Thursday, June 15, 2017

ObamaCare’s ‘Secret’ History

Jonathan Gruber is back and betting again on public ‘stupidity.’


By Review & Outlook
The Wall Street Journal
June 15, 2017

Senate Republicans continue to negotiate the details of their health-care reform, and one measure of progress is that their opponents are more manic and disingenuous. Progressives who used to deride the GOP for incompetence are now panicked that they may really succeed, and thus the faux tantrums.

The distortion du jour is that the GOP is operating “in secret.” This week Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Republicans of working “behind closed doors, writing a bill they won’t let the public read...Today, no Member of Congress can read the bill because we don’t know what it is.”

Despite Mr. Schumer’s bewilderment, he still knew enough to assert that the Senate bill will “greatly hurt the American people.” Well, which is it? And if Republicans are trying to suppress a public debate about repealing and replacing Obama Care, then they haven’t prevailed, either now or across the presidential campaign. Health care has been central to U.S. political debate for nearly a decade as Democrats created a new entitlement with little public support.

Compared to that effort, the Senate this time has been a model of deliberative democracy. On Dec. 19, 2009, a Saturday, then Majority Leader Harry Reid tossed the 2,100-page bill the Senate had spent that fall debating and offered a new bill drafted in an invitation-only back room. Democrats didn’t even pretend to care what was in it while passing it in the dead of night on Dec. 24, amid a snowstorm, in the first Christmas Eve vote since 1895.

Liberals excused this legislative sausage-making as the price of making history, which was an insult to sausages. MIT economist and ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber told an academic audience in 2014 that “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

Mr. Gruber has since re-emerged to complain of the current debate that “I’m just worried about the speed they’re moving at for what that implies, because it implies no effort to actually get this right.” The professor had apologized for what he called his “inexcusable” remarks in 2014 but he’s betting he can con Americans again.

The irony is that the GOP negotiations are so time-consuming because Senators are trying to improve the product as they build a consensus that can get 50 votes. They’re trying to answer the House bill’s critics on the left and right, not that they’ll get any credit.

One objection is that the House’s tax credits aren’t generous enough to help the working poor; the Senate is likely to increase their value. Another is that the House’s Medicaid expansion wind-down is too disruptive for Governors to manage; the Senate will probably create a longer off-ramp. When they reach an agreement, they’ll release the specifics.

The policy parameters are known to anyone paying attention, including those like Mr. Gruber who are arguing in especially bad faith because no bill the Senate could possibly produce would satisfy them. Even as the GOP moves the bill toward the political center, reflexive liberal opposition increases.

Mr. Schumer claimed Republicans have “solicited zero bipartisan support,” which is hilarious. Democrats opted for total pre-emptive resistance to the Trump Administration, and in January Mr. Schumer and Nancy Pelosi announced together that “we are a united caucus. We are two united caucuses. And we’re united in our opposition to these Republican attempts to make America sick again,” as he put it. House Republicans hadn’t even released a bill at that point and the ObamaCare exchanges were already in increasing distress, but Democrats refused to participate.

This is also a notable change from 2009-10, when Democrats froze out centrist Republicans who wanted to cut a bipartisan deal of the kind Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy had struck on the children’s health insurance program. The Obama White House preferred a far more liberal program that would complete the entitlement state. The GOP’s obligation now is to start to clean up that mess.


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