The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.
Breaking News From Acts 16:26
“300 Inmates Escape From Chilean Prison Following Deadly 8.2 Quake”–headline, CBSLocal.com (Washington), April 2
The Debate is Over
“This is President Obama’s Mission Accomplished moment,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas tellsTime.com. “Jimmy Fallon Mocks ObamaCare’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ Charade,” according to a Breitbart.com headline. While the host of “The Tonight Show” didn’t say “mission accomplished” in last night’s monologue, he was scathingly sarcastic about the White House’s declaration of victory. On Monday Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin observed: “It is entirely possible that we will look back on today’s deadline and administration celebrations about enrollment as Obama’s version of George W. Bush’s infamous ‘mission accomplished’ moment after Iraq.”
Much as this columnist enjoys blaming things on George W. Bush, we feel obliged to note that he did not say “mission accomplished” during that May 1, 2003, speech. Quite the opposite. He asserted, referring to the broader war on terror: “Our mission continues.” The mission to which the infamous banner referred was the deployment from which the USS Abraham Lincoln, aboard which the then-president delivered the speech, had just returned.
But Bush did open his speech with what turned out to be a premature declaration of victory: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” Obama’s speech yesterday included a similar assertion of triumph, albeit against the president’s adversaries, not the country’s: “The debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”
More than a few Obama critics have taken offense at his declaration that “the debate . . . is over.” To them he sounded like a dictator commanding his subjects to cease dissent. But Obama is not a dictator, and few of his critics are likely to heed his implicit demand. What’s more, it’s difficult to imagine the likes of Mark Begich, Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor successfully deploying the debate-is-over gambit in their re-election campaigns. Our guess is that the debate over whether the debate over ObamaCare is over will be over on Nov. 5.
Obama’s declaration might have come across as offensive, but in reality it was defensive. “TheAffordable Care Act is here to stay” has been a mantra of ObamaCare apologists for months; no doubt they found it reassuring to hear the president himself repeat it. As for declaring the debate “over,” that appears to be a response to a particular poll finding that has given the apologists unwarranted hope.
A piece from last week by TalkingPointsMemo’s Dylan Scott titled “Why The GOP’s 2014 Focus on Obamacare Might Be a Huge Mistake” sums up the argument. Scott cites a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found 53% of Americans “say they’re tired of debating Obamacare and think that the country should focus on other issues.” On the surface, that suggests that declaring the debate “over” would appeal to a majority of Americans.
One obvious objection is that Obama declared the debate “over” while engaging in the debateby delivering a high-profile speech on the subject. Wouldn’t the way to appeal to people who are tired of hearing about ObamaCare be to refrain from talking about it? When you talk about not talking about something, you’re still talking about it.
Further, being tired of the debate is not the same thing as being happy with, or accepting of, ObamaCare. Scott notes that 51% of independents and 47% of Republicans in the KFF pollsaid they were tired of the debate. That compares with 58% of Democrats. Of all respondents who had a favorable and unfavorable view of ObamaCare, respectively, the figures were also 58% and 47% tired. Overall, the unfavorables outnumbered the favorables, 46% to 38%. Do the arithmetic and you find it’s essentially a wash: 22% are favorable and tired, 21.6% unfavorable and tired.
There’s an interesting disconnect here between the political class and the population at large. Whereas the adults Kaiser polled were not especially polarized on the question of whether they were tired of the debate, those of us who debate for a living–politicians, pundits and policy wonks–are. As best we can tell, ObamaCare proponents like Scott are overwhelmingly anxious for the debate to go away, while critics such as your humble columnist are eager for it to continue. That suggests the critics are more strongly convinced we have the better of the argument.
And for good reason. Consider the proximate cause of Obama’s speech yesterday–the claim that, as the president put it yesterday, “despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through these marketplaces.” That, according to the president, shows that “we’ve taken a big step forward” and that the law is “working.”
The Washington Post’s Jason Millman quotes the following rebuttal:
Well, I think success looks like having many millions of people sign up. What is important–because I think the conflation here is an estimate, one of which, by CBO, was 7 million, of a total number of enrollees and what that means. Obviously, the more enrollees there are, that’s a measure of success. But in terms of how effective the marketplaces function, the makeup, the mix of the population that enrolls is more important than the total number. And that’s why so many efforts are under way to reach different populations with the message of the options available to people for quality, affordable health insurance.
That was Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary, back on Jan. 6.
Conspicuously absent from yesterday’s announcement were any data on the demographic mix of the purported 7.1 million enrollees; nor on what percentage lacked insurance last year, as opposed to those thrown onto the exchanges because ObamaCare led to the cancellation of their previous policies; nor how many have actually paid for the policies for which they’ve “signed up.”
But London’s Daily Mail reports that “numbers from a RAND Corporation study that has been kept under wraps suggest that barely 858,000 previously uninsured Americans–nowhere near 7.1 million–have paid for new policies and joined the ranks of the insured by Monday night.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “insurers are already anticipating the need to raise prices for 2015”:
Insurers have already said that the first group of new enrollees under Obamacare, as the law is widely known, represent a higher rate of older and costlier members than hoped. To keep their health plans from losing money in the coming years, many expect monthly premium rates to rise by double-digit percentages in some parts of the country. . . .
David Cordani, CEO of insurer Cigna, said his company has raised the issue of potential rate increases with the Obama administration and has suggestions for changes to the program that could help mitigate sharp spikes, including providing new lower-cost options to consumers and giving them a greater choice over which health benefits are covered.
Lower-cost options and choice. If only the architects of ObamaCare had thought of that!
Blogger Thomas Lifson notes what he calls a “tell” in the president’s speech yesterday, an “obvious outright lie” Obama told in a “moment of self-pity,” to wit: “And we didn’t make a hard sell. We didn’t have billions of dollars of commercials like some critics did.”
Lifson notes that “billions of dollars could not have been spent on anti-Obamacare commercials.” After all, “that is the budget of an entire presidential campaign.” Last July the Associated Press estimated the annual cost of pro-ObamaCare advertising at $684 million.
Obama’s claim also gives the lie to the wishful notion that fatigue with the debate is a plus for ObamaCare and for the Democrat. If he really believed that, he’d want opponents to spend millions if not billions on ads keeping the debate going.
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