The Obamacare Lie That Can't Be Fixed
Even Bill Clinton is lecturing Barack Obama on keeping his word.
By RICH LOWRY
November 14, 2013
Who knew that the day would come when Bill Clinton would be in a position to lecture President Barack Obama about honoring his word?
In an interview with Ozy.com, the former president addressed those millions of Americans getting cancellation notices from their insurance companies, even though Obama had infamously promised that they could keep their plans. “I personally believe,” Clinton said, “even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to these people and let them keep what they got.”
Clinton has a black belt in verbal escape hatches and has never been one to let a strict adherence to truthfulness become an obstacle, so his statement hit with extra force. The words were barely out of his mouth before the speculation over his motives began. For the sake of argument, let’s be overly credulous and literal and assume that he simply thinks it’s wrong for a president to lie to people about whether they can keep their health insurance.
The problem with Clinton’s advice is that Obama can’t possibly take it.
Obama’s promise on insurance wasn’t just injudicious, it was completely impossible. It wasn’t an incidental falsehood but ran counter to the central premise of his own health care law. People losing their current insurance isn’t an unintended consequence of the law; it is an intended consequence without which much of the law doesn’t work.
In short, Obama’s lie runs so deep that perhaps even Clinton — who had his law license suspended for dissembling under oath — can’t fathom all of its implications.
If Democrats were inclined to catch the falling flag of Obama’s credibility, they might take a page from the 1990s and insist that “everyone lies about historic health care legislation.” Almost by the hour, it becomes clearer that they aren’t so inclined. They not only tied themselves to the law, they repeated Obama’s false promise themselves, and evidently don’t appreciate it one bit.
Maybe they genuinely didn’t know better. Our representatives in Congress can’t be expected to read or understand legislation they support to transform a major sector of the American economy. These are busy and important people. But at the very least, the president’s policy staff could have let them in on the joke.
Some of them now support legislation, one way or another, to grandfather canceled insurance policies so people can really keep them if they like them. The bills are opposed by the White House, despite the president’s prior promise, despite his semi-apology for misleading people, despite his stated desire to fix the problem.
The White House’s posture, in other words, is that the president is sorry that he lied and all, and he really wants people to keep their coverage — but it just can’t be done.
And, on its own terms, it is right. It is possible to let people keep their current insurance, but only by unraveling a key element of Obamacare. To make the law work, people in the individual insurance market content with their current coverage have to be forced out of their plans and onto the exchanges. That’s the only way to ensure the exchanges aren’t overwhelmed by older and less healthy consumers.
The president couldn’t be honest about this at time of the law’s passage and still can’t be honest about it. The White House acts as though it is doing the people whose insurance is getting canceled a favor by protecting them from “substandard” policies, rather than admitting that it is asking them to make a sacrifice.
The great engine of the welfare state is the hidden cost. Usually, the costs of a new program or regulation are too diffuse or distant to matter much politically in comparison to the promise of a direct benefit. This time, the costs aren’t hidden. They are immediate and concrete in the canceled policies and the higher premiums, and they are making the politics of Obamacare toxic.
The Obama administration clearly hopes it can brazen it out. It came up with a date for fixing the website, Nov. 30, so it could have a date to use to hold off the dogs, for now. It will come up with some sort of administrative “fix” to the problem of cancellations so it can have something it can call a fix and try to use to stop Democratic defections. Its strategy is always based, at bottom, on spin and muddling through. These are the same people who believe they possess the administrative mastery to run highly complex laws remaking swaths of the American economy.
You know it’s a hell of a predicament, though, when Bill Clinton thinks keeping your word is the only way out.