The title of this series is a work-in-progress. Perhaps intended consequences is better. Or predicted consequences. We might have to work on that, because President Obama and Congress are quickly proving to be either charlatans or fools (and it's just as likely they are both.)
As I noted here Wednesday, the negative reaction of the private sector to the schemes of the America's new health care central planners did not take long to materialize. In fact, reacting to Verizon's notice to employees that the regulatory and tax burdens of ObamaCare will result in a decrease in benefits due to increased corporate costs, I wrote:
[This] story will be repeated thousands of times in the coming months.
"Months" is turning out to be a slow-walk prediction. According to Bloomberg News, AT&T "will book $1 billion in first-quarter costs related to the health-care law signed this week by President Barack Obama."
American industry giants John Deere ($150 million), Caterpillar Inc. ($100 million), AK Steel Holding Corp. ($31 million), Valero Energy (up to $20 million), and 3M Co.($90 million) have also come out with their legally mandated earnings and costs estimates, and they ain't pretty. Overall, consulting firm Towers Watson estimates health-care costs may shave as much as $14 billion from U.S. corporate profits. Based only on AT&T's estimate — and the fact that corporations try to give the sunniest "negative" numbers legally possible to stockholders and the Securities Exchange Commission — I'm guessing Towers Watson will be upping that estimate down the line.
Why all the gloom and doom? Well, the corporate tax increases are one reason. Another, especially for Verizon and AT&T, is that the tax break those corporations got for crafting their own prescription drug plans for retirees was immediately eliminated in ObamaCare. So, without that tax break to the eeeeeviiiil corporations, they'll have to dump those folks into the inferior government-backed Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Multiply those actions by AT&T and Verizon by thousands and we'll get a "donut hole" blown through the rigged and sunny CBO ObamaCare cost projections. Why?
The Employee Benefit Research Institute notes that the tax break would have "cost" taxpayers $665 per person next year, but dumping them into Medicare will cost $1,209 per person. Nice going. This is what happens when you don't read the bill, or — more to the point — don't care what's in it as long as it centralizes government power.
This was all predicted by ObamaCare opponents, such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — most prominently at Obama's ballyhooed "Health Care Summit" a while back. Ryan said the cost curve would not bend downward, but upward. Obama blew him off. Reality now laughs in the president's face, and it's not at all funny.
But now Congressional Democrats are childishly stamping their feet. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has fired off a nasty letter to those companies. He's demanding they appear before his committee on April 21 to answer for answering to fiscal reality. The legal obligation of these companies to immediately and publicly estimate the fiscal impact of new legislation, Waxman says, "appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs."
"The Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers from leading U.S. companies, asserted in November 2009 that health care reform could reduce predicted health insurance cost trends for businesses by more than $3,000 per employee over the next 10 years," Waxman wrote.
That's the thing about "independent analyses." They are hard to control. As Bruce McQuain notes at the libertarian Q&O blog:
You’ve got to love it – Waxman’s strongest case is an association comprised of some CEOs who “asserted” – got that? “asserted” – that health care reform “could” – again, “could” – reduce cost trends.
In other words, instead of actually doing the work of checking with authoratative sources that could have actually run the numbers and vetted the requirements of the law, he, Waxman, went with the assertions of a bunch of CEOs because they said what he wanted them to say. Reminds you a bit of the IPCC, doesn’t it?
Actually, it reminds me of government bullying — the kind the left decries as McCarthyism. Waxman is going to haul these CEOs before his committee and berate them for telling the fiduciary truth they are required by law to tell. He'll be, in essence, bullying them to lie about what the real-world impacts of ObamaCare will be on American companies — and, naturally, the Americans who work for those companies ... otherwise known as us.
What Waxman will actually be doing, however, is highlighting the kind of fraudulent and fantastical accounting that only government can get away with. How dare these corporations defy the word of Obama and Pelosi and Reid and Waxman that the laws of economics are what the government says they are! If we say ObamaCare will reduce costs, they will. THEY WILL!!!! Who are you to say different?! And I'm going to use the power of government to set you straight.
Awesome. This is today's America: The private sector dragged before Congress and berated to agree they believe in the Tooth Fairy.
I'd love one of those CEOs to ask Waxman what color is the unicorn he rides to work each day. I'll settle for: "Have you no sense of decency, sir."
This week's RedBlueAmerica column for Scripps-Howard delves into the question we've argued here at great length. (For the record, I don't particularly care for the headline, but neither Joel nor I have the last word on those matters.)
Here's Joel's take, in brief:
Many conservatives are no doubt sincere, if a bit hysterical, when they warn that the health reform law impedes the liberty of Americans. But they're working from a curiously abstract notion of "freedom." They believe that a larger government inevitably leads to a less-free citizenry -- and they can, in many cases, be correct. The new law, however, will liberate millions of Americans from the threat of illness and bankruptcy that makes them less able to escape debt, leave bad jobs or start new businesses.
If the Congress can command Americans to buy health insurance -- making insurance a condition of citizenship, equivalent to registering for Selective Service -- then there is nothing the government cannot command or restrict. Whatever one thinks of the draft, which the United States ended four decades ago, at least national defense is a clear, enumerated constitutional duty of government. Providing access to health care is not.
The bill Congress passed and President Obama signed on March 23 undercuts Americans' freedoms in other ways, both overt and insidious.
Turns out, this is a running theme among the commentariat this week.
Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times:
In September, Obama got into a semantic argument with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who noted that requiring all Americans to pay premiums for a government-guaranteed service sounds an awful lot like a tax. "No. That's not true, George," Obama said. "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it's saying is . . . that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you." Stephanopoulos invoked a dictionary definition of a tax: "a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes." Obama laughed off the idea that a dictionary might outrank him as the final arbiter of a word's meaning.
"George, the fact that you looked up . . . the definition of tax increase indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn't have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition."
OK, put aside your dictionaries. The legislation allocates $10 billion to pay for 16,500 IRS agents who will collect and enforce mandatory "premiums." Does that sound like the private sector at work to you?
David Harsanyi in the Denver Post:
Surely it is inarguable that the debate over a national mandate epitomizes the central ideological divide in the country today.
In broad terms, there is one side that believes liberty can be subverted for the collective good because government often makes more efficient and more moral choices.
Then there is the other side, which believes that people who believe such twaddle are seditious pinkos.
And judging from nearly every poll, the majority of Americans disapprove of President Barack Obama and his defining legislation. Whether they understand the mugging of freedoms in legal terms or in intellectual terms or only in intuitive ones doesn't matter.
Richard M. Esenberg, professor of law at Marquette University, explained the consequences of Obamacare like this: "If Congress can require you to buy health insurance because of the ways in which your uncovered existence (affects) interstate commerce or because it can tax you in an effort to force you to do (any) old thing it wants you to, it is hard to see what -- save some other constitutional restriction -- it cannot require you to do -- or prohibit you from doing."
Andrew Busch at the Ashbrook Center:
The leftist infatuation with Ben Franklin is abruptly over. Franklin’s warning that "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security"—quoted incessantly during the war on terror, back when there was one—has been conveniently forgotten. Apparently, the security of the nation against foreign attack is not sufficient reason to forego the "essential liberty" of affording habeas corpus to paramilitary forces engaged in war against the United States, but to degrade the liberty of the whole people, which is assaulted in a myriad of ways by Obamacare, is acceptable (even commendable) when the prize is the security of government-subsidized band-aids for people with incomes four times the poverty level.
Suffice to say, I'm pessimistic.
The Obama administration has set back relations with Israel to perhaps its lowest point in decades. Go to Commentary's Contentions blog, read for 30 minutes, hit "Previous Entries," repeat as necessary, and Google some other stuff for details. (This is an Instamonkey post. Get your own damned backstory! But I need to provide just a bit ...)
Jackson Diehl at The Washington Post describes the Obama policy towards Israel as appearing "ideological" and "vindictive." Proof: Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has had to bascially sneak in and out of town for meetings with the president. No joint press conference. No public, quickie sit-down in front of the Oval Office fireplace, as is the minimal standard for other world leaders calling on the White House. No post-meeting statement. Even news photographers were banned. If we get any images at all (unlikely), they'll be ones taken by White House staff.
Jackson is not happy, and in his must-read piece, I was taken aback by this bit:
Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length.
At this point, I think the leader of America's most vital ally in the Middle East wishes he could get Obama's brand of "arms length" treatment toward a Third World dictator who is not "needed for strategic reasons."
Isn't there just something wrong with the fact that Obama has no qualms about yukking it up with the likes of Chavez, but doesn't seem to have time to display even routine public respect and decorum with allies like Israel and Great Britain? As Diehl says: "That is something the rest of the world will be quick to notice and respond to."
And not favorably toward America's interests.
Asked if insurance companies might raise their rates on health coverage and blame the increases on the new health-care bill, Pelosi said that the insurance companies should be aware that they’re not “automatically included” in the new health exchanges the bill creates.
“Unless they do the right thing, they’re not going in,” she said. “They will be relinquishing the possibility of having taxpayer-subsidized consumers in the exchange,” she said.
But don't let anyone spread lies about how ObamaCare is a government take-over of the health care industry. No sir.
What if an insurance company has to raise rates but doesn't blame it on the new health care bill? Does that qualify as doing the "right thing"? Even if the rate increases are due to the health care bill, as the Congressional Budget Office said? Is an insurance company on Pelosi's black list merely for raising rates to cover rising costs? Or is it only put in exile if it dares to tell the truth about why its costs are rising? The fact that this is now a legitimate public policy question is rather depressing.
In related news, Verizon just today sent a memo out to its employees saying its analysis of the plan means its insurance rates will go up, so it will probably have to start cutting benefits in the near future. That story will be repeated thousands of times in the coming months. So much for Obama's promises that "if you like your health plan, you can keep it."
More from Dionne's post:
Under the new law, the health exchanges Pelosi referred to will be created in 2014. By pulling customers together, they will give individuals and companies a better chance of bargaining when they buy health insurance. Because the exchanges are expected to serve millions of new customers, insurance companies will want to be part of them.
That's a pretty loose use of the word "want." More accurately, the insurance companies will be have to dance to Pelosi's tune or go out of business — and I'm betting on both happening. To hell with economic forces! Washington will dictate how much health care costs in this country now. I'm betting on that plan not working out so well, either. I'd rather not win that bet, but I have the history of the failure of centrally planned economics on my side.
Richard Adams makes a very good point at NoLeftTurns:
Every bill has unintended consequences. That does not mean one can't predict what that are likely to be, if one pays attention. People don't like being told what to do, and will, if possible try to find ways to avoid laws.
He goes on to suggest what one such predictable consequence might be. Who says nationalizing health care won't be good for the economy? It just depends on what sector of the economy you're talking about...
My boss Sam Karnick, from his perch at The American Culture, examines the cultural implications of health care reform. They aren't pretty:
(A) public without a strong understanding of what individual freedom really means and the reasons why it is precious has little defense against the ever-increasing encroachments of government—until something as obviously grotesque, wrongheaded, and overweening as this health care bill comes along.
That’s what makes this fundamentally an issue of culture, and it’s why those stubborn souls who persist in believing in individual rights must engage the culture, especially by wresting control of the public schools from the hands of the progressive myrmidons who have debauched it.
...(I)t’s clear that the real concern was that the option of personal choice was being taken away from individual citizens in this vital area of life. The power to control people’s health care, in addition to the hegemony over the one-sixth of the economy which it represents, conveys to the government an enormous amount of control over individual lives, a level of control surely unprecedented in this nation.
This is not regulation; it is rule. And the public finally realized that the current government does not intend to be gentle in its rule.
I don't really have much to add, except to say that the health care reform debate casts in stark relief, perhaps more than most people would like to admit, how there really are two Americas -- one that believes in the relative benevolence of the state and one that believes in its relative malevolence. One needn't be an anarchist to hold the view that the size of the state is inversely proportional to the size of the citizen. Bigger state, smaller citizens. Bigger machine, smaller cogs.
The legal challenges to ObamaCare are sure to come, on many grounds. It is not wise for opponents of this monstrous usurpation of liberty to get their hopes up — though I find it interesting that the list of state Attorneys General lining up to challenge the mandate to purchase health insurance continues to rise.
However, Ed Morrissey over at HotAir has unearthed an interesting memo that the sacrosanct Congressional Budget Office issued in 1994, the last time government-run health care was a hot political topic:
A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. An individual mandate would have two features that, in combination, would make it unique. First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.
Federal mandates typically apply to people as parties to economic transactions, rather than as members of society. For example, the section of the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires restaurants to make their facilities accessible to persons with disabilities applies to people who own restaurants. The Federal Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from paying less than the federal minimum wage. This prohibition pertains to individuals who employ others. Federal environmental statutes and regulations that require firms to meet pollution control standards and use specific technologies apply to companies that engage in specific lines of business or use particular production processes. Federal mandates that apply to individuals as members of society are extremely rare. One example is the requirement that draft-age men register with the Selective Service System. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is not aware of any others imposed by current federal law.
Note the CBO said a mandate on conditions of citizenship, such as what ObamaCare would impose, are "extremely rare," not unprecedented. Yet other than Selective Service registration, the CBO cites no other examples. If they are so rare, one would also think them memorable, and perhaps another example or two would have come up in the evaluation. Interesting. And, of course, one difference between the Selective Service registration and the forced purchase of health insurance is that the former is cost-free.
Yes, I've anticipated the argument that American citizens are forced to pay income taxes — with the targets of the tax and the amount dictated by ever-changing statute. And I'm sure that will be a counter-argument we'll hear in court from ObamaCare defenders. But one may note that the income tax itself was not instituted by mere statute, but by a constitutional amendment. So the people, in a manner enormously more difficult than the way ObamaCare was rammed through, approvingly validated the income tax by making submission to the tax a constitutional requirement of citizenship.
Alas, that was a different time, when even the progressives understood that epochal proposals remaking America and the relationship between the citizen and the state required overwhelming public validation. Today's progressives are of a different breed.
(HT: Daniel Foster)
Ken Thomas at No Left Turns offers some words of admonishment -- followed by encouragement -- to conservatives angry about Sunday's health care vote:
Impeach Obama for signing an executive order he knows is unconstitutional? What about Bush signing McCain-Feingold into law, while saying he believed it unconstitutional? Republicans need to convince themselves about the Constitution before they can preach it to others.
Republicans will find it easy to demagogue health care when it becomes clear that conservatives' warnings about the costs to Americans' freedom and the nation's fisc were not overblown after all. But the easy way isn't always the right way.
Breitbart TV has posted a helpful video outlining a promise Obama made about his health care plan no fewer than 20 times. And it's quite the specific promise: "We're going to work with your employer to lower your premiums by $2,500 per family, per year."
I don't know what's more ridiculous/frustrating: (1) the idea that Obama believes it's the role of government to "work with your employer" on bringing down the cost of the health insurance plan your boss chose from countless plans; (2) the idea Obama can figure out a way to bring costs down by such a specific amount; or (3) the people who voted for him believe the government should do this and/or it is possible.
Mark Steyn laughs to keep from crying:
Longer wait times, fewer doctors, more bureaucracy, massive IRS expansion, explosive debt, the end of the Pax Americana, and global Armageddon. Must try to look on the bright side . . .
Well, I mean, I assume he was laughing when he wrote that.
Update: Really? Really?
Crooks and Liars explains the "10 Immediate Benefits of (Health Care Reform)." Here's the first: "Adult children may remain as dependents on their parents’ policy until their 27th birthday."
Kill yourselves. Seriously. Just kill yourselves, you miserable parasites.
And, by the way, that C&L post lists only nine benefits... well, 10 if you're especially naive. I assume that's federal math.
Robinson Jeffers (1941)
At the risk of sounding too pessimistic, here are a few predictions of what will happen now that the House has passed HR 3590 by a vote of 219-212, and once President Obama signs the bill into law:
• Several states and thousands of individuals will sue to enjoin the federal government from enforcing the law. Most of those cases will fail. The Supreme Court will wound, but not kill, the law. The 10th Amendment will be effectively read out of the Bill of Rights. And even if the individual mandate is voided, it won't much matter when the vast majority of private insurers are regulated out of business.
• The Republicans will take back Congress in November, but the margins will be insufficient to mount a successful repeal effort. This will be a great disappointment to many voters, who will stay home in 2012. Unfortunately, those disappointed voters would have voted for Obama's opponent.
• The regulations will be worse than anyone can imagine. The result will be to force out of business all but two or three of the largest health insurance companies in the United States. Those companies will eventually be protected by future legislation aimed at "fixing" the flaws of HR 3590. But in practice, the companies will be government proxies.
• American quality of life and lifespan will fall slightly over the next 30 years. The reason lifespan won't decline significantly is that federal regulators will successfully tax or ban substances or foods it deems harmful to Americans' health -- which, we will soon learn, is an expensive commodity indeed.
• The United States will never have a single-payer system quite like that of Canada or the United Kingdom. Rather, it will be a two-tiered system that still gives the very wealthy and well-connected access to care and treatment that the vast majority of Americans simply cannot receive.
• The new system will not reduce the deficit. It will not cut waste, fraud or abuse. Congress will need to pass new laws against new crimes that innovative con men and swindlers will invent to exploit or circumvent this law.
• There will be other unintended consequences nobody today can imagine. How do I know? Because it was ever thus.
• Most Americans will shrug and try to go along to get along. We'll be a poorer people, if not in wealth, then in spirit. I likely won't live to see the worst of it -- ironically, I'll have the feds to thank for it, I'm sure -- but my kids will.
Some glib fool on Twitter wrote after the vote: "It sounds so calm outside! And America is still here!" Of course it is, you preposterous ass. Freedom ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
Update: David Frum offers a few bullet points of his own in a post titled, perhaps appropriately, "Waterloo." The gist:
It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:
(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.
(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.
So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:
A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.
At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.
Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.
This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.
Frum wonders if compromise was possible. Compromise may have been possible, but hardly desirable. The result would have arrogated to the benefit of the state. "So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry," Frum writes. "For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours." Frum should perhaps have a drink and find some nerve. What happens going forward, even if defeat is inevitable, requires men of character and possessing strong stomachs. I strongly doubt that David Frum is such a man.
Rick Moran has a pretty shrewd take on the Tea Party movement over at Rightwing Nuthouse (though I wish he had an editor to correct his minor factual errors as well as some of his grammatical infelicities). I don't agree with the analysis all the way, but I think he's on to something here:
Misinformed? Yes. Shallow? An understanding of the Constitution that runs a mile wide and a centimeter deep. Fearful? Beyond being manipulated by the cotton candy conservatives on talk radio, the fear of change is so ripe you can smell it in many sections of the country.
I’m not talking about Obama-type change. I’m talking about the undercurrent of change that constantly runs through history and that occasionally, breaks ground in a flood that, when it ebbs, reveals a much altered landscape. Most people who inhabit such a place are not prepared for, nor can they manage the seminal changes that have made the familiar, unfamiliar.
America has been undergoing a radical change for more than 20 years. Our entire economy has flipped from being industrial-based to service-based, with the consequent changes in wages, lifestyle, and mores occurring faster than many can absorb. The old moorings by which most of us clung have been torn away and some have been let adrift — strangers in their own land.
The catalyst that revealed this was the financial crisis and the growing realization that recovery will be a slow, painful process no matter whether we stupidly try to spend our way to prosperity or cut taxes and risk even higher deficits, thus stifling growth. Millions of jobs are gone and it will take years to recreate the kind of economy where anyone who wants a job can get one.
With all of this happening, can you blame the tea partiers for grasping at the one talisman that has served as a steadying influence on America for 222 years? The Constitution as legal document and patriotic connection to our past is as a life buoy tossed to a drowning man. Given that there are far worse symbols upon which citizens could tie themselves — including the Communist Manifesto as some of the anti-war protestors appeared to have embraced — you would think that critics would grant tea partiers a little slack in their choice of iconic American notions to idolize.
That last is a bit naive, I think. The Constitution of the Tea Party movement is a decidedly unprogressive document. What right-minded 21st-century American could possibly take such a thing seriously? I guess we'll find out soon enough.
That's the headline the Boston Herald put on my op-ed, which casts a cold eye on the recent mass-firings at a Rhode Island high school:
It’s true that some schools are so hopeless and the teachers so inept that mass firings and shutdowns are the only solution. But isn’t that for local authorities to decide?
Firing every teacher from a struggling Rhode Island high school is a spectacular display of what passes for accountability in education these days. But the controversial decision by a New England school superintendent has more to do with buckling under unforgiving federal mandates than bucking the status quo and boldly asserting local control.
Kindly read the whole thing.
It's almost getting tiresome to me, this picking on Peggy Noonan for her naivete concerning Barack Obama. Almost. She's coming around to the truth of Obama's hard leftism and the phoniness of his HopeyChange campaign rhetoric slower than my quest to lose that extra 20 pounds I've been carrying around for five years. At some point, I expect Noonan's BS meter to finally redline, and read a column in which her great talents are righteously unleashed on Obama. But no matter The One's transgression, so far, Noonan never takes on the persona of a woman scorned. And scorned she has been.
Alas, much of the right side of the blogosphere that still cares about Noonan's work has been aflutter about this week's column, titled "Now for the Slaughter." One would think such a headline means Hell fire follows. Alas, all we get the flicking of a Bic. Noonan begins by accusing the Obama administration of being "bush league" (small "b") for blowing off a trip to Australia and Indonesia so the president can stay in town to
shepherd through bribe and threaten for passage his health care debacle. After Gibbs made the announcement this week ...
The reporters didn't even provoke or needle in their questions. They seemed hushed. They looked like people who were absorbing the information that we all seem to be absorbing, which is that the wheels seem to be coming off this thing, the administration is wobbling — so early, so painfully and dangerously soon.
Nice of you to notice, Peggy. You noticed that this week? It's not like Obama's approval ratings went south from its great heights just yesterday. And this is your first observation that the press has been merely "absorbing" information from the administration, rather than reporting and questioning? Oh, well. Many of us "absorbed" the wheels coming off this administration for some time. At least Peggy was cogent enough to recognize that Bret Baier's interview with Obama the other night was the exception to the rule of reverential press treatment of our president.
It revealed [Obama's] primary weakness in speaking of health care, which is a tendency to dodge, obfuscate and mislead. He grows testy when challenged. It revealed what the president doesn't want revealed, which is that he doesn't want to reveal much about his plan. This furtiveness is not helpful in a time of high public anxiety.
No kidding. Welcome to the reality based community, which has noticed Obama's tendency to dodge since the campaign days. Noonan was amazed that the excellent Baier, who would not be bullied or filibustered, pressed Obama to concede "that no, he doesn't know what's in the bill right now."
It is still amazing that one year into the debate this could be true.
Really. Really? Has Noonan even read her own newspaper's editorial pages in the last two months? Or even in the last week? Obama has never cared what's actually in the health care bill. That's why for all his talk in the Baier interview of the Congress voting on "his" bill, it's never been his bill. It's been Harry Reid's bill. It's been Nancy Pelosi's bill. It's been the bill of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. All that matters is that the government becomes Master and Commander over 1/6th of the U.S. economy. The rest is merely details down the line — the kind of details that exact how, not why, politicians and bureaucrats exercise the power that comes with this take-over.
Noonan notes that "throughout, Mr. Baier pressed the president."
I have a new op-ed in the Sacramento Bee arguing against the Common Core Standards Initiative, which sounds like a great idea until you realize that President Obama wants to use it as leverage to further centralize education policy.
Here's the gist:
The standards are billed as “voluntary,” but that’s a joke. The Obama administration has already announced plans to make $14 billion in federal Title I funds and another $15 billion in future Race to the Top grants contingent on states adopting the national standards. In short, the standards would be as “voluntary” reporting personal income to the IRS, regulating the drinking age, or maintaining the speed limit. Just try to opt out and see what happens.
The standards are also supposed to be “flexible,” but it’s difficult to see how. The draft reading and math requirements include detailed, year-by-year prescriptions for every child, regardless of ability. A student who struggles with reading, writing, or arithmetic would have an even tougher time keeping up, as teachers would face mounting pressure to cover all the material in federally sanctioned lesson plans.
Of course, that assumes the final standards won’t be homogenized and dumbed down to the point they would be considered “high standards” in name only. Judging by history, that’s probably a bad assumption.
One thing’s for sure: transforming common core standards into a common curriculum would turn an already contentious policy issue into a brawl as bruising and divisive as the fight over health care reform. Where health care is about our bodies, education is about our children’s minds.
Obviously, you should read the whole thing. (Try not to be scared off by the mugshot.)
And while you're at it, check out the new School Reform News Web site at the Heartland Institute. In the coming weeks, we'll be introducing daily content, and weekly interactive and multimedia features, including polls, videos and podcasts.
Update: Cato's Neal McCluskey writes at NRO:
All kids are different. They mature at different rates, have different interests, and face different obstacles. In light of this, it simply makes no sense to try to force them all to learn the same thing at the same pace. It’s something that most conservatives — who recognize the primacy of the individual — fully understand, yet Finn asserts that it’s liberals who oppose a single standard for all.
If that’s so, then why aren’t more liberals supporting widespread school choice — the key to ending special-interest control of education and enabling unique kids to find schools specializing in their needs — the way conservatives are? Oh, right: Because it’s typically liberals who love big, one-size-fits-all government solutions to problems fundamentally rooted in a lack of freedom.
The CCSSI standards might look great on paper. But federally extorted standardization? That’s something conservatives should never embrace.
Meantime, Julie Ponzi at No Left Turns picks up a thread that I think deserves elaboration in a separate piece:
A perceived problem for those advocating on behalf of keeping standards at the state level has been the rancorous and, in many ways, ridiculous fight over history standards in Texas that has produced, in the words of Boychuk, "a politically correct mishmash." Any objective observer of the outcome in Texas would have to concede that their "solution" has been less than wonderful. As Ben says in the comment section under his piece, "including the Declaration of Independence in the social studies standards while excluding Thomas Jefferson is... confusing." It is also stupid and deserving of all the mockery and derision it is getting--however wrong-headed and mean-spirited some of it may be. (One way to avoid being called a fool is to avoid doing foolish things!) But this result is in no way--as left-wing critics eager to score points against the "rubes" in red states might hope--an argument in favor of national standards. It is an argument AGAINST them. Why would we want to nationalize that fiasco of a fight in Texas? For that is exactly what would happen.
More on the Texas textbook controversy soon.
Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard is convinced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to resort to the "Slaughter Solution," which we've had quite the discussion about over on this thread. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, the smart and funny Republican from Michigan, dubbed this end-run around the Constitution the "Slaughter House Rules." I like that moniker.
Anyway, Kristol outlines several quotes from House Democratic leaders reflecting their current talking points about how the American people don't care about "process," and how all of this drama is about "inside baseball" that — in the words of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) — is only interesting to Inside-the-Beltway reporters. Kristol didn't take the time to mention what I think is one of the best dismissive and contemptuous quotes from the mouth of Pelosi. About the shenanigans going on, the Speaker said today of the Slaughter House Rules:
It's more insider-and process-oriented than most people want to know. But I like it because people don't have to vote on the Senate bill.
Yes. That's nice. The people's representatives not actually voting on a bill that will fundamentally transform Americans' relationship to their doctors, and their relationship with the government, is peachy in Pelosi's eyes. I think the Hosue Democrats, or at least their leadership, are delusional. And I think this stuff does matter to "ordinary" Americans, whom the Democrats apparently think are too stupid to understand that a fundamental trust in a consensual government is being violated here. Kristol agrees.
Here the Democrats betray their contempt for the supposed simple-mindedness and short-sightedness of the American public. They also convey their vision of the American people living under the big government liberalism: We are to be passive consumers of government action, who accept what is done for us and to us in light of our perceived narrow short-term self-interest. We are not to think of ourselves as self-governing citizens with a stake in the process of constitutional self-government and a concern for the good of the whole.
This may be the outcome — turning citizens into consumers, self-government into the nanny state — that the Democrats would like to achieve. I don't think it's one the American people wish to accept.
I don't think so, either. I think Americans' political sophistication will manifest itself in November with an historic political reckoning. Hell, the public's political sophistication is manifesting itself now. But, if this scurrilous procedure occurs, it will be probably be too late for the public to make substantive corrections.
Yet, if the future Republican majority has to resort to such tactics to repeal the totality of this disaster, I'll support it — just this once. Because it would be sweet justice.
(Please, dear readers, don't nit-pick me on this post about the history of "deeming" and other such Congressional procedures throughout history. We've gone over that in the previous post. There are enormous differences, not the least of which is the fact that stuff like raising the debt ceiling are "resolutions," not bills that our constitution stipulates are quite different.)
(Hat tip: Cato's @ Liberty blog)
That, at least, is the conclusion of Abe Greenwald a Friday post at Commentary's Contentions blog titled "Democracy only works if you use it." Greenwald, like me, used Charles Krauthammer's latest column, but to make a different point.
Dr. K notes the contentiousness of today's political debate and writes: "Hail the untidiness. Hail democracy. Hail the rotation of power. Yes, even when Democrats gain office." Even though, as Krauthammer writes, "it’s hard to recall a more informed, more detailed, more serious, more prolonged national debate than on health care reform," what does that matter when the Congress and the president are not listening to the people? As Greenwald writes:
All of the fighting, even the polarization, would be easier to hail if the Democrats were not sidestepping it. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are seeking to change the fundamental nature of the country, not by triumphing in rigorous debate, but rather by exploiting a procedural loophole that would allow them to act against the will of the people.
The citizens of this country have historically enjoyed a unique level of influence on their government. But we are now spectators before whom a cadre of floundering ideologues seeks to sever the trusts that make consensual governance consensual. The Democrats lost the public debate. Ask them if they care.
What I put in bold above is what is so troubling to me. Greenwald points to a recent statement by Nancy Pelosi that reflects her utter disregard — contempt, really — for the opinion of the American people as reflected in the polls and the election of several candidates who ran against the agenda of her caucus and Obama.
We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health care reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit.
Is that really how our constitutional republic is supposed to work? That if the barriers to an agenda stand in the way — also known as checks and balances — those with a temporary hold on power are to ignore them, subvert them and (if necessary) "pole vault" over them? Previously in the entire history of this country, if you ain't got the votes for a major piece of legislation or "reform," you move on. That's what Bush and the Republican Congress did in 2005 regarding Social Security reform. Rigging the rules, coming up with endless schemes to get your way — including the "Slaughter Solution" to consider the Senate version of the bill passed without ever voting on it as the constitution demands — makes a mockery of our form of government. It's tyranny with a sheen of democracy.
No president, no speaker of the House, should be able to subvert our checks and balances on government power because that president and that speaker say they think its for our own good. We are not children, and they are not our absolute rulers.
Beyond the question of whether ObamaCare is good for the people — and I believe it is not — is proceeding with such contempt for our constitution and the will of the American people good for the country? Does it foster respect for our form of government, or cynicism (which Obama famously said in his campaign was his "real" opponent)?
Obama, Pelosi, and Reid now believe they must pass ObamaCare by any means necessary, because somewhere along the way, the quest to get this done turned into a political suicide mission. Might as well get what you came for, then, and have your political death not be all for naught. It is now left to a handful of House Democrats to decide if they want to take down 200-plus years of what Americans have considered consensual government down with them. Because a "yea" vote not only ratifies ObamaCare, but sets a precedent that "by any means necessary" is now how this republic governs the people.
Surely, there are hard lefties (and even mainstream Democrats) unhappy with the state of America's continued war-mongering foreign policy more than one year after that swaggering, idiot cowboy left the Oval Office and a liberal Democrat (with a like-thinking Congress) settled into power. But the good doctor, like me, looks at wonder at the tranquility on the war-protesting stage.
Do you think if John McCain, let alone George W. Bush, were president, we would not see growing demonstrations protesting our continued presence in Iraq and the escalation of Afghanistan? That we wouldn't see a serious push in Congress to cut off funds?
Why not? Because Barack Obama is now commander in chief. The lack of opposition is not a matter of hypocrisy. It is a natural result of the rotation of power. When a party is in opposition, it opposes. That's its job. But when it comes to power, it must govern. Easy rhetoric is over, the press of reality becomes irresistible. By necessity, it adopts some of the policies it had once denounced. And a new national consensus is born.
Left unsaid by Krauthammer, and what needs to be said, is that there's a reason why the protests from those "out of power" have not materialized. Those out of power today have a sense of decorum and — OK, I'll say it — patriotism. Those out of power today don't just support the troops in some kind of vague sense. They realize that you can't really support the troops without supporting the mission.
But Krauthammer asks a great question: Where are all you smelly hippies! I guess we'll have to wait until ObamaCare dies to see them. ;-)
As I await the fusillade of approbrium ... please read the rest of Krauthammer's latest. Even you liberals. It's good stuff, and not nearly as snarky as my asides.
I've said it before, but in light of this column today by none other than Jonah Goldberg, I'll say it again: "Big business" and "big government" are two sides of the same coin, and it's a mistake for conservatives to side with one over the other. The problem again is the adjective, not the noun.
Here's Goldberg making a related point in USA Today:
The lesson here is fairly simple: Big business is not "right wing," it's vampiric. It will pursue any opportunity to make a big profit at little risk. Getting in bed with politicians is increasingly the safest investment for these "crony capitalists." But only if the politicians can actually deliver. The political failures of the Obama White House have translated into business failures for firms more eager to make money off taxpayers instead of consumers.
That's good news. The bad news will be if the Republicans once again opt to be the cheap dates of big business. For years, the GOP defended big business in the spirit of free enterprise while businesses never showed much interest in the principle themselves. Now that their bet on the Democrats has crapped out, it'd be nice if they stopped trying to game the system and focused instead on satisfying the consumer.
This also relates to the arguments we had here and at Joel's place about the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen's United campaign finance case. If you're going to inject politics into business by way of regulation, it's only natural that business will seek to inject itself into politics to protect its interests. Hence: "Vampiric" big business.
I've been writing lately about the centralization of education under the Obama administration. Nothing is available online at the moment, but it should be real soon now. The problem is, centralization and bureaucratization -- two horrible words -- lead to rigidity and... well, stupidity.
Joel Kotkin, writing in Forbes, offers a trenchant critique of Barack Obama's centralizing tendencies:
From health care reform and transportation to education to the environment, the Obama administration has--from the beginning--sought to expand the power of the central state. The president's newest initiative to wrest environment, wage and benefit concessions from private companies is the latest example. But this trend of centralizing power to the federal government puts the political future of the ruling party--as well as the very nature of our federal system--in jeopardy.
Kotkin, who currently teaches at Chapman University, still considers himself a "social democrat." He would rather see government foster economic policies that work to the benefit of the lower and middle classes. Inasmuch as that requires government to get the hell out of the way, it's tough for me to disagree. Kotkin's latest book is "The Next Hundred Million: America at 2050."
That's the scuttle, according to Fox News.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday President Obama will soon propose a health care bill that will be "much smaller" than the House bill but "big enough" to put the country on a "path" toward health care reform. A senior administration official told Fox Obama's proposal will be introduced Wednesday.
"In a matter of days, we will have a proposal," Pelosi said, pointing to Obama's forthcoming bill. "It will be a much smaller proposal than we had in the House bill, because that's where we can gain consensus. But it will be big enough to put us on a path of affordable, quality health care for all Americans that holds insurance companies accountable."
Melody Barnes, a top Obama domestic policy adviser, did not dispute Pelosi's characterization of the new plan as smaller in scope - and quite possibly in cost - than either the House or Senate health care bills.
"It's going to be matter of drawing on these different ideas and coming up with the right proposal," Barnes said in an exclusive interview with Fox. "That's what my colleagues are working on. That's what they're talking with Congress about. We'll see what it looks like when the proposal is sent forward."
Asked how White House staff is putting the new proposal together, Barnes said they are "borrowing" from conversations at Thursday's health care summit.
"We're going to be borrowing from those conversations ... to come up with a bill that we hope can receive bipartisan support," Barnes said.
When asked if White House staff, as Press Secretary Robert Gibbs indicated Friday, would work on GOP ideas for health reform over the weekend, Barnes identified two: tort reform and allowing insurers to sell policies across state lines.
Well, it's about time. Obama could have saved himself a wasted year — and perhaps saved Ted Kennedy's Senate seat for the Democrats — by doing this sometime in early 2009. That's what president's normally do when they'd like to enact major reforms: They submit a bill that lays out clear priorities, and then lets Congress mess around with it, but not too much. Instead, he let Pelosi and Reid come up with a plan from scratch that turned into the monstrosity that polls show the American people are overwhelmingly against.
Time will tell if this last-ditch effort to save his No. 1 domestic priority will bear fruit. But if Obama is expecting this bill to be "fast-tracked," he's kidding himself. If Obama really wants what he presents Wednesday to be passed, it has to start winding its way through the legislative process all over again — which means it needs to be taken up by several relevant committees in both chambers, get debated, marked up, sent to the floor, debated again, voted on, and, if passed, have the differences reconciled in a conference committee. Oh, and it would have to survive a filibuster in the new 59-41 Dem/GOP ratio in the Senate.
Yes. Important legislation can be passed in a matter of a few weeks. The Patriot Act comes to mind, but that's hardly a model Democrats can defend considering they've complained for years that it was passed and signed into law too quickly (while nonetheless passing up nearly every opportunity to correct the abuses and errors they say are in the law). One could argue that The Patriot Act was an "emergency," necessary to equip the federal government to respond to the threat of international terrorism that hit home on 9/11. What's the emergency here to get health care reform passed? That Democrats might lose their majority in eight months? No sale.
Also, the devil will be in the details. While I'm encouraged to see that Obama appears to be on board with malpractice insurance reform and allowing interstate health insurance sales, those proposals have to be substantive. Allowing a Californian to purchase health insurance plans that people in Arizona buy is meaningless if California's rules for what must be covered in a plan still hold. And we must also see what is in Obama's plan. A lot of it could still be objectionable (in fact, I'm counting on it).
Will Obama's plan be honest in its cost, free of the trick of "scoring" it with 10 years of tax increases but six years of benefits to make it "revenue neutral" but phony? Will the Medicare "Doc Fix" be included so it reflects the real cost of "reform"? Those are key questions. And if it also includes the vast federal bureaucracies to micromanage the health insurance market from Washington, I don't see Republicans getting on board. Not now.
The irony is that if Obama proposed his own "much smaller" bill in February 2009, he'd probably have his "health care reform" already — and with enough Republican support to truly call it bipartisan. But only now, in an incredibly weak position, is Obama reaching his hand up toward Republicans asking to be saved — the same Republicans he treated with contempt for 12 months. I would not be surprised if Republicans decline to pull him up and save his political bacon ... and take their chances with voters in November while carrying the label of "obstructionists."
(HT: The Corner)
I'm sure Joel will have something to say about John Yoo's commentary in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, which begins thus:
Barack Obama may not realize it, but I may have just helped save his presidency. How? By winning a drawn-out fight to protect his powers as commander in chief to wage war and keep Americans safe.
Ooooh, that's a thrown gauntlet if ever I've seen one. Have at it, comrades!
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday has a magnificent editorial on Congress's efforts to undo the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC. (See posts here and here and from Joel here.)
Here's the Journal:
It didn't take long for Congress to try an end-run around the Supreme Court's landmark January decision in Citizens United v. FEC. With a campaign finance bill due to be introduced this week, Democrats are proposing to repeal the First Amendment, at least for some people.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland want to prevent any company with more than 20% of foreign shareholders from spending money in U.S. elections, ban TARP recipients and government contractors from campaign spending, and require CEOs to pop up at the end of television commercials to "approve this message" just like politicians.
Maryland Democrat Donna Edwards and Michigan Democrat John Conyers are going further and proposing to amend the Constitution so it bars corporate free speech. John Kerry and Arlen Specter are also on board for a First Amendment rewrite. At least these Constitutional amenders are honest about their goals and what it requires to be legal.
I don't object to barring TARP recipients from contributing to campaigns, actually. The idea has great potential for extension to other interests that rely almost exclusively on the government dole. (We can hope.) But the rest of it is foolish and would only be a genuine outrage if a constitutional amendment had any hope of ratification.
It's funny how people in power despise would-be challengers. The legislative reaction to the Citizens United decision is so transparently self-serving, it's hard to believe that voters would be dumb enough to buy in. As the Journal concludes:
Citizens United blew a huge hole in the campaign finance rules, and there is no Constitutional way to refill it. The campaign-finance restrictionists should give up their misbegotten and illegal regulatory model and try deregulation and transparency instead. States like Virginia and Utah have no contribution limits but require disclosure and are among the best-run states in such traditional hallmarks of good government as economic health and development. The First Amendment has worked pretty well for 230 years. We don't need a rewrite.
Not that legislators and other do-gooders won't try.
David Rivkin and Lee Casey, both veterans of the Justice Department under Reagan and Bush, explain the virtues of divided government in Monday's Wall Street Journal:
When the country is fundamentally divided over an important issue—such as health-care reform—the necessary consensus may not be achieved. Moreover, disputes about one issue may well pour over into another, making compromise and consensus even more difficult. But that is simply human nature.
All of this may well mean that change, even necessary change, is postponed or permanently thwarted. But that is the price of the remarkable stability of government we have.
Despite the perpetual griping about Washington's political gridlock, the American people appear instinctively to understand and accept the Constitution's consensus-based architecture and support the very sort of compromises the system is designed to secure.
What I love about this piece is that Rivkin and Casey write it in a way that seventh graders and congressmen could understand.
Two pieces of note in Friday's Wall Street Journal.
"Even six months ago, when the president's growing problems with the public were becoming apparent, the commission and its top appointees might have been received as fresh and hopeful—the adults have arrived, the system can be made to work," Noonan writes. "Republicans would have felt forced to be part of it, or seen the gain in partnership. Now it looks more as if the president is trying to save his own political life. Timing is everything."
Meantime, the Journal's editors look at the commission and render a far less charitable verdict:
Having proposed peacetime records for spending as a share of the economy—more than 25% of GDP this year and next—Mr. Obama now promises to make "the tough choices necessary to solve our fiscal problems." And what might those choices be? "Everything's on the table. That's how this thing's going to work," Mr. Obama said.
By "everything," Mr. Obama means in particular tax increases. The President vowed in 2008 that he wouldn't raise taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 a year, but that's looking to be as forlorn a hope as peace in Palestine.
The Journal suggests that Republicans should appoint "the most antitax members they can find in the hope that they will file a dissenting report." Beyond that, the burden is on Obama to cut spending.
As long as I'm on a Reason kick today, Nick Gillespie's hilarious takedown of Keith Olbermann is must reading.
The government-school establishment has said the same thing for decades: Education is too important to leave to the competitive market. If we really want to help our kids, we must focus more resources on the government schools.
But despite this mantra, the focus is on something other than the kids. When The Washington Post asked George Parker, head of the Washington, D.C., teachers union, about the voucher program there, he said: "Parents are voting with their feet. ... As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we'll have teachers to represent."
How revealing is that?
Public schools are supposed to exist for reasons other than simply to provide a jobs program for ed-school grads. The point of public education is to educate the public in the requirements of good citizenship. Who says the government alone is qualified to carry out that mission? And if it is in the public interest to ensure we teach our children well, why not give parents options to send their kids to the school of their choice?
Study after study shows that private schools tend to perform better than government-run schools; that more funding does not automatically equate to higher quality (because if you spend millions on shoddy ideas, you get shoddy results); that private school voucher programs in Wisconsin, Cleveland, Florida and Washington, D.C. are popular and, what's more, they're successful at giving "at-risk" and low-income kids first-rate educations. As Stossel writes: "Choice works, and government monopolies don't. How much more evidence do we need?"
Stossel will be discussing school reform tonight at 8 pm and 11 pm on his Fox Business Channel program with Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform and Kevin P. Chavous. Should be interesting.
(By the way, all of this relates to my new job, but I'm not speaking for my employers here. Just popping off on the subject as I've done for years and years.)
As Big Government's Capitol Confidential noted the other day, net neutrality is an issue that that is dear to the left, but has flown under the radar of most Americans. It's a rather technical and arcane subject, but can be summed up rather simply: Net neutrality rules enforced by the Federal Communications Commission would allow government bureaucrats to micromanage the Internet — thus sucking out the lifeblood of the digital economy and threatening the dynamism and freedom we've come to take for granted online.
Proponents of net neutrality claim that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) abuse their position as "gatekeepers" to the Web, and the public needs government to establish strict "rules of the road" to protect us from their scheming. Trouble is, the evidence of abusive practices by ISPs is anecdotal and thinner than an iPod mini. The digital economy is currently so dynamic and cutthroat that free-market forces work quickly to correct any undesirable hiccups that arise — all without any micro-managing of the tech industry by government.
Net neutrality advocates insist we need government to preserve an "open" and "free" Internet and claim the market has failed. But they cannot point to any market failures that make the Internet less open or free. In short, the Internet isn't broken. And it doesn't need a government fix. No matter. The left presses ahead, because the facts are irrelevant. The goal is to put government in charge of digital policy, taking away your freedom as a consumer to shape the Internet with your own choices.
This would stifle the enormous private investment and innovation that has created the modern Internet — in part, because industries would be relegated to playing "Mother May I?" with the FCC before releasing its latest innovation. And that's the best-case scenario. The Reason Foundation's Steve Titch argues that if government-enforced net neutrality rules were in place five years ago, the iPhone as we know it wouldn't exist. But on a more basic level, only a committed leftist could believe that more government involvement in ... well ... anything results is more economic dynamism and gains in personal freedom.
As noted in the video below, produced by The Heartland Institute, government isn't in the business of preserving freedom, but of exercising power to regulate industries and control people. And this is an important thing to keep in mind — especially since President Obama recently reiterated his commitment to have government enforce a net neutrality regime on your Internet.
The video takes apart Obama's statements on the subject in his Feb. 1 YouTube interview, and attempts to take the broader view so what's at stake can be better understood by non-techies.