Obamacare, and what it broke

Both my mother and brother were kicked off of their health plans as a result of the ACA being passed.  Both of them had health policies for around $250 a month.

My mother, recently widowed, received very heft premium discounts (around $500 a month) since she had very minimal income that year and ended up paying $250 a month for her new policy.  However, a few death benefits for my father sent her checks, which counted as income, and at the end of the year, my mother had a tax bill of $3000, based on repaying those premiums since her “income” had gone up.

So, my mom went from paying $250 a month on a plan that was fine for her, to paying $750 a month for an equivalent plan.  Moreover, even had the subsidies that she thought she was entitled to kicked in, someone(s) else would have paid an extra $500 a month for her to have coverage.

In essence, either way, the world was poorer $6000 because of what happened to my mother.  But in this case, it was specifically my widowed mother who was $6000 poorer.

The American people did not want the Affordable Care Act.  Lots of people in congress did not want the Affordable Care Act.  This makes it very different than other times when America governmentized parts of its collective life.

People wanted Social Security and were okay with governmentizing retirement (even though its a bad system).  People wanted Medicare and Medicaid and welfare checks and job training and food stamps and were okay with governmentizing charity (even though its a bad system).

These were giant, massive (and bad) programs started by the government to make citizens’ lives better.  But they were bipartisan.  They were politicians on both sides giving the people what they wanted.  Trying to unentangle America from Social Security, Medicaid, and the rest of the “security net” we’ve woven for ourselves is impossible.

The same will be true of Obamacare.  Regardless of repeal and replace plans, the genie is out of the bottle.  There’s no more going back to “26 year olds should be parents at that point, not still children” or “we can’t put you in the insurance pool because you have cancer already”.

It is a crazy, very slow, economic suicide that we’ve set ourselves upon.  Imagine if we did this with house insurance and let people buy policies after their homes were flooded.  For the price of a single premium, the other people in the insurance pool would have to cover their damages.  Or if a car owner could buy an insurance policy after he’s in a wreck.  It’s an insane way of running any kind of risk-management system.

But the economy is the least of what Obamacare broke.

Obamacare broke politics.

George W. Bush could still be the president who passed bipartisan education policy (NCLB), and a national, bipartisan drug entitlement.  He could even try to advance a very middle-of-the-road approach to immigration reform.

No president will ever be able to pass a bipartisan policy agenda ever again, because there is no more bipartisanship left.

Because Obamacare broke it.

You’ll forget, perhaps, when it broke.  It was at a meeting between Obama and some Republican lawmakers to discuss health care reform.  The Republicans had a list of things they wanted changed/added to the bill.  They weren’t going to stop it, they just wanted a hand in it (for pork or pet projects or whatever.  They’re politicians, not saints.  If 30 million Americans are going to get insurance, they want a say in how that happens or they can’t brag about it to their constituents).

And that’s when a very young Barak Obama looked at a very old war hero named John McCain, who was a very middle-of-the road Republican, and said “The election’s over.”

And that’s when politics in America broke.

There would be no compromise.  Democrats would not give an inch.  They would not seek to include Republicans on this.  They had won.  But not like Eisenhower or Kennedy had won, where there was a sense that winning didn’t mean powerlessness for the losers.

This new kind of winning was a “fuck you” kind of winning.  There would be no bridge building, no bipartisanship, because it was no longer a goal of legislating.  The goal was now to win an election and then do anything you can get away with, and screw the guys on the other side.  You won, you don’t have to listen to anything they say.

My dad used to tell a story about a kid he played sandlot baseball with when they were kids.  Because there were never any refs, this kid would never swing at any pitch he didn’t like, whether or not it was a good pitch and would have been in the strike zone.  “No ump!” he’d call out, and then wait for the frustrated pitcher to just send him up something soft to get the game moving.  There was nothing except human decency to keep the kid from doing this, but human decency isn’t really enforceable, and so this kid got to dictate the rules of the game.

It’s the same idea as not bringing a knife to a gun fight.  Both sides can agree on what they’re going to bring (like in West Side Story), but if one side unilaterally starts bringing pistols, the other side isn’t going to take the high road and stick to switch-blades.

The lowest, meanest, dirtiest guy sets the rules and drags everyone else in the fight down into the mud with him.

Obamacare wasn’t just about playing for victory, though.  It fundamentally changed the level of caution politicians required of themselves when changing the American compact. The really big changes to the role the government plays in people’s lives (income tax, social security, the welfare system) had always come from at least some confluence of the right, center, and left.  Even if there was disagreement from the fringes, the center held.  (And still holds.  There are virtually zero real national politicians who talk openly about eradicating the welfare state, instead merely discussing ways to improve its efficiency and solvency. These programs are overwhelming popular with the voting classes).

These, like the ACA, weren’t another law or regulation or statute like “no more BPA in plastic bottles,” which are nuisance laws, but don’t change the interplay between citizen and government.  The are un-reversable.  And for that reason, politicians had always cautiously sought to pass them with support from both sides.  The ACA was the first time this did not happen.

So politics is broke now.  The precedent is set.  There are no more decency standards Trump will be held to.  Executive orders?  Governing by pen and phone? Obama did it.  Governing without input from the minority party?  Claiming that the election results give you carte blanche? Obama did it.  Ramming whatever you can get away with down the throats of your enemies?  Cue Butters complaining.

The Republicans were the party of “no” for six years (it’s easy to forget that Obama had two years of Democrat control over both camera and the White House and that, if he’d wanted, immigration reform, entitlement reform, other bipartisan things could have happened then.  There were no TEA party members wearing vaginas on their heads at Obama’s first inauguration.).

And now the Democrats will be the part of “no” for the foreseeable future. Although Dems assure us that they are standing on principal and American values when they obstruct, unlike those filthy, racist Republicans who obstructed because of filthy racism.

It might not be Obama’s fault.  I don’t know if he knew what was going to happen because of those three words.  Maybe he was just the spark that lit off a powder keg after Clinton’s impeachment and the “Bush lied /people died” crowd had started infiltrating DC.