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Stop the Train—We Want to Get Off

Aug 5, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 44 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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On April 17, 2013, Senator Max Baucus committed a classic Washington gaffe: He spoke the truth. Baucus, along with every other Democratic senator, had voted for Obamacare in 2010. Now, at a Senate hearing, he told HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius that when he looks at its implementation, “I just see a huge train wreck coming down.”

Jack Davis

Jack Davis

The train wreck has gathered momentum in the three months since Baucus spotted it. The Obama administration’s delay of the employer mandate and its abandonment of the enforcement of many of the rules governing the individual mandate have only made more obvious what a mess the exchanges​—​the central mechanism of Obamacare​—​will be.

If the exchanges are permitted to go into effect on January 1, 2014, there will be error, fraud, inefficiency, arbitrariness, and privacy violations aplenty. Isn’t the Obama administration concerned about that? Yes. Wouldn’t it be in their interest to agree to delay the exchanges? Not really. There’s a reason the administration is vehemently resisting delay. There’s a reason the Obama administration will claim, till hell freezes over, that all is well with the exchanges, or is going to be well, or would be well, if only the critics would be quiet.

Why? Because the exchanges are the beating heart of Obamacare. They are the mechanism for the government subsidies designed to make millions more Americans ever more dependent on big government. The Obama administration will no more acknowledge fundamental problems in the health care exchanges than Leonid Brezhnev would have acknowledged fundamental problems with Soviet central planning.

Which means the rest of us will have to point the problems out. And it means the rest of us will have to fight to prevent the exchanges from coming into effect. For now we can’t repeal Obamacare, but we can contain its damage and lay the basis for its rollback. This fall, the single best thing our elected officials can do in the service of containment and rollback is to delay the implementation of Obamacare’s exchanges and subsidies. Whether the attempt ultimately succeeds or falls short​—​fighting over the exchanges will highlight the coming train wreck.

After all, in politics, even train wrecks aren’t self-explanatory. Facts have to be presented to a candid world. One way to do this is through legislative fights, aggressively prosecuted. The Republican party can shine a spotlight on Obamacare, to bring its exchanges out of the shadows and help citizens see their harsh reality.

What’s more, Republicans have the opportunity and the obligation to explain this: The train wreck that is Obamacare isn’t some sort of capricious or unfortunate accident or a failure of poorly designed provisions of the law. Just as economic shortages were endemic to Soviet central planning, the coming Obamacare train wreck is endemic to big government liberalism. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

Big government liberalism produces train wrecks. But this formulation is too passive. Barack Obama is driving this train. A majority of Congress signed us up for the ride. A majority of our fellow citizens sanctioned it. So now we’re all passengers on a train whose journey won’t end well.

What can we do? Stop the train. Stop it dead in its tracks before more damage is done. If this means disrupting the quiet car that so many in the Republican establishment enjoy riding in, so be it. If this means making the backbench GOP rowdies in the café car get down to serious work, so be it. And if this means insisting that Republicans lay out a plan for new tracks that will take us safely in the right direction and to a better place, so be it.

But first we need to remind ourselves that in a free country, we aren’t condemned to being passive passengers on a train. In a free country, we shouldn’t even all be on the same train. So let’s stop this train .  .  . before it’s too late.

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