President Obama is rolling the dice. By pushing the Supreme Court to decide on the legality of his controversial Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), the president risks having his “legacy” legislation declared unconstitutional. That would be a sizeable body blow for Mr. Obama, who has long expected that voters would cheer on not only the health care overhaul, but also his reelection bid.
At the least, the high court review will catapult ObamaCare into the 2012 campaign. Since the bill continues to poll poorly (Rasmussen recently found that 56% of registered voters favor repeal), arguing its merits anew cannot bolster the president’s prospects.
Most important, the debate will remind voters that Mr. Obama spent a year and a half pushing health care “reform” instead of focusing on job creation.
Also, the imminent imposition of the bill’s unpopular fees and mandates – which include a new Medicare payroll tax on investment income starting in 2012 and a whopping 40% levy on high-end insurance plans which will surely be passed onto consumers -- will loom large.
The program’s estimated cost continues to soar while insurance fees are skyrocketing, as insurers offset the bill’s requirements that they cover dependent children and persons with “preexisting conditions.”
In 2014 the outlook will worsen as the waivers granted to 1,472 businesses and unions expire, forcing them to provide expensive coverage or pay fees.
In 2014, as well, Medicaid rolls will swell, driving up the costs of healthcare across the board. All in all, it is not a pretty picture, and it will not help the president. This was anticipated; the legislation was carefully crafted so that its darker aspects would emerge only after Mr. Obama’s presumed reelection.
Surely this is a decision made in desperation. A win at the Supreme Court could be touted as a victory; but what a hollow one it would be. Unless the economy surges ahead, shortening unemployment lines, the nation will not celebrate ObamaCare, viewed now as the Great Sidetrack.
How could this politically canny administration have gone so wrong?
Perhaps it was an acute case of grandiosity. Even before the inauguration balloons had fizzled, Obama’s supporters talked of his legacy. He seemed destined for great things – this young president who had already made history. Time magazine and The New Yorker both ran cover photos of Obama in FDR-pose, complete with iconic cigarette-holder. The American Spectator reported that the president’s staff encouraged writers to “find parallels to FDR and his first hundred days.”
Sadly, the parallels exist.
Like FDR, Mr. Obama used the financial crisis to push through the monstrous stimulus bill, to wage war on business leaders and to spread the wings of the federal government.
ObamaCare is surely the worst manifestation of this power-grab. One lawyer arguing against ObamaCare before the court describes it as “a massive collection of sweeping changes that impose substantial new federal obligations on every corner of society and compel financial action from nearly every citizen of the United States.” That sounds about right.
Politically, and economically, ramming through ObamaCare was a colossal error. It ripped the barely-mended tears in our nation’s political and social fabric and created massive uncertainty among business owners and managers.
Most important, Mr. Obama spent his political capital, of which each president has but a limited supply. What could he have accomplished instead?
He might have actually shepherded through Congress the three trade agreements that Obama has repeatedly endorsed, and which without a doubt would have created jobs.
He might have proposed a public/private infrastructure works campaign that would have required only modest funding from the government and yet created jobs.
He might have worked with the business community, fast-tracking applications for new plant construction and providing investment tax credits that could offset the uncertainties posed by the foundering economy, and created jobs.
He might have embraced an all-out development of our energy resources – not investing in solar companies that go bankrupt -- but opening new territories to oil and gas drilling, and created jobs.
He might have sponsored serious tax reform.
Paul Krugman denies that the administration’s insouciant meddling with industries – autos, banks, insurers, oil companies, drug producers, mining, aerospace, credit card outfits, homebuilders and so on – the list lengthens every week- has anything to do with the failed recovery. He is wrong.
Krugman insists that the lack of investment from the business community is all about inadequate demand. How then to explain the $17.7 billion that U.S. firms invested in Ireland in the first half of this year? Those companies sought lower tax rates, a well educated English-speaking workforce and, according to the Financial Times, an “ease of doing business.” All three items increasingly hard to find in the United States.
Once viewed as the savviest apparatchiks on the planet, the president and his team now seem clueless, consistently misjudging the moment and the message.
The president’s current “divide and conquer” political approach is grating and is sapping Mr. Obama’s personal appeal. His efforts to portray high-income Americans as the problem, as opposed to the solution, are foolish.
Unhappily for the country, President Obama has indeed channeled FDR, whose policies subdued our economy for the better part of a decade. Let us hope voters today are smarter than those of the 1930s, and that they judge Mr. Obama on his accomplishments, not on his promises.