Big Political Price of Health Care Law

by Benjamin Domenech on 7:10 am November 5, 2010

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This was an election about jobs. It was an election about taxes. It was an election about deficits. It was an election about all of that.

But the truth is, nothing coalesced the rebellious fervor of the electorate on Tuesday more than the health care law that bears the president’s name.

In the wake of the surprise election in January of Scott Brown (R-MA) to the Senate to replace the late Ted Kennedy, Obamacare hung in the balance. Democrats on Capitol Hill openly wondered whether they should jam the mishmash bill through Congress or heed the voters’ clearly expressed will and back off. Some wondered privately whether a more moderate solution was possible, whether members should actually seek compromise as opposed to just paying lip service to it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to go full-speed ahead. Convinced by liberal activists and union leaders that members of Congress would be rewarded on the campaign trail for passing a health care bill, no matter what was in it, House and Senate Democrats passed the bill. They put their fingers in their ears, trusting in the assurances of their leaders, interest groups, and editorial pages who promised that, in time, the voters would wise up and approve of the whole messy thing.

It was not to be.

Voters reacted loudly and demonstratively, seeing no difference between members who supported the law from the beginning and those who held their nose but still voted yes. On Tuesday the late-breaking votes for Obamacare were dealt an enormous blow, including Democratic Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), Steve Driehaus (OH), Debbie Halvorson (IL), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ), Suzanne Kosmas (FL), Betsy Markey (CO), and Carol Shea-Porter (NH), all of whom joined the ranks of the unwillingly unemployed. And Virginia proved that even a “No” vote wasn’t good enough—in Tom Perriello, Glenn Nye, and Rick Boucher, voters rejected one representative who voted for the legislation and two who voted against it but were unwilling to endorse its repeal.

Every week brings new stories of the disastrous consequences of Obamacare for the nation’s entrepreneurs, for Medicare beneficiaries, and for our health care system as a whole. The law adds further massive uncertainty to an already-struggling economy. It increases the cost of hiring additional employees in a time of sweeping unemployment. It allows the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to pick winners and losers in the marketplace based on the public relations fallout from regulations prohibiting their employer-backed insurance policies.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Medicare actuary have produced extensive reports detailing the massive costs of the measure, and there is now little question that the much-hyped deficit reductions from the law will never materialize. Smart members of Congress knew the promises of such reductions were lies, as was the promise that people could keep their plan and their doctor if they liked them. They knew these promises could not be kept.

In both political and policy terms, Obamacare was clearly a mistake. It destroyed a political coalition that just two years ago was hailed in editorial pages as the equal of Roosevelt’s or Reagan’s. The voters have decided they won’t be the only ones to pay for this mistake.

And if the White House and the president fail to learn from this, they may pay for it themselves in the next election.

Benjamin Domenech (bdomenech@heartland.org) is a research fellow for The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.

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