Where do we go from here? With 57 percent of Americans now opposing the Affordable Care Act according to an ABC/Washington Post Poll, and with a steady drip of bad news likely to further undermine the president’s signature law – is it time for Obama and the Democrats to admit failure and throw the law out? Maybe.
If Republicans campaign on overturning Obamacare and win the Senate in 2014 – not an impossibility – it is conceivable that the bill could be jettisoned. It won’t be easy, since President Obama has promised to veto the measure. However, with the bill being hacked to bits by a White House frantic to salvage some vestige the deal, arguing its merits becomes even tougher, and tossing it overboard may become easier.
Republicans need to offer credible solutions to stem rising healthcare costs, and they must hammer home the true cost of Obamacare. Not just the dollars and cents that President Obama’s legacy program will cost Americans – but the opportunity costs of dividing a fragile country and sowing uncertainty among the job creators essential to rebuilding our economy. The financial crisis took a fearful toll on our country, and the ill-timed imposition of Obamacare made it worse.
Consider polling by the Chamber of Commerce and the International Franchise Association. Almost two-thirds of franchisees think Obamacare will have a “negative impact” on their businesses. Twenty-seven percent say they have substituted full-time with part-time workers or otherwise stopped hiring because of the law’s demands on companies with more than 50 full-time employees. Many of those surveyed claim that when the employer mandate does take effect, they will pay the $2,000 per year fee instead of providing insurance.
If President Obama had pursued a more modest agenda instead of spending all of his political capital at what he must have seen as his shot at immortality, the country might be in better shape. As he would say, that’s on him.
The crude handouts to win passage of the bill poisoned the well, as did the blatant rigging of the bill’s costs and taxes so as not to jeopardize Obama’s 2012 reelection. After the divisive Bush years, the country yearned for collaboration – a desire that Obama tapped during his campaign, when he promised to bring the country together. Unhappily, instead of trying to heal a hurting nation, Obama declared “we won,” and set out on a path of self-destruction. The animus towards Obamacare threw the House into an incensed GOP in 2010 and the battle lines were drawn.
Today, Obama’s agenda lies in tatters. This is not just a heavy loss for the president – it hurts the entire country. Immigration reform, infrastructure repair, trade deals, a long-term entitlements fix – all these needs are real but now sidelined. At the same time, the nation is wary – buffeted by the partial government shutdown and now by the messy Obamacare start-up. Consumer sentiment fell this month to a two-year low, in spite of a record-breaking stock market, low gasoline costs and a recovery in home prices. Spending and corporate investment sputtered during the third quarter; retailers are worried that the Grinch will spoil Christmas.
Attitudes towards Obamacare are unlikely to improve any time soon. Millions have had their insurance cancelled, and it is dawning on millions more that Obamacare will not make them better off. They are likely to have narrower doctor and hospital choices and higher premiums; they are seeing Obamacare for what it is – a large step towards income redistribution.
Meanwhile, the toll on the president’s popularity and credibility has been huge. Reports that the White House knew about problems with the website last March, and that millions would lose their existing policies, have turned voters against the president. Ever more side-deals confirm the dishonesty. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration announced recently that it might exempt some organizations – but actually only unions -- from a tax necessary to building a $25 billion reinsurance fund – needed in case insurers on the exchanges encounter unexpectedly high costs. Obama owes a great deal to his union pals who helped his reelection effort, but this seems an especially egregious finger in the eye of the rest of the country.
One more feature of Obamacare that has passed mostly unnoticed is that taxpayers are on the hook to help out insurers in case the program is a total bust. We’ve all heard about how important it is to sign up the young and healthy – or, we’ve been told, “The program won’t work.” Less clear has been – what then? It turns out that if the sign-up is in fact skewed in such a way that the insurance industry cannot make a profit, then they will be made whole by you – the taxpayer.
Senator Marco Rubio addressed this nugget--a three-year guaranteed insurance make-good by taxpayers -- in an op-ed recently, and introduced legislation meant to prevent such a bailout. That measure is unlikely to advance to the Senate, but Americans will not be pleased.
Republicans have an open window. If they manage the next round of budget and debt ceiling negotiations in a sober manner and put forward some sensible market-oriented fixes to rising healthcare costs, they might just toss Obamacare into history’s dust bin. We will all breathe easier.
Top reads from The Fiscal Times: