Woo Hoo, We’re No. 49!

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on April 17, 2014

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal.com’s “Best of the Web” written by the editor, James Taranto.

Woo Hoo, We’re No. 49! 
“New York No Longer Worst State to Do Business”–headline, Crain’s New York Business, April 15

Bottom Stories of the Day

  • “PETA Scolds Michelle Obama Over Using Real Eggs for Easter Egg Roll”–headline,Washington Examiner, April 15
  • “Jimmy Carter Comes Out Against Keystone XL Pipeline”–headline, Washington Postwebsite, April 16

Judd Gregg Was Right
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. In February 2009 a new Democratic president reached across party lines and nominated a Republican senator, New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg, as commerce secretary. Putting a Republican in the cabinet would give Barack Obama’s administration a bipartisan gloss while also benefitting the president’s own party in the Senate by allowing the Granite State’s Democratic governor to appoint a Senate replacement, leaving the Democrats just one seat short of a filibuster-proof 60-seat supermajority.

It was not to be. A week and a half later, Gregg withdrew his nomination. A statement from Robert Gibbs, then White House press secretary, blamed the ex-nominee: “Senator Gregg reached out to the President and offered his name for Secretary of Commerce. He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the President’s agenda. Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama’s key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways.”

But Gregg had a different take on the disagreement, as the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reported:

Sen. Judd Gregg said today [Feb. 12] that his decision to withdraw from consideration for commerce secretary was due in part to his concern with the Obama administration’s decision to have the next Census director report to senior White House staffers as well as the commerce secretary.

The senator’s withdrawal statement described the disagreement about the census as “irresolvable.” He later backtracked somewhat, saying at a news conference that “the census was only a slight catalyzing issue. It was not a major issue.” But as O’Keefe observed, “the issue has become a rallying cry of congressional Republicans.”

Gregg served out his Senate term retiring after the 2010 election, when another Republican, Kelly Ayotte, was elected as his successor. The Democrats eventually got their 60th senator: In April, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter switched parties, and in July, Minnesota’s Al Franken was seated after a prolonged recount. The Democratic supermajority lasted only seven months, until Massachusetts Republican Scott Brownwas seated after winning a special election occasioned by Ted Kennedy’s death. That was long enough to push ObamaCare through over united Republican opposition.

Now ObamaCare is providing evidence that Gregg was right to worry about politicization of the census. As the New York Times reports:

The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.

The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said.

An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a “total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.

“We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.

Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle puts the problem pointedly:

For several months now, whenever the topic of enrollment in the Affordable Care Act came up, I’ve been saying that it was too soon to tell its ultimate effects. We don’t know how many people have paid for their new insurance policies, or how many of those who bought policies were previously uninsured. For that, I said, we will have to wait for Census Bureau data, which offer the best assessment of the insurance status of the whole population. Other surveys are available, but the samples are smaller, so they’re not as good; the census is the gold standard. Unfortunately, as I invariably noted, these data won’t be available until 2015.

I stand corrected: These data won’t be available at all. Ever.

A statement from John Thompson, director of the Census Bureau, assures Americans that “the recent changes to the Current Population Survey’s questions related to health insurance coverage is [sic] the culmination of 14 years of research and two national tests in 2010 and 2013 clearly showing the revised questions provide more precise measures of health insurance through improved respondent recall.”

Yet even the ObamaCare cheerleaders at Vox.com, who just last week gave us thememorable headline “Kathleen Sebelius Is Resigning Because Obamacare Has Won,” can’t bring themselves to endorse the census change full-throatedly. A piece by Sarah Kliff is equivocally titled “Don’t Freak Out About the Changes to the Census Yet.” If you’ve given up freaking out for Lent, you can wait till next week.

Kliff’s argument is that comparisons will still be possible because the new methodology will be applied to 2013 data: “Making the change now means that 2013 and 2014–the year before and after Obamacare’s big programs started–are using the same question set.”

McArdle isn’t satisfied:

What has been happening in the most recent months? A whole lot of change! Policies were canceled, benefits changed, people shifted around their coverage in anticipation of the new law. That doesn’t make for a very good baseline. It will be a very good measure of who has insurance right now, in 2014, but it’s not where I’d want to start my 2013 baseline for our new law. That’s why they should have done this for 2012–or waited until 2016–to give us actual comparable data for the transition period. So by your leave, I think I’ll continue to freak out for a bit.

This isn’t the first instance of political shenanigans at the Obama Census Bureau. In November 2013 the New York Post’s John Crudele reported that in the run-up to the 2012 election, the bureau put out labor statistics that, “according to a reliable source, were manipulated.” The stats showed a decline in unemployment to 7.8% in September 2012 from 8.1% in August.

Crudele followed up with seven more reports last November and December, thereby resolving a marital dispute for economist Tony Lima, a frequent contributor to this column, as he explained in a December blog post:

For quite a few years my lovely wife has refused to believe any economic data from the U.S. government. Until recently, I have been a staunch defender of the statisticians and economists who work in various branches of the government. . . .

I have reluctantly concluded that I cannot believe any numbers emanating from the U.S. government. The purpose of this article is to explain why I will not use U.S. government data for three more years. The exception is long-term historical data that is harder to fudge. I remain hopeful that the next occupant of the executive branch will restore integrity to the data. . . .

Those who do not believe the Obama administration is corrupt should look at Mr. Crudele’s articles. Read carefully and keep an open mind. What’s in there is devastating.

As for McArdle, she acknowledges that the earlier census health-insurance reports “probably overstate the true number of the uninsured” and that the new method may be better. But she asks: “Why, dear God, oh, why, would you change it in the one year in the entire history of the republic that it is most important for policy makers, researchers and voters to be able to compare the number of uninsured to those in prior years?”

Hey, good question.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”