Some on the Left have been noting with pleasure that advocates on the Right have now dropped calls to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, whose affordable nature is called into question and whose protection most patients attempt to avoid.
They’re right. But why shouldn’t they, when the act, with its built-in store of perverse incentives, has done so well at repealing itself?
The act is being repealed, piece by piece and in increments, by courts, by circumstance and by its own incoherence.
Last week, the website shut down for still more repair work, a court threw out the mandate that forced business owners to pay for employees’ access to abortion facilities, and the 16 or so million people who buy their own health plans, who found their coverage ended or the prices increased, found their voice as a mad-as-hell pressure group.
President Obama thought he’d be home free when new enrollees began receiving government benefits; he forgot he created a huge pool of losers — prosperous, articulate and including some journalists — who know how to pressure the government.
In one week, this “settled law” got a lot more unsettled. Obama, wrote Jules Witcover in the Baltimore Sun, “faces the prospect of spending the rest of his second term distracted by the imperative of defending the law all over again, amid evidence that Republican warnings of its impracticability were not all partisan ranting. … Just as the Nixon tapes … kept alive the Watergate calamity … Obamacare seems destined to haunt its parent throughout his White House tenure and beyond.”
Being haunted by health care all over again after being put through a wringer in the 2009-2010 cycle is a bridge too far for a number of Democrats, some of whom are starting a call for, if not quite “delay, repeal and replace,” at least “delay, change, but for God’s sake do something.”
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who must face re-election in 2014, says she’s drafting a bill allowing the self-insured to keep their old policies.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and nine other senators asked Obama to delay the enrollment period deadline beyond March 31.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is joining Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in writing a bill to delay the imposition of penalties until 2015, and suggests other changes are needed:
“They’d better be worried about having a product,” he said in a New York Times interview. “Affordable health care means trying to get more people insurance. … Making people who had insurance buy a different product that costs more for less coverage? You can’t … defend that.”
To many Democrats, this sounds like 2010 redux, except for two ominous things: The employer mandate, set for next year, may cancel existing plans for as many as 93 million Americans just in time for 2014 midterms, and Obama is no longer the force that he was.
In 2009-2010, he was still the boy wonder, so crippling him at the start of his term was considered unthinkable and opposing his signature act was a sin.
In 2014, he’ll be battered and dinged, a lame duck on his way out, his personal approval ratings down around 40 percent for the first time ever. And this is before he was known to have lied about Americans being able to keep their coverage.
By 2014, opposing him may be tempting even for Democrats. “What we’re seeing,” a New Hampshire political scientist told Richard Cowen of Reuters, is Shaheen “trying to limit her personal downside.” If going out on a limb for Obama starts getting risky, she’ll go back to the trunk of the tree.
So may large numbers of dubious squirrels. For the future of health care, cast your eyes leftward. For the time being, cherchez les Dems.