Political Hay

Bailing Out Obama

GOP needs to increase its ransom demands.

By 11.13.13


In a Tuesday interview with OZY.com, former President Bill Clinton opined, “Even if it takes a change in the (Obamacare) law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what (health insurance) they’ve got.”

A few hours later, the Hill reported that “President Obama agrees with former President Clinton that people who like their insurance should be able to keep it under ObamaCare.”

As long as Barack “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” Obama has made it a (so far successful) tactic to try Republicans in the court of public opinion as hostage-takers, it’s time that the GOP at least collect some ransom.

At no point during the Obama reign have Republicans had the leverage they currently hold over the president and his Democratic congressional henchmen.

This makes the Republican debate over how — or whether — to ease the burden of Obamacare absolutely critical, not only for the 2014 elections but for the long-term relevancy of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

There are two leading Republican-sponsored bills that aim to allow people to keep their prior health insurance plans. A bill sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) would truly grandfather all health insurance plans (not just policy holders) that existed on January 1, 2013, so that not only could people who have them now (or had them until recently) keep them, but others could buy them as well. The relief would last only until the end of 2014.

This is in contrast to a Senate bill sponsored by Ron Johnson (R-WI) that would simply make true Obama’s promise that “if you like your plan you can keep it” — forever (unless the insurance company changes or cancels the plan). Relatives or employees of the plan holder may also be added to plans, if such addition would have been permitted prior to the enactment of Obamacare.

Johnson argues that he has crafted a simpler bill because it has a greater chance of passage than the House bill. And it certainly does.

But it is a terrible idea.

Republicans have been complicit in all sorts of bailouts, from cars to mortgage GSEs to banks to homeowners to cars (again).

If those were all bad ideas, a bailout of the Obama administration is even worse. Much worse. Like the most transparently bad political idea of the past decade — and that was a decade that included Republicans nominating John McCain and Todd Akin, shutting down the government without any winning strategy in mind (while distracting from the unfolding Obamacare disaster), and going along with George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” — which my political dictionary defines as “liberalism; or a strategy to make the GOP irrelevant.”

As Jonah Goldberg put it, “One of the first rules of politics when your opponent is whacking himself in the face with a semi-frozen flounder, is to let them do it for as long as possible.” These Republican bills, especially the Senate bill, dramatically and unnecessarily soften the blows.

It’s true that Senator Johnson’s bill would tend to hurt the long-run sustainability of Obamacare by allowing people who might otherwise be forced into exchanges to keep their plans. But as Keynes noted, in the long run, we are all dead (even with the glory of Obamacare).

In order to save the country from Obamacare’s eventual intentional destruction of the private health insurance industry, Republicans must win elections — starting in less than a year. Simply delaying the inevitable results of the Affordable Care Act — which is what Sen. Johnson’s bill would accomplish — would be worse than doing nothing.

Not only does it allow the continuation of Obama’s fundamental assault on the health care industry, but it bails out vulnerable Democrats in 2014 and 2016, decreasing the likelihood of a GOP majority in the Senate and larger majority in the House, and — this being the reason that Bill Clinton opened his mouth to begin with — taking pressure off of eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton when she is asked “Do you support or oppose Obamacare?” — which a decent Republican strategy could turn into the political equivalent of “have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

And it does all this while receiving not a penny in political ransom.

The House bill is slightly better in that it allows people to keep their plans and allows others to buy those grandfathered plans — but only through 2014.

While having plan availability for only a year may seem curious at first — why not allow people to keep their plans forever? — and while there are questions about whether insurance companies would keep plans in existence if the expectation is that they will vanish in a year anyway, the politics of it are admirable: Imagine Democratic panic going into the 2014 elections if what is happening now with millions of people losing health insurance coverage were happening all over again.

There’s a reason that White House Press Secretary Jay “Is My Nose Growing Yet?” Carney says that the Upton bill would “do more harm,” that the Washington Post says “the Upton bill is the biggest threat to Obamacare so far,” and that influential conservative PACs are supporting the measure.

But when you have a hostage as valuable as President Obama, or at least his legacy, even the Upton bill seems like too small a ransom demand.

Obama's plummeting popularity and Clinton's public thinly-veiled criticism of Obama will encourage many Democrats to vote for a Republican bill in order to save their own skins. Republicans should exact a painfully high price, not just because it's good policy, but because revenge against these bullies and tyrants would be too sweet not to savor.

In the short term, even the Upton bill will be sold by Democrats and seen by many Americans as Congress simply fixing a mistake in the bill’s drafting so that Obama can keep his often-made lie-promise without even having to admit that his own Secretary of Health and Human Services set the grandfathering rules that caused this mess.

That always-intended-to-be-broken promise can and will, if Republicans don’t help him, turn Barack Obama into a lame duck with three years remaining in his petty dictatorship and create a Republican majority in the Senate for the final two years of Obama’s dreary anti-American melodrama.

Why would Republicans agree to bail out a president who is about to destroy what little political capital he has remaining, without getting a huge payoff in return? This is no time to play nice, no time to compromise for compromise's sake. This is time to ask "What would Obama do?" and then do it right back to him, but harder.

Both the Johnson and Upton bills also assume, without good reason, that simply allowing insurance companies to keep plans in existence means that they will. With processes in place to terminate plans, with cancelation notices already sent, and with Obamacare-compliant plans perhaps more profitable, it is far from certain that any "keep your plan" modification to the ACA will actually result in most current individual market plan-holders actually keeping the plan they like. If Republicans try to fix something that is beyond fixing, they risk looking less capable of making a difference, thus damaging their anti-Obamacare narrative for 2014. After all, if "the damage is already done," voters have a different calculation going forward than if damage can be prevented by repeal. This argues even further toward extreme caution in any bill which would appear to help Obama keep his false promise.

Republicans must be careful as they play this hand, knowing that if they call for substantial reform to Obamacare — reform so significant that it could be seen as nearly undoing the law, or at least making other changes worthy of GOP compromise — Democrats will say, “Yet again, the GOP is holding the country hostage, preventing your ability to keep your health insurance in order to get some extreme conservative policy wish.”

But the GOP should bravely go down that road anyway, demanding something important — something like tort reform, or interstate purchase of health insurance combined with other structural reforms — while trying to keep partial relief from the negative impact of Obamacare limited to one year so that repeal remains an issue — the issue — in 2014.

Keeping the issue alive — a standard trick of Democrats on issues such as gay rights and immigration — should be the top priority of Republicans, above being able to pat themselves on the back and say, “See, we helped you keep your policy (for now.)” And, yes, above actually helping some people in the short term. After all, as Bastiat reminded us, "it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence (of a law) is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal."

This strategy is not suggested out of love for the GOP, but because anything less than full repeal of Obamacare will result in an inevitable Progressive “victory,” destroying private health insurance, turning health care itself into a regulated monopoly for everyone but the rich, and cementing government at the center of one of the largest sectors of the American economy and one of the most personal aspects of our daily lives.

Republicans need to channel Willie Sutton and recognize that as long as they’re going to be accused of political hostage taking, they should take the most valuable hostage possible and demand the largest ransom they can conceivably get, or at least conceivably sell as reasonable to an American public whose trust in “hope and change” is at an all-time low.

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About the Author
After years as a self-employed trader and investor, Ross is now the host of “The Ross Kaminsky Show” on Denver's TalkRadio 630 KHOW, weekday mornings from 6 AM to 10 AM. He's a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute and an Objectivist/libertarian so you can't offend him by saying he's not sufficiently conservative. You can reach Ross by e-mail at rossputin(at)rossputin(dot)com.