The Spectacle Blog

Romneycare Becomes Obamacare, Then Coultercare

By on 2.2.12 | 10:28AM

Ann Coulter has now written an unqualified defense of Romneycare. What she doesn't appear to realize is how useful her column will be to defenders of Obamacare.

She writes, "It's not as if we had a beautifully functioning free market in health care until Gov. Mitt Romney came along and wrecked it by requiring that Massachusetts residents purchase their own health insurance." Coulter points out that many conservatives and libertarians believed "mandatory private health insurance was considered the free-market alternative to the Democrats' piecemeal socialization of the entire medical industry." She argues that the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute were conservative think tanks that backed Romneycare.

Every single on one of these arguments could be used for Obamacare. Obamacare is mandatory private health insurance purchased through exchanges with subsidies and expanded Medicaid thrown in. That is also the basic architecture of Romneycare. Obama will argue that his plan wasn't a government takeover of health care because it's "not as if we had a beautifully functioning free market in health care until President Barack Obama came along and wrecked it." He can also point out that many libertarians and conservatives were desperate enough to support his approach when the Democrats were touting policies to its left.

Coulter goes on to say that Romneycare passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of the state legislature, including Scott Brown's vote. But Brown was only one of a handful of Republicans in the legislature. Those overwhelming majorities were overwhelmingly Democratic. And when you look at the promiment photo of the Romneycare signing ceremony, you will see not the leaders of the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute beaming with Romney but the Democratic leaders of the state legislature and Teddy Kennedy. Continually dropping Bob Moffit's name doesn't alter this reality.

Finally, Coulter defends the individual mandate on policy grounds. It's no worse than other examples of government coercion, she says. The Constitution doesn't create an unalienable right not to buy health insurance, she argues. The individual mandate is necessary to deal with the free rider problem created in part "the 1946 federal law essentially requiring hospitals to provide free medical services to all comers." Coulter writes, "The hyperventilating over government-mandated health insurance confuses a legal argument with a policy objection," even suggesting, messy constitutional issues aside, Obamacare wouldn't be as big of a deal if all it did was require people to buy health insurance.

Leave aside the facts that many of us do oppose the individual mandate on policy grounds as well as legal ones, and that the federal law she blames for the free rider problem passed in 1986, not 1946. Every one of these arguments can and will be used to defend Obamacare. And virtually every one of them is wrong, as concerns both Obamacare and Romneycare.

The individual mandate is less about the free rider problem than making the ban on pre-existing conditions sustainable by forcing healthier individuals into the insurance market. The costs of expanding coverage in this fashion have far exceeded the costs of free riders. None of Coulter's examples of government coercion involve forcing two private entities into a contract with one another. The Constitution doesn't enumerate the rights of the people, but the powers of the federal government.

Coulter's entire argument hinges on Romneycare being constitutional and Obamacare being unconstitutional. I'll let pass for a moment the problems with her apparent endorsement of untrammeled state government power and acknowledge, as I have before, that states have police powers that the Constitution doesn't grant to the federal government. Obamacare raises a constitutional issue that Romneycare doesn't.

The number of people who will find this distinction compelling in a general election is vanishingly small. Worse, the swing vote on the Supreme Court doesn't evaluate the constitutionality of laws based on the ratifying public's original understanding of the Constitution (though the court should). A critical mass of justices will look to see whether the president and Congress were acting on a mainstream view of acceptable government power. Coulter has given them a list of examples to bolster this view. Defending Romneycare undermines the arguments against Obamacare by making them looking like partisan point-scoring.

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