During the first nine months of his Presidency, Barack Obama has accomplished the seemingly impossible: he has proven that a politician can be even less trustworthy than Bill Clinton. The broken promises of the latter were relatively conventional by Democrat standards. Clinton ran on a middle class tax cut, for example, and promptly raised taxes. Dishonest, of course, but not terribly surprising. Obama’s policy pirouettes, however, have taken us to an entirely new level of presidential perfidy. The man has reversed himself on virtually every position he espoused during last year’s campaign. And nowhere have these reversals been more brazen than in the case of health care. On a host of reform issues, including insurance mandates, taxing health benefits and patient choice, Obama has demonstrated that his campaign rhetoric was utterly disingenuous.
One of the president’s most egregious betrayals of voter trust involves the so-called “individual mandate,” a proposed federal statute that would require every American to purchase health insurance or pay a fine. During last year’s primary campaign, Obama fervently proclaimed his opposition to such a measure, saying it was unfair to penalize people for failing to buy insurance. Moreover, he repeatedly attacked Hillary Clinton for favoring such a mandate. His standard line during the Democrat debates was, “the reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it.” Typically, he would go on to say that an individual mandate wouldn’t work anyway, noting that many drivers fail to buy auto insurance despite state laws requiring everyone to do so.
This ostensible opposition to individual insurance mandates earned Obama the enmity of many progressives, and much of the Democrat establishment as well. Indeed, before it became obvious that he was going to win the Democratic nomination for President, Hillary Clinton’s supporters in the media regularly attacked him for his mandate position. Paul Krugman, for example, indicted candidate Obama with the worst charge that can be leveled at a progressive: “he’s doing the same thing in the health care debate he did when claiming that Social Security faces a ‘crisis’ — attacking his rivals by echoing right-wing talking points.” The Obama campaign responded to this column by putting up a research document on its website charging that Krugman had reversed himself on the potential efficacy of Obama’s reform plan.
This charge is ironic, to say the least, considering that the president has executed a 180-degree about-face on the issue. His high profile dispute with Krugman and Clinton notwithstanding, Obama is now “open” to signing a reform bill containing an individual mandate. Moreover, as he explained to George Stephanopoulos last Sunday, he has also changed his opinion of the fines that must be used to enforce a mandate. Incredibly, he defends this audacious flip-flop using the same auto insurance analogy he once used to prove that mandates won’t work: “We’re not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you any more than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance.” The president has apparently forgotten about all those people who choose to ignore auto insurance mandates.
The Stephanopoulos interview, in addition to highlighting the president’s pirouette on mandates, also revealed that Obama adheres to a highly nuanced definition of “taxation.” Although an insurance mandate would allow the federal government to forcibly extract hard-earned money from the wallets of voters, he categorically denies it is a tax. The president no doubt relies on his finely-tuned capacity for nuance to provide the moral justification for another of his breaches of faith with the voters — his newfound willingness to consider taxing health care benefits. He famously denounced John McCain for a similar proposal during last year’s presidential election. Indeed, he ran a series of campaign ads accusing the hapless McCain of wanting to tax health care “instead of fixing it.” Nonetheless, with Olympic-class chutzpah, Obama now declares himself open to “taxing employer-sponsored health benefits.”
As Cato’s Michael Tanner points out, Obama’s change of position on taxing employer-based coverage transcends mere hypocrisy: “While it was true that McCain would have eliminated the exclusion for employer-provided health benefits … he would have given workers a tax credit for purchasing health insurance on their own or through an employer.” This would have allowed the taxpayers to break more or less even on taxes, while improving the efficiency of the insurance market. None of the congressional health care bills to which Obama is now “open” contain provisions for offsetting credits. They contain only the taxes on benefits. Moreover, their tax strategies have nothing to do with improving the efficiency of anything. As Tanner correctly puts it, “The proposals now discussed are nothing more than a naked grab for more tax money…. Workers would simply pay more taxes — a lot more taxes.”
Unfortunately, working taxpayers won’t be alone in suffering the ill effects of the president’s health care deceptions. Retirees will also feel the pain. Obama’s most frequently repeated campaign pledge was that his health reforms would not require anyone to give up insurance coverage they liked. Nonetheless, he intends to kick 10 million seniors off their Medicare Advantage (MA) plans and force them back on traditional Medicare. MA is an alternative coverage vehicle created for seniors as part of the Bush administration’s 2003 Medicare reforms. Because MA emphasizes the free market and patient choice, the Democrats see it as a threat to their plans for a government takeover of the health care system. The White House budget chief shares this view, and the president enthusiastically supports the deep funding cuts that all of the Democrat health bills envision for MA.
Ironically, these cuts will fall most heavily on poor and minority seniors. Because its co-pays, benefits, and access to primary care are better than those of traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage is very popular with these patients. Nearly 60% of MA beneficiaries have annual incomes of $10,000 to $30,000, and 30% are minorities. President Obama and his congressional accomplices claim it is necessary to throw these seniors off their MA plans in order to save money, and that it will not adversely affect their health care. However, when these folks are forced back on traditional Medicare, they will have fewer benefits and more difficulty finding a doctor. As IBD‘s David Hogberg reports, “The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission says it found that the number of elderly Medicare recipients who had trouble finding a primary care physician rose from 11% to 17% from 2004 to 2007.”
The tragic irony here is that many of these very seniors voted for Barack Obama because he promised to protect their benefits from ravenous Republicans. Likewise, many of the workers now facing higher taxes voted for the president precisely because he vehemently denounced the very concept of taxing health insurance benefits. And many people who will soon face fines for not buying health insurance voted for Obama because he told them he was against insurance mandates and the penalties that go with them. These voters, along with many others, have been swindled. They are the victims of a colossal bait and switch perpetrated by a man who never intended to keep any of his campaign pledges, who always planned the government takeover of health care that he and the Democrat Congress are about to ram down our throats.