Many conservatives believe that the principal difference between traditional liberals and contemporary progressives is that the latter lack a sense of humor. In this, however, we do our left-of-center friends an injustice. Progressives are, in fact, a plentiful source of sidesplitting humor. Indeed, for irrefutable proof that they possess a genuine gift for comedy one need look no further than the claims they make for ObamaCare. In their increasingly frantic attempts to justify that big-government boondoggle, they routinely produce thigh-slappers that would have been the envy of any old-time Vaudeville comedian. As the late Jimmy Durante would have phrased it, they got a million of 'em.
Among the most hilarious ObamaCare justifications is the claim that it will reduce the federal budget deficit. No less a jokester than Paul Krugman produced this gag in a recent blog post, "the Medicare actuaries believe that the cost-saving provisions in the Obama health reform will make a huge difference to the long-run budget outlook.… All the facts we have suggest that health reform was the biggest move toward fiscal responsibility in a long, long time." The comedy writers from whom Krugman got this quip are the CMS bureaucrats who produced the latest Medicare Trustees Report, which claims "reform" will control Medicare spending enough to keep the program solvent while easing upward pressure on the deficit.
Alas, not everyone appreciates this brand of humor. One such stick-in-the-mud is Richard Foster, Medicare's Chief Actuary. On August 5, Foster became the first Chief Actuary in the program's history to openly question the plausibility of a Trustees Report. In fact, Foster authorized an eighteen-page memorandum whose introduction contains this astonishing passage: "[T]he projections shown in the report do not represent the 'best estimate' of actual future Medicare expenditures." Foster's memorandum was a response to the report's absurd assumption that Medicare physician payment rates will be reduced by 30% over the next three years, an assumption that fails… well… the laugh test.
And Foster is by no means the only fuddy-duddy who fails to see the humor in the Medicare Trustees Report. Michael O. Leavitt, former Secretary of HHS and a member of the Medicare Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2009, also questions its plausibility: "Despite the report from Medicare's trustees... Medicare is no better off than it was a year ago." There are even fussbudgets on the left who find this particular joke in poor taste. One high-profile progressive consulting outfit has advised Democrats and their allies to avoid it altogether. In a recent presentation organized for Families USA and other pro-ObamaCare advocacy groups, the Herndon Alliance admonished them to stop claiming that the Democrat health care bill "will reduce costs and the deficit."
Nonetheless, progressive wits still have plenty of good material, including the claim that ObamaCare will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. This howler has long graced the repertoire of that talented comedienne, Nancy Pelosi, who advised the public last February that the health care bill would immediately create 400,000 new jobs. And it is still being told by a variety of ostensibly nonpartisan farceurs. National Journal, for example, plans a September policy summit in which various participants will be asked to maintain straight faces while discussing ObamaCare "as an economic engine" and whether it will "serve as a jobs creator and accelerate growth in health-related industries."
If it seems self-evident that the $1 trillion "reform" bill will create jobs in the health care sector, you might want to talk to Patrick Muldoon. He is the CEO of HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster, Massachusetts, which was forced to eliminate 50 jobs as a direct result of ObamaCare's passage. Muldoon explains that the staff reductions are necessary because "health care reform is expected to result in the loss of $24 million in Medicare reimbursements." Thus, the effect of Obama's "economic engine" on that hospital has been to add many of its employees to the ever-growing rolls of the unemployed. This is a story that will be repeated over and over again throughout the hospital industry as ObamaCare ramps up.
The loss of productive jobs in the health care sector will inevitably be accompanied by similar losses in the health insurance industry. As ObamaCare's perverse incentives herd privately insured patients to Medicaid and other government-subsidized coverage programs, many small insurance companies will find it necessary to lay off employees. Among the first victims are the employees of HealthMarkets, which provides insurance plans to the self-employed, individuals, and small businesses. The Texas firm just laid off 70 employees and will need to eliminate 180 more positions in 2011. Why? Its SEC filing cites "national healthcare reform and related legislative developments."
Presumably, these unemployed health and insurance workers will be a "tough room" for progressive comedians telling their ObamaCare jokes. And the mood of the crowd will not be elevated much by the presence of their employed brethren. The latter will not be amused, for example, to hear the hoary "you can keep your health plan" yarn. That routine increasingly dies on its feet, even when the comedian-in-chief himself tells it. All successful humor contains a kernel of truth, and that feature is conspicuously absent in this particular jape. This reality has become all too apparent to workers who stand to lose their current coverage because it doesn't meet the requirements of the new health care law.
And yet the jokes keep coming, proving that progressives do have a very real -- if somewhat malicious -- sense of humor. Indeed, the very name they have given the health care law is a study in snide humor. The "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," which manifestly fails to protect patients from anything -- except the ability to make their own health decisions -- and actually renders health care more expensive, is a cruel joke at the expense of the electorate. But the voters get it, and opinion surveys increasingly suggest that they are preparing to issue a scathing review on November 2. They will, in effect, paraphrase an old Henny Youngman gag by telling Congress, "Take ObamaCare… please."
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