elevating food preparation to the status of free speech, a restaurant in Chicago quotes the First Amendment on its website, where the owners argue that what they mean to express by their introduction of “The Ghost,” as they call their new burger special, isn’t what their critics think and, besides, even if it were, they’re allowed to express it. Ingredients include goat shoulder and red wine. Topping the dish is a Communion wafer that the restaurant says is unconsecrated. The burger is named after a Swedish band whose vocalist goes by the name Papa Emeritus II. Members of the band dress as Catholic cardinals to round out the act, a piece of heavy-metal boilerplate involving Satanism and the desecration of symbols the church holds sacred. Anyone tempted to shower the insipid performers with salt, as in exorcism rituals, should save it for their eponymous burger, which is equally tasteless.
‐ Vo Nguyen Giap, a Vietnamese Communist general, commanded the siege of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and the Tet offensive in 1968. The latter, unlike the former, was a failure on the ground — a grand attack, crushingly repulsed. But Giap understood that the battlefield included the minds of his enemies. So a war-weary United States believed that it, like France, could never prevail; we would leave Vietnam for good seven years later. Giap’s victories were in the service of Communism, the ideology he embraced in the 1930s. Its triumph was followed by floods of refugees, first to South Vietnam, then to the United States, or to death in the South China Sea. Two centuries ago Byron hoped that the fall of Napoleon would teach the world to scorn charismatic pseudo-liberators. “That spell upon the minds of men / Breaks never to unite again.” But the spell has been rewoven many times. Dead at 102.
‐ Tom Clancy was a hit in Ronald Reagan’s White House before he became a hit with the public — the president called The Hunt for Red October a “perfect yarn,” and his personal endorsement helped launch a remarkable literary career. A native of Baltimore, Clancy was an insurance salesman in rural Maryland who had a passion for military hardware. It took a specialty publisher — the Naval Institute Press, loosely tied to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. — to sense his first novel’s potential and put it into print, at which point it found a fan in the Oval Office. The story of a Soviet naval officer and his defection in a state-of-the-art submarine, The Hunt for Red October is both a masterpiece of popular writing on a technical subject and a first-rate thriller. More bestsellers followed, such as Red Storm Rising, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, and Clear and Present Danger. Clancy eventually became a brand, with his name not only affixed to book covers but also connected to movies and video games. He was a baseball fan who became a part-owner of his beloved Orioles, a generous donor to medical research, and an American patriot. Dead at 66.
A Modest Bargain
Democrats and the press are portraying the partial shutdown of the federal government as a catastrophe for the nation and for Republicans. It is neither, and the Obama administration’s ham-handed responses to it — the refusal to negotiate, the unwillingness to follow the Clinton administration’s policy of cooperating with Republicans on reopening portions of the government, the petty closures of memorials — have undermined its ability to win a political victory.
There is, however, also no sign that the shutdown will force Democrats to make the concessions that some Republicans had hoped they could get — such as denying funds to Obamacare. Republicans may win tactical victories over who deserves blame for closed tourist attractions, but no strategic gains are in prospect for conservatism.
With no reason to panic or exult, conservatives should calmly assess the options now available to them. They should, as they do so, continue to eke out those tactical wins. They should, for example, continue to advocate bills to fund portions of the government, such as the National Institutes of Health, countering the spin about Republicans’ intransigence.
One option for Republicans would be to try to end the impasse by having the House pass a bill that funds the government while also including the Vitter amendment, which overrides a lawless executive ruling exempting Congress from the harsh treatment of its insurance benefits that would result from the letter of Obamacare. It would be hard for the Democrats, even with the assistance of the press, to stand for keeping the government shut down in the name of congressional compensation. If they folded, Republicans would score a PR win from the shutdown.
An alternative that appears to have the support of Speaker John Boehner is to negotiate a “grand bargain.” Republicans would get tax reform, entitlement reform (including changes to Obamacare), and other desired reforms; Democrats would get something they want, such as temporary increases in spending above sequestered levels; and Congress would pair these policies with measures to fund the government and raise the debt limit.
The politics of this adventure seem impossible: The parties are just too far apart on these issues. We very much doubt that Democrats would accept any serious structural entitlement reform, such as premium support for Medicare or reducing the growth rate of initial Social Security benefits. The entitlement reforms they might accept aren’t worth the tax increases they would want in return.
A modest bargain makes more sense than a grand one. Democrats would get a temporary increase in spending, and in return Republicans would get a delay of the fine on people without health insurance. Depending on the amount of spending involved, that deal could be a good one for Republicans. It would be a successful act of resistance to the least popular part of an unpopular law, and would set a precedent for delaying or neutering other parts of the “law of the land” Democrats keep trying to insist is fixed in concrete. Democrats would probably resist, as many of them think the fines are central to the law’s operation. They might go along, however, if they are as confident as they claim to be that Obamacare is poised to become popular now that people are set to draw subsidies from it.
Of the options, the most promising seems to us to be the modest bargain, because the potential payoff — a delay in the mandate — would be more valuable than the Vitter amendment, and more likely than Democratic capitulation to a continued shutdown.
Wait it out; send the Democrats a government-opening bill that they would have a hard time blocking; or make a modest deal: Those seem to us to be the available options. In none of these cases would Republicans achieve a policy triumph for the ages. No strategy gets us there on this side of the next two elections. But any of them would be preferable to the current strategy of a lot of Hill Republicans, which appears to rely heavily on leaking negative comments about Senator Ted Cruz.
Defund, Delay, or Repeal
As noted above, Obamacare’s exchanges opened. It was appropriately rocky. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a bad piece of legislation, creating defective bureaucratic structures to implement policies based on dysfunctional theories. Whether the question is defunding, delay, or outright repeal, the ACA deserves to go — not because it is Barack Obama’s legislative centerpiece, not because Ted Cruz has promised to undo it, but because it is bad law that will make life unnecessarily worse for many Americans, including many least able to bear its burdens.
Those burdens are growing. Under the ACA, health-care spending is expected to rise significantly, even beyond the usual inflation in medical prices. President Obama’s economic advisers originally had calculated that the bill would reduce health-care spending by $200 billion a year, whence the president derived his indefensible conclusion that the bill would save the average family of four some $2,500 a year. Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services calculated that the ACA will not reduce health-care spending at all and will instead add about $70 billion per year in the immediate future. Estimates of the program’s expense are increasing. It will spend more than originally estimated, it will tax more than originally estimated, and its vaunted deficit-reduction benefits have been evaporating at a pace suggesting that, as many predicted, they will never come to pass. In 2010, the CBO projected that the ACA would reduce the deficit by $140 billion through 2019; today that projection is a mere $4 billion. The estimated tax increases in the bill have doubled. That rising price tag means higher costs for consumers as well as taxpayers: The average 27-year-old man buying health insurance on the ACA exchanges can expect to pay almost double what he had been paying before; the average woman of the same age, 62 percent more.
The difference between the increase in men’s rates and those in women’s rates is one of the more naked bits of ideology apparent in the bill. Women spend considerably more on health care than men do, and hence have paid higher health-insurance premiums. The architects of the ACA decided that this was not politically permissible, and so by fiat eliminated the difference, meaning a disproportionate increase in men’s rates. Likewise, because there can be only so much politically acceptable difference in prices paid by the young and the old, the young will pay much higher rates than they did before. The cost curve has indeed been bent — upward.
The entire structure of the ACA is dependent on the elevation of political considerations over reality. That begins with the mandate that insurance companies cover preexisting conditions, which puts them in the paradoxical position of taking future-directed action — providing insurance — in response to events in the past. From this mandate is born the individual mandate, since mandatory coverage of preexisting conditions creates a very strong incentive for people to forgo insurance until they get sick, upending the operating model of insurance. From the individual mandate comes the employer mandate. Each has its own set of perverse incentives, the worst of which may be the employer mandate’s creation of a powerful economic incentive for firms to hire part-time rather than full-time workers: By mandating coverage for those working 30 hours or more, the employer mandate makes part-time workers much more attractive.
A mandate here, a subsidy there, a tax and a surtax — the ACA is the perfect expression of the old progressive dream of government by expert administration. But its administration is looking decidedly non-expert, something the president himself has been forced to acknowledge in public. There were well-publicized problems in launching the exchanges, but Obamacare’s problems are conceptual and structural. For example, the program’s architects designed the income limits on its subsidies as hard cut-offs rather than gradual phase-outs. As Ed Driscoll points out, this means that a married couple earning $62,040 would face a $10,000 penalty for earning $1 extra — unless they get divorced. That’s a very high effective marginal tax rate.
In its demand for uniformity of insurance products, the ACA prevents the emergence of the sort of high-deductible catastrophic-care policies that, by more closely aligning health care with consumers’ out-of-pocket spending, have shown great promise in reducing prices. It undermines popular programs such as Medicare Advantage and contemplates deep cuts in providers’ fees, which will in turn reduce access to care for seniors on Medicare. It creates a central-planning authority, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, that is to operate through price-fixing but will be prohibited from advancing substantive reform.
The ACA rides roughshod over the religious liberties and consciences of Americans, including those who do not wish to be financially involved in the grisly business of abortion. The ACA offers a few very narrow and inadequate exemptions, but millions of Americans will be compelled under it to violate their most personal beliefs in the service of the Democrats’ abortion-and-contraception-above-all agenda. If there were no other objection to the bill, this would suffice to justify its repeal.
But there are other objections. Obamacare will not reduce Americans’ health-insurance premiums or the deficit. Universal coverage remains a pipe dream. The law deepens the third-party-payer problem that is the source of so much of what troubles our health-care system, thereby preventing the emergence of a real market for medicine and health insurance. It inserts the federal nose into every transaction — which is worrisome for many reasons, not least the government’s inability to keep private information private. With the IRS making its political enemies’ tax records public, look for the same to happen with medical records.
It’s not like health-care laws are sacred writ. The CLASS Act, the ACA’s long-term-care program, already has been repealed on the grounds of being actuarially unsound and fiscally irresponsible. One might easily say as much about the rest of the ACA. It should be repealed in toto. Short of that, delaying and defunding are appropriate as preludes to intelligent reform that does not rely on federal overseers to manage the marketplace as though Americans were mere chessmen to their grandmasters. Its defenders declare the law a fait accompli. But we have only begun to fight.