Published July 17, 2013
"For over half a century, the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people."
-- Opening line in Ralph Nader’s 1965 polemic against American automakers, “Unsafe at Any Speed.”
What does it really matter that the House will today (again) vote to delay a key provision of President Obama’s 2010 health law?
Maybe quite a lot.
Democrats are bracing themselves for first contact with the unpopular provisions of the controversial law, particularly in 76 days when the first wholly new federal entitlement since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society comes online: Obamacare, as it is now forever known, free or partly subsidized health insurance for middle-class Americans.
The administration is desperately focused on getting as many people signed up for the benefits as possible and doing so as quickly as possible. No matter how unpopular or unaffordable the benefits may prove to be, history suggests that an entitlement once initiated is never rescinded.
But aside from the goal of making the president’s legacy program a permanent part of the federal welfare system there’s this: The entire basis of the law is that the revenues generated by having millions of newly insured people either being forced to buy insurance or using federally-funded insurance to obtain more medical care would even out the costs of the entitlement.
The promise to hospitals, doctors, drug makers, medical device firms and insurance companies was that the pain of new taxes and regulations would be offset with new customers, compulsory and subsidized. The promise was similar to taxpayers: With the current entitlement system teetering, adding a new one might look imprudent. But Obama’s entitlement would be fiscally sound because of mandatory insurance rules and the cost benefits of preventative care.
It’s true that it will take so long for most of those promises to be proved or disproved that it won’t matter much just so long as there are enough passengers aboard the Obamacare Express that it becomes a permanent ride, train wreck or no train wreck.
But rather than being a locomotive, the operant analogy here may be automotive. Republicans want to make Obamacare the Corvair: “Unsafe at Any Speed.”
Team Obama has shoved everything it has into the effort to push people into the program, enlisting schoolchildren, librarians and an army of paid “navigators” to herd people to computer terminals and sign up for the entitlement. But with word spreading that the law is in trouble and fraught with delays and missed expectations, potential beneficiaries may be reticent.
Who wants to go online to sign up for a confusing program administered by the IRS? Aside from those folks who have been boxed out of the insurance market by being high risk cases who will come streaming in, the more desirable customers promised by the law have plenty of reason to stay away.
With most states staying out of the game and government tech wizards warning of a balky online interface and more limited options than promised in the law, potential customers/beneficiaries may stay away in droves. If Republicans can ramp up the pressure to give individuals the same reprieve Obama is granting big businesses on tax penalties for failing to purchase insurance, they will create another pinch point for uncomfortable Senate Democrats.
With control of the Senate up for grabs next year, plenty of red state Democrats will be forced to answer why people don’t get the same break as big business. Each response and each story it generates will be another Republican-sponsored consumer warning about the law and its benefits, and each warning will convince still more of the desirable participants who were supposed to be enticed into the law that they ought to stay away, at least until the next model year when the bugs have been worked out.
If nobody wants the first car off the assembly line, who would like to be the first to drive off in a brand new Obamacare Coupe?
Democrats may blame Republicans for problems with the law because the red team refuses to accept the permanency of the new entitlement and support the rollout. But the poorly constructed law was going to have plenty of bugs, even if Republicans hadn’t stormed Washington and statehouses in 2010.
And every problem with the law will be a new advertisement against the dangers of Obamacare.
The president, no doubt motivated by the economic and employment upheaval of mandatory insurance at big businesses just ahead of a difficult midterm election for his party, may have meant to deny Republicans another talking point in attacking his law.
Instead, Obama has armed them with one about unequal treatment for consumers while big businesses benefit.
And Now, A Word From Charles
BRET BAIER: You're praising the attorney general. I think this is three times in a row you've been praising the administration. We just need to mark these moments.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Right. Once more and I go into rehab.
-- Exchange on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.