There is a powerful narrative brewing about President Obama’s healthcare legislation. If you oppose the controversial bill, you must be:
A nut; or,
A Republican – ie, all of the above.
Never mind that as of today’s polling, more than half the country still doesn’t like the bill. Naysayers are simply misguided, and will be turned around by our insistent president, or his fans in the media. Editors at the New York Times, for instance, dismiss opposition as “narrow political obstructionism”, and have done their best to shield readers from the ugly impact of the bill. Even so, there are a few balky Americans who may require harsher reeducation, such as corporate leaders.
This week, several large companies announced that they will take significant charges to first-quarter profits in anticipation of higher costs stemming from Obamacare. The administration and law maker’s immediate reaction was hostility and skepticism, respectively, who brook no criticism of their handiwork. California Democrat Henry Waxman, head of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, plans to hold meetings next month “to investigate the effects of the law on big companies.” He has asked the CEOs of companies like Caterpillar, Deere and others to document the accounting behind the planned charges, implying that the write-offs were a political stunt. Has Mr. Waxman ever met an accountant? Unlike members of Congress, CPAs generally don’t engage in frivolous antics. A CEO actually has extremely limited authority over his income statement.
Whiny governors and mayors are next on the tutoring program. A front-page headline in the New York Times carried after the crucial vote warns “Some States Find Burdens in Health Laws.” Really? Now, there’s a shocker – except that state executives have been warning of such issues for months. With great surprise, the Times reveals that Arizona, for instance, will struggle to fund insurance for 350,000 children and adults that lost coverage as that state attempted to stem its $2.6 billion budget deficit. California has to find $500 million to meet the increase in Medicaid payments required under Obamacare. Texas, too, will struggle to meet higher Medicaid outlays. There was a reason that Ben Nelson wanted a special deal – the bill foists off onto the states giant new Medicaid obligations, which many will not easily meet.
Also alarming is the news that New York City will have to close public hospitals because of a looming $1.5 billion budget shortfall. The city’s Health & Hospital Corporation treated 452,000 uninsured patients last year. Budget-driven shut-downs will certainly make it harder to treat the thousands of new patients lining up to take advantage of their new health care coverage. President Obama and his admirers in the press have been unwilling or unable to imagine that fiscal problems facing states and municipalities should hamper federal largesse. Taxes raised to prop up Obamacare will limit monies available to maintain state or city programs – or to other destinations, such as jobs programs. In other words, it really is a zero-sum game. For ordinary citizens, paying higher state taxes feels just like paying higher federal taxes. President Obama continues to operate as though those pesky local budget issues sully a different planet.
Also in need of reeducation are those examining Social Security. Excitement over the passage of the health care bill has encouraged comparisons with other socially progressive, nation-changing legislation – like Social Security. It was probably just coincidental that the New York Times waited until the day after the health care vote to run a sobering front-page story about the fiscal challenges faced by Social Security. By mid-week, the paper reported that for the first time in its history, the giant entitlements program would likely pay out more than it takes in this year. That threshold could become “the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency.” Stories like that make readers anxious about the sustainability of large government programs – programs like, well, you can fill in the blanks.
Meanwhile, recent op-eds reveal how health care critics will be treated going forward. Writing in the Times, Charles Blow portrays tea-partiers and others opposing the bill as racist hate-mongers. Blow admits the tea-partiers may have “some legitimate concerns (taxation, the role of government, etc.) but its message is lost in the madness.” Blow dismisses anxieties about rising taxes and the expanding reach of government, of course. I wonder what the “etc.” stands for -- fiscal insolvency?
The country is reeling from the worst recession in decades, a profound distrust of our financial institutions, massive unemployment, real anxieties about budget deficits and our country’s role in the world, and disillusionment with our political process. We need to continue a legitimate and honest dialog about the shortcomings of Obama’s healthcare bill, not a Maoist reeducation of the masses.
Liz Peek is a columnist with the New York Sun, Foxnews.com and the Huffington Post. She is a graduate of Wellesley College with an honors degree in Economics and was the first woman to lead the National Association of Petroleum Investment Analysts.