The Magazine

Obama’s Second-Term Agenda

Entrenching his first-term ‘achievements.’

Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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The process by which Obama-care was passed also exposed the president’s odes to bipartisanship as empty and disingenuous. In truth, it’s hard to imagine a process more partisan than the ugly one by which Obama-care was forced on the opposition party and an unwilling citizenry. It included colorfully named backroom deals to secure key votes (the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, Gator Aid). It involved a Grinch-like Christmas Eve vote in the Senate. Then, after even the voters of Massachusetts had seen enough and sent Republican Scott Brown to fill the Senate seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy, it involved circumventing the normal legislative process and passing Obama-care through “reconciliation”—a process intended to facilitate deficit reduction, not to launch a massive new entitlement. In the end, not a single Republican in either chamber of Congress voted for the overhaul. The whole sordid process was to bipartisanship as the 1962 Mets were to baseball greatness.

Obamacare has hurt the president’s popularity in another crucial way. Contrary to what Obama may have thought, Americans didn’t elect him for the job of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America”—as, in a moment of candor five days before the 2008 election, he pledged to do. It was during the health care debate that Americans got their first glimpse of what Obama had in mind when he uttered those words. 

As the citizenry quickly recognized, Obama-care is no ordinary piece of legislation. It’s an unprecedented 2,700-page onslaught on limited government, liberty, and the ideals of the American Founding. If not repealed, it will mean having the federal government—for the first time in our nation’s history—compel private American citizens to buy a product or service of the federal government’s choosing, simply as a condition of living in the United States. It will mean living in a more litigious society, as bureaucrats continually add to the 13,000 pages of Obama-care regulations already written. 

It will mean granting a frightening degree of unchecked, quasi-legislative power to the secretary of health and human services, who has already decreed—in flagrant disregard of religious liberty—that almost all Americans are hereby banned from buying health plans that don’t provide “free” coverage of birth-control pills, sterilization, and the abortion drug ella. It will mean granting similar quasi-legislative power to a 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board of Obama-care’s creation, which will order Medicare cuts that—as the law stipulates—cannot be overruled even by the people’s representatives through the normal legislative process. It will mean empowering scores of other newly created bureaucratic boards, commissions, agencies, and the like, few if any of which will be directly accountable to the citizenry.

In short, it will mean consolidating and centralizing unconscionable sums of power and money in Washington, as the federal government effectively takes control of the nation’s health care system—nearly one-fifth of our entire economy. 

Yet Obama-care isn’t designed to stop at “effectively” taking control. Obama has previously expressed his support for a government monopoly over health care (preferring to call it a “single-payer health care plan”). About a year before his breakout speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama said, “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care plan. .  .  . That’s what I’d like to see. But .  .  . first we’ve got to take back the White House, we’ve got to take back the Senate, and we’ve got to take back the House.” 

In the context of these remarks, it is perhaps easier to see why Obama was so determined to push Obama-care forward, to keep pushing after the public uprising during the 2009 August recess, and then to keep pushing even after the election of Scott Brown. Along the way, however, Obama was forced to relinquish the “public option,” the highly unpopular proposal to have government-provided insurance—subsidized through an almost bottomless supply of taxpayer funding—“compete” against a hamstrung private insurance industry on an uneven playing field. Eventually, the “public option” would be the only “option” left standing and—voilà!—single-payer health care would arrive on our shores.

The “public option” would have bred disastrous results. But without it, Obama-care isn’t even designed to succeed. This is of little concern to the president—for, once Obama-care has led to the collapse of the private insurance industry, the only option left will be a complete government takeover. It is, however, of grave concern to the American people. Describing Obama-care as passed, after the “public option” had been jettisoned, Yuval Levin put it this way in these pages:

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