On ABC’s This Week, after ObamaCare ran into a “trainwreck” in the Supreme Court, former Obama administration official Van Jones described the law as a last-resort effort to prevent Americans from dying. Since the pitch previews how President Obama hopes to spin a possible loss at the Supreme Court, it is worth considering it further. Jones said:
[I]t’s so amazing to hear the Republican Party now cheerleading for the free loaders. Listen, if you dive-bomb yourself into an emergency room, don’t worry about it, taxpayers will pay for it. We have no — there’s nothing we can do to make sure that people pay on the front end.
Now, listen, you have people on the left who have been saying the whole time, let’s go with Medicare for everyone. They said no, that’s too much government. So we said fine. We’ll go with individual responsibility … and now that doesn’t work. What does that mean? That means we’re going to be going back to a system [we have] right now. …
But what I don’t understand is what does the Republican Party want here? If we can’t have single payer, we can’t have a public option, and we can’t have individual responsibility, what we’re going to have here is more Americans dying. [Emphasis added].
James Carville pitched the same theme with his gift for slogans: “go see Scalia when you want health care.”
The Jones statement is a false narrative of the legislative process that led to ObamaCare, and a false prediction of the outcome of an adverse Supreme Court decision. Jones is correct that the administration could have gone with “Medicare for Everyone,” but in 2009 such a program could not pass even a Congress completely controlled by the Democratic Party. The problem centered on Democrats who knew they would have to stand for election in about a year.
The reason “Medicare for Everyone” was rejected was not simply that it was considered “too much government.” It was because everyone knew Medicare itself is financially unstable, and expanding it to cover not only people 65 or older, but everyone in the country for their first 64 years as well, would have involved astronomical tax increases and/or astronomical new borrowing. Even with complete control of Congress, Democrats did not dare go with such an approach. Pitching ObamaCare as “Medicare for Everyone” was a political non-starter — as was a “public option” the public knew would turn into the same thing.
Obama’s alternative was not “individual responsibility,” but a government mandate compelling purchases of policies from insurance companies unable to decline risks or limit benefits, with health care to be micro-managed by an unelected board in Washington, deciding everything from end-of-life care to contraceptives for students. The program was styled as a regulation of commerce, but it was really the creation of a new governmental program with every person in the country required to participate.
The Congressional Budget Office noted that an individual mandate “would be an unprecedented form of federal action” since the government “has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.” The Eleventh Circuit, in a 207-page opinion jointly-written by Democratic and Republican appointees, also found the individual mandate “unprecedented.”