Naturally, there has been a veritable avalanche of commentary on Obama’s big health care speech the other day. Under doctor’s orders, I gave it a miss, though I later glanced over a transcript. The general consensus, so far as I could tell from a random sampling, was that it was well delivered but short on detail and, finally, not the sort of speech that would convince anyone not already convinced.
There have been some excellent dissections — I think, for example, of Thomas Sowell’s astringent column contrasting Obama’s rhetoric with that most uncommon virtue, common sense. Many people noted the irony of Obama complaining about the “lies” and misrepresentations of his planned government takeover of health care while he blithely indulged in various truth-economies himself. As Sowell notes, “To tell us, with a straight face, that he can insure millions more people without adding to the already skyrocketing deficit, is world-class chutzpa and an insult to anyone’s intelligence. To do so after an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office has already showed this to be impossible reveals the depths of moral bankruptcy behind the glittering words.”
As usual, Sowell’s column is a model of clarity and perspicacity. Do read it. But the really tremendous piece on the speech is by Shikha Dalmia, an senior analyst for Reason Foundation, who took off the gloves, stepped up to the plate, and scored a touchdown (I am an equal opportunity sports referrer) with her Forbes column “Obama’s Health Care Plan: Put Up And Shut Up.”
The speech, Dalmia observed, showed the American people “the policy equivalent of the middle finger.” Exactly.
Obama came to power promising a new era of “post-partisan” governance in which comity and bi-partisanship would rule. But, as Dalmia notes, “If there was anything bipartisan about the speech it was that he embraced every bad big-government idea from both sides. If he prevails, the American public won’t get “choice and competition” as he proclaimed, but a one-size-fits-all government-prescribed health care plan that it dare not refuse and dare not challenge.”
I like this lady. She tells it as it is.
Perhaps the most striking–and disturbing–thing about the speech was the unblinking confidence Obama exuded while breaking key campaign promises he made to voters. He had raked poor Hillary Clinton over the coals for admitting that her road to universal coverage was paved with an individual mandate. “Everyone would be forced to buy coverage, even if you can’t afford it,” warned Obama in an ad. “You pay a penalty if you don’t.”
Yet, there he was last night scolding “individuals who can afford coverage but game the system by avoiding responsibility.” Never mind that the prime gamers are not the uninsured (whose unpaid bills cost “the system” less than $40 billion every year) but the underinsured covered by Medicare and Medicaid (whom private insurers cross-subsidize to the tune of over $90 billion annually because the government refuses to pay the full cost of their care). Still, he hectored: “Improving our health care system works only if everybody does their part.”
Many commentators seem obsessed with the minutiae of the various health care proposals. They do not realize that “reforming” health care, or health care insurance, is merely the pretext for an almost unimaginable increase of government interference in your life. Dalmia has a few examples.
Obama didn’t say exactly how he would make “everyone do their part”–a question he posed repeatedly to Hillary. But his buddy Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has some rather well-developed ideas on that score. Baucus has proposed a bill that would force the uninsured to pay fines on a sliding scale of income, with those making 300% of the poverty level having to cough up as much as $3,800 a year. In short, Americans would have to pay Uncle Sam for the privilege of remaining uninsured. If there were truth-in-labeling laws for Congress, it would be required to call this bill TonySopranoCare.
To be perfectly candid, I did not have high hopes for an Obama presidency. But his deployment of what Mitch Daniels called “shock and awe” statism has made me revise my estimate down sharply. The blithe and confident orchestration of mendacity is, in its way, a marvel to behold. He does it with consummate skill. Consider the “second promise Obama broke on Wednesday night”:
That he would impose no new taxes on anyone making less than $250,000. The penalties that the uninsured — all of whom, I would wager my grandma’s life support, make under $250,000 — would face are certainly a tax. He also endorsed a business tax–err, fee–on employers who don’t provide adequate coverage that, under a House bill, would be about 8 % of payroll. They will pass this on to their employees in lower wages. And he signed up for an excise tax on high-end insurance plans–many of which are enjoyed by plain union folk, not those rich and famous making over $250,000. Under the Baucus bill, this tax would be as much as 35% of the cost of the plan. One would have thought that if the shame of breaking an explicit promise didn’t prevent Obama from imposing this last tax, then the logical absurdity of trying to reduce soaring insurance costs by taxing insurance plans would.
Regular readers know I am fond of observing that “it’s always worse than you think.” Dalmia gets it in one:
It gets worse. In exchange for these bitter tax pills, Obama promised Americans would get eternal health care “security and stability.” To deliver that, he would of course ban insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions–tantamount to forcing fire insurance companies to write coverage on a burning building. He would also prohibit insurers from putting any limits on the coverage they offer and cap what they can require patients to pay out-of-pocket.
In other words, Obama would encourage unlimited health care consumption by patients while eliminating the last vestige of price consciousness.
Depressing, what? But Dalmia’s peroration is even more depressing:
Obama lambasted the critics who claim his reform plan amounts to a government takeover of the health care system. But the plan he laid out Wednesday night will control every aspect of the medical transaction. It will tell patients when, what and how much coverage they must buy; it will tell sellers when, what and how much coverage they must sell. This is not a government takeover of health care? Then Tony Soprano is just a decent, hard-working businessman.
I hope Shikha Dalmia’s superb column will enjoy a very wide readership. It is exactly the sort of tocsin this country needs. The stakes could hardly be higher.