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A Slight Case of Bastardy

The curious and irregular conception of Obamacare

Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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What the administration was trying to hide became clear as the first wave of cancellations rolled through the individual health insurance market last fall, and five to eight million American citizens were told that their existing policies had been canceled, and that any new ones they might get had much higher premiums, much higher deductibles, and a much narrower selection of doctors and hospitals from which to choose.

Democrats, besieged by angry constituents, began begging Obama to issue exemptions—at least until after the midterms had passed. At first, Obamacare partisans claimed that the old plans were “crappy,” and that the government had done people a favor by making insurance companies drop them, but they soon gave up on this tack in the face of derision, and began to admit that forcing people to buy narrower plans for a whole lot more money had been part of the plan from the start. “Obamacare proponents who live in the real world might admit that they planned to cancel people’s individual plans all along because kicking people off individual policies is at the heart of populating the health exchanges,” wrote Charles Krauthammer. “The more honest Obamacare advocates are in effect admitting that to make this omelet you have to break 8 million eggs.”

The lawmakers who passed Medicare, Social Security, and the Civil Rights Act had no need to suppress or to lie about their intentions. But with the Affordable Care Act, deception clearly was key. And along with the untruths of omission, there were also a number of sins of commission, like the 29 or so times Obama personally assured the public, “If you like your plan, you can keep it. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” well past the time where he ought to have known that it was a great deal more likely that you could not. But if this had been admitted at the time, the bill would never have passed Congress—and Obama by now might be an ex-president, writing his next volume of memoirs back in Hawaii, safe from the effects of the dread polar vortex, not to mention the political vortex at home.

Thus, the new health care regime in all its particulars was never really debated by Congress and was not ratified by the 2012 election, as pains were taken to make sure its true features were obscured. And saying it passed Congress fair and square only seems truthful if “fair and square” serves to describe a massive defiance of public opinion, startling levels of bribes, threats, and buyoffs, and the use of dubious sleight-of-hand measures to cancel the power of public opinion in the face of inconvenient election results.

The table was set for the last development in September 2008, when the financial collapse just seven weeks before the election turned the electorate almost en masse against the party in power, and a close contest into a nationwide rout. Democrats won the House with a 76-seat majority; in the Senate they held the magic number of 60, just enough to override a filibuster by Republicans and enact pretty much whatever they wished. At once, their eyes lit on health care, almost an afterthought in the campaign, but which overnight became their preoccupation. There was no great clamor for a health care overhaul—80 percent of the country seemed pleased with their coverage—but that barely mattered. For 80-plus years, the liberal base had longed for this moment, and for two years at least had the chance to do what it wanted. Passing a health care bill became the priority. A chance such as this was a once in a lifetime development. Who knew when it might come again?

The problem was that this did not please the voters, and the moment the outlines of the bill emerged in April 2009, they made their annoyance quite clear. There were peaceful though populous protests by the Tea Party, which emerged in opposition to the stimulus and other loose-money projects, and adopted this cause as its own. Democrats from purple and red states were raked over coals in angry town halls during the late summer recess. Obama’s numbers started to drop, sliding from the very high sixties into the middle, and then the low, fifties, and, as he slipped further, pressure on Democrats in the House and the Senate increased.

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