Animal House and Obamacare

October 29, 2013

One of my favorite scenes in Animal House is when the Delta boys led by pledge leader Eric ” Otter ” Stratton take the car of the hapless pledge Flounder and rip it apart to make a float in the homecoming parade. After Flounder sees his car turned into a ramming vehicle, he moans to Otter- “how could you do this to my dad’s car?” ” Otter in now classic fashion says, ” You f…..ed up, you trusted us.”

Exit to 2013 and the White House where Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius is likely trying to crawl out from behind her incompetence as the sign-up website for Obamacare has crashed and burned. Although I am sure Sebelius knows little of Otter and Flounder or the course language used to justify wrecking a swanky car, the words of Otter pretty much capture what has gone on behind the scenes at the White House and HHS.

As President Obama shows more and more signs of being detached from the day to day running of the country and reluctant to take a hands on approach in key policy areas, what in effect has happened is that he f…..ed up by trusting Sibelius.

You would think that the President and certainly Sebelius would have taken extraordinary measures to ensure that the Affordable Care website was primed for efficient sign-ups. It doesn’t take a management guru to know that the boss wants his signature legislation to be a success, so the boss pays attention and his cabinet secretary works long hours to monitor every step of the process. Neither of these simple rules of management were followed.

Cynics of government have their cynicism reinforced and critics of Obamacare, who failed to defund the legislation, may indeed see the health care act fail to reach is sign-up goals and never reach its promise of universal coverage or real health care savings. Maybe the White House is Animal House.

It’s All About the Numbers

October 3, 2013

The 80 or so Tea Party Republicans who are holding the country hostage with their refusal to budge on the spending bill and perhaps even on the debt limit vote a few weeks away cite the constitution, freedom, democracy, the put upon American people and the evil of Obamacare as the basis for their crusade. But what they don’t cite are the legislative numbers.This is where reality bumps up against delusion.

According to the constitution and the procedures of our bicameral legislative body, any attempt by the Republican House to take action to repeal would take 60 votes in the Democratic Senate – ain’t going to happen. Furthermore, the President, who has the constitutional right to veto would exercise that veto. But the constitution does provide that the two chambers of the legislature have the power to override the President, which in the Senate would require 67 votes – ain’t going to happen and then 290 votes in the House – ain’t going to happen. So to make a long story short, this whole ridiculous and insane shutdown is about a strategy that is impossible to achieve. This is where the delusion comes in.

Here’s a few more numbers. All the Democrats have to do in the next congressional election is pick up 17 seats to put that hated Nancy Pelosi back as Speaker. This will not be easy since the Republican-controlled legislatures in many states redrew the congressional lines to ensure victories in House elections. So the same whack jobs that don’t understand simple math will likely be back after the 2016 election.

But here’s another number- the favorability rating of the Republican Party is at 33%, the lowest in 20 years. With most of the sane people in this country blaming the Republicans and the gang of 80 for having a hissy fit over a law that was passed, signed by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court, the Democrats have a spring in their step. A gain of 17 seats now seems within reach.

One more set of numbers. Most respected polling organizations report that a substantial percentage of Americans ( now approaching 60%) blame the Republicans for the shutdown and see the GOP as the party that is causing ” all the trouble.” But this Wild Bunch can say with a straight face that their constituents are not part of that growing majority, and in a twisted way they are right because their districts in the South, Midwest and West are prime Tea Party enclaves. With party primaries coming up in about a year and GOP rules which are designed to allow extremists candidates to win poorly attended elections with miniscule votes, the Gang of 80 are secure, and have no reason to give up their fits of delusion. National majorities mean nothing to the Wild Bunch.

What a mess.

A Mandate and a Tax

June 28, 2012

Today’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare,  is certainly a victory for the President as he holds on to his premier piece of domestic legislation and can claim that millions of Americans will benefit from the law. Republicans on the other hand will have to fight a rear guard action complaining about the Court’s decision and banking on negative public opinion toward the law to propel them to victory in November.

The most interesting aspect of the decision in which Chief Justice Roberts joined the four liberals on the Court to keep the Affordable Care Act on the books is that the law was upheld not on the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce but on the federal government’s right to tax those Americans who refuse to buy insurance from private companies.

All this Tea Party, conservative, and Republican complaining about personal liberty, socialism and big government in the end was not relevant to the constitutional issue that turned the conservative Chief Justice of the Supreme Court into a traveling companion of the four liberal justices.

Of course President Obama will claim a huge political victory as he should and this decision may indeed seal the fate of Mitt Romney and his supporters who lost most of the immigration decision by the Court a few days ago and now the defeat on the Affordable Care Act. Romney will have great difficulty slamming the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and he may be resigned to the fact that his only talking points are to nit pick at the policy with the promise that he will change it when he gains the White House. Most Americans will likely take the decision in stride and move on.

For the Republicans there is  a faint glimmer of hope in the fact that the word taxing power was used by Justice Roberts. Americans are tax increase averse and the fact that the mandate has a tax penalty may just be the opportunity the right will have to continue their fight against Obamacare. But because most Americans already have private health insurance, those who may pay a tax for refusal to join an insurance group is not large. No huge electoral bonus there.

More importantly, since the mandate does not kick in until 2014 there will not be sufficient evidence to see whether it is indeed a budget buster and job destroyer and a huge government boondoggle, so the President will be able to carry this Supreme Court victory into the election without having to dodge all those dire Republican charges.

On balance then, the Supreme Court came down on the side of  federal power, the President wins big, the Republicans have lost two major planks of their anti-Obama rhetoric, and the parts of Obamacare already in place are hugely popular with Americans. This was not a good day for Mitt Romney.


March 26, 2012

No these numbers are not the combination to a safety deposit box or to your high school kid’s locker. They are some of the key numbers that drive the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. 50 stands for the 50 million Americans who do not have health insurance, 30 represents the 30 million new customers that the insurance companies will get if the law is upheld by the Supreme Court and 47 is the percentage of the American people who disapprove of the legislation.

All these numbers tell a story about the state of health care in this country – the scandal of the uninsured, the windfall for the insurance companies and the continued refusal of the American people to support this landmark law. But the real story, the story that matters is not in the numbers, but in the wording and interpretation of the commerce clause in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution.

The Founding Fathers gave Congress the power to ” regulate interstate commerce” and with those words hang the fate of the Affordable Care Act. Supporters of the law can cite the injustice of 50 million people without health insurance, while opponents will complain that the individual mandate requiring the purchase of insurance by all Americans is an inherent violation of personal liberty.

Both arguments have merit, but the nine justices of the Supreme Court will in the end look at the commerce clause and determine whether the Affordable Care Act went too far in expanding their interpretation of the commerce clause. Right now it is tea leaf reading time as those in the know or claim they are in the know try to predict how the nine will vote. There is conflicting evidence on both sides regarding the intepretation of the commerce clause by the justices. Some signs point to the conservative justices who hold the majority unwilling to buck precedent and will thus come down in favor of the Act as a legitimate exercise of congressional power, while others point to signs that the conservatives will see this law as an unlawful expansion of federal power.

No one really knows how the nine will vote, but one thing is certain, the future of health care policy is on the line. Uphold the law and this country moves to mandated health care with all its benefits for the uninsured, those with pre-existing conditions and those who lose their protection when they are unemployed. Strike the law down and the proponents of big government, intrusive government and impersonal government win a big victory for personal rights.

For all the drama at the Supreme Court, Americans will likely have to wait until the end of June to find out how this constitutional debate plays out. Whatever the decision, American health care will never be the same again.