Yesterday, I remarked that few would have predicted that President Obama would have been able to pass a national health care law, but unable to let the Bush tax cuts on higher incomes expire. The passage of comprehensive health care was a Herculean legislative effort, with proposals originating in five different committees; views among Democrats ranging from Blue Dogs who would have preferred not to vote on anything to liberals who really wanted single-payer to lawmakers with parochial interests; lobbying from special interests including doctors, hospitals, insurers, unions and drug companies; wrestling with the Congressional Budget Office to get the score they needed; trying to convince a public that started out skeptical of the proposals and ended up overwhelmingly opposed; and ultimately, a it took a series of complex legislative maneuvers to get the bill across the finish line. By contrast, if Obama had simply done nothing, all of the Bush tax cuts would have expired automatically. Or Democrats could have passed the extension on lower incomes at some point during the time when they had 60 votes. Either way, it seems like it should have been a lot easier than it was to pass ObamaCare.
Liberals are enraged at Obama for caving into Republicans on the tax rates, but as a conservative, if I had to choose either one, I would have much preferred letting the tax rates expire to creating the massive new health care entitlement. Over the decades, tax rates have gone up and down, but politicians — not even Ronald Reagan — have made a dent in entitlement spending. National health care has long been a dream of liberals, and while they didn’t get all the way with this one piece of legislation, it does put us on the road to becoming a European -style welfare state. Its existence also makes it impossible to reform entitlements on market-friendly terms, given that health care is the key factor that’s driving up the cost of government.
People have spoke of Obama as the liberal Reagan. Well, if Reagan pursued a strategy of “starving the beast” to force spending cuts down the road, maybe Obama’s strategy is “feeding the beast,” knowing that if lawmakers don’t curb the growth in entitlements, then tax rates will go back up anyway.