Scott Brown

Obama and the Democrats vs. the Voters

The Obama White House and Congressional Democrats are trying to treat the Massachusetts Senate election the same way they treated last summer’s town hall meetings — by ignoring it.

But it’s very unlikely to work this time around.

Last August, it was already apparent that Obamacare was in deep trouble with a skeptical public. Strong opposition to a government-heavy reform of American health care was on full display in countless meetings held in every part of the country. And it was also clear that the more Americans learned about what was being planned by the Democrats, the stronger the opposition got.

But last September, the White House chose to ignore the clear message that voters were sending. Instead, the administration decided to move ahead as fast as possible to jam the legislation through Congress before public opposition became overwhelming. To get the bills through the House and Senate, Democratic leaders resorted to unseemly vote-buying that further infuriated the public.

Popular outrage was in full boil by the time Democrats huddled at the White House with their union patrons in early January to carve out a special deal for collectively-bargained health-insurance arrangements. The Democrats had no intention of seeking out any more public input at that point. They were focused on reaching a “historic” signing ceremony.

But the voters found another avenue to voice their strong opposition to what was going on, in the person of Scott Brown, who ran for the Senate on the explicit promise to stop Obamacare in its tracks. His stunning and historic victory finally seemed to break through the fog of Democratic self-delusion. After the Brown win, every sane Democrat in Washington finally woke up to what was happening around the country: It’s not some vague anger at gridlock and inaction that is motivating the electorate. Americans are dead set against the government takeover of health care that the president has been pushing, and politicians who continue to pursue that agenda do so at their extreme peril.

Ever since January 19, the health-care debate has been a state of limbo, waiting for the president to make his next move.

This past weekend, he did. Just like last September, it’s full steam ahead for Obamacare. The president is not going to change anything. The health-care “plan” released by the Obama White House on Monday picks up where the Democrats left off in early January, as if nothing has changed but the month on the calendar.

The latest Obama plan would still pile a massive new health entitlement program on top of the unaffordable ones already on the books. The Congressional Budget Office says the cost of the coverage expansions in the Senate bill (upon which the president’s plan is based) will reach $200 billion annually by 2019 and increase 8 percent every year thereafter. The Obama plan would increase those costs with even more expensive promises. Over the next decade, the plan would cost at least $1.2 trillion. Over a full ten years of implementation, its cost would approach $2.5 trillion.

The president keeps saying Congress needs to pass his plan to “bend the cost-curve,” but there has never been cost-control in any of the plans Congress has been considering. The savings in Medicare come from arbitrary payment reductions that apply without regard to any metrics of quality, and the program’s chief actuary has warned repeatedly that they are unrealistic because of the damage they would cause to access to care. Moreover, the much-touted “Cadillac tax” now won’t apply until 2018 — well after President Obama is out of office — and even then it would be set so high as to be largely meaningless. This is the same tax the president and his people have pointed to all year as evidence of their seriousness on cost-control. The political cowardice is stunning. It’s now clear the Democrats have no intention of ever imposing this tax, but that won’t stop Obama from claiming “deficit reduction” from the revenue assumed from it in the second decade of implementation.

The White House and its allies have apparently made their choice. They are going to try to jam their bill through, despite overwhelming public opposition. This will have the entirely predictable result of triggering a backlash of epic proportions. Voters will be beyond irate at the arrogance of it all. Rank-and-file Democrats will therefore be faced with a stark choice. Follow their leaders off of this political cliff, or listen to their constituents and pursue sensible, bipartisan reforms. The president may have decided to ignore the message of Massachusetts, but, with the Obama magic long gone, many other Democrats almost certainly won’t.

posted by James C. Capretta | 10:45 am
Tags: Congressional Budget Office, White house plan, Scott Brown
File As: Health Care

What If . . .

Speculation is rampant on what will happen if State Senator Scott Brown pulls off an improbable upset and wins the special election for the U.S. Senate seat today in Massachusetts.

Of course, that’s still a big if. Most votes have yet to be cast in this race, and low-turnout special elections are notoriously difficult to predict. 

What we do know for sure is that the more ballots that are cast for Brown, the less likely it is that any of the current versions of Obamacare will pass. So those who are in position to help Massachusetts fire another shot heard even in faraway places should take nothing for granted.

Still, it is interesting to see so many stories popping up, such as this one in yesterday’s New York Times, in which Democratic operatives are openly speculating on what they will do on health-care if Brown were to win. That’s probably an indication of where most Democratic insiders now think this race is headed.

And what exactly would be their Plan B? Apparently, some Democrats believe the best course to follow would be to take the Senate-passed bill and jam it through the House without amendment.

That would be some trick. House liberals have spent the last month trashing the Senate bill. They hate the so-called high-cost insurance tax, the mandate which gives Americans no choice but to send their premiums to profit-driven private insurance plans, and scores of other provisions as well. Moreover, their main patrons — labor unions — despise the Senate bill for the same reasons.

Those advocating this fall-back plan think it is possible that objections to the Senate bill could be overcome if House members were promised that a second health-care bill would be passed later in 2010 with corrections to the first. Presumably, the second bill would include the recently struck White House–union “deal” which would exempt union workers from the high-cost insurance tax through 2017, as well as other provisions now under negotiation in talks between House and Senate Democratic leaders. House Democrats would also be promised that this second bill would be passed using so-called budget reconciliation procedures, which means it would need only majority support in the Senate, not 60 votes.

House members who oppose the Senate bill but went along with this particular version of Plan B would have to be awfully gullible. There’s no guarantee at all that a budget-reconciliation bill devoted to health-care would sail through either chamber, especially given the public’s utter disdain for the process that produced the first one. Plus, any item that reduced tax revenue or increased spending would need an offset, which is sure to stir up opponents and controversy. In short, this second bill would almost certainly be as red-hot politically as the first, and as time-consuming as well. Do House Democrats really want their 2010 legislative agenda dominated again by health care? That’s almost certainly what would happen if they agreed to pass the Senate bill with these conditions attached.

More fundamentally, the whole idea of a quick pivot to a Plan B is absurd. If Brown were to win, it would send shock waves through Democratic ranks unlike anything we have seen in recent years. Democratic infighting would intensify. Many more closed-door meetings would be held as members vented and fought over what to do. It would takes weeks, not days, for this process to play out. There would be no health-care bill before the president is forced to deliver a state of the union address.

In the end, the White House and Senate Democrats might be able to convince enough House members to go along with some version of Plan B to get the bill passed and the debate behind them. But they would not get there easily or quickly.

Of course, if Brown were to win today, it need not be a permanent setback for the president or congressional Democrats. They could do the smart thing and take the voters’ message to heart. Start over, shelve the ideological ambition, and work with Republicans on a sensible and targeted plan. That would leave them with a fighting chance to get through November 2010 with heavy losses instead of total annihilation.

posted by James C. Capretta | 11:41 am
Tags: Massachusetts, Scott Brown, Obamacare
File As: Health Care