Democrats squander political capital

March 23, 2010


— “And everybody praised the Duke,

Who this great fight did win.

“But what good came of it at last?”

Quoth little Peterkin.

“Why that I cannot tell,” said he,

“But ‘twas a famous victory.”

— Robert Southey, “The Battle of Blenheim”

Barack Obama hopes his famous health care victory will mark him as a transformative president. History, however, may judge it to have been his missed opportunity to be one.

Health care will not be seriously revisited for at least a generation, so the system’s costliest defect — untaxed employer-provided insurance, which entangles a high-inflation commodity, health care, with the wage system — remains. Obama could not challenge this without adopting measures — e.g., tax credits for individuals, enabling them to shop for their own insurance — that empower individuals and therefore conflict with his party’s agenda of spreading dependency.

On Sunday, as will happen every day for two decades, another 10,000 baby boomers became eligible for Social Security and Medicare. And Congress moved closer to piling a huge new middle-class entitlement onto the rickety structure of America’s Ponzi welfare state. Congress has a one-word response to the demographic deluge and the scores of trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities: “More.”

There will be subsidized health insurance for families of four earning up to $88,200 a year, a ceiling certain to be raised, repeatedly. The accounting legerdemain spun to make this seem affordable — e.g., cuts (to Medicare) and taxes (on high-value insurance plans) that will never happen — is Enronesque.

As America’s teetering tower of unkeepable promises grows, so does the weight of government, in taxes and mandates that limit investments and discourage job creation. America’s dynamism, and hence upward social mobility, will slow, as the economy becomes what the party of government wants it to be — increasingly dependent on government-created demand.

Promoting dependency is the Democratic Party’s vocation. It knows that almost all entitlements are forever, and those that are not — e.g., the lifetime eligibility for welfare, repealed in 1996 — are not for the middle class. Democrats believe, plausibly, that middle-class entitlements are instantly addictive and, because there is no known detoxification, that class, when facing future choices between trimming entitlements or increasing taxes, will choose the latter. The taxes will disproportionately burden high earners, thereby tightening the noose of society’s dependency on government for investments and job-creation.

Politics in a democracy is transactional: Politicians seek votes by promising to do things for voters, who seek promises in exchange for their votes. Because logrolling is how legislative coalitions are cobbled together in a continental nation, the auction by which reluctant House Democrats were purchased has been disillusioning only to sentimentalists with illusions about society’s stock of disinterestedness.

Besides, some of the transactions were almost gorgeous: Government policy having helped make water scarce in California’s Central Valley, the party of expanding government secured two votes by increasing rations of the scarcity. Thus did one dependency lubricate legislation that establishes others.

The bill is a museum of hoary artifacts from liberalism’s attic. The identity politics of quasi-quotas? The secretary of health and human services “in awarding grants and contracts under this section ... shall give preferences to entities that have a demonstrated record of ... training individuals who are from underrepresented minority groups or disadvantaged backgrounds.” And the bill creates an Advisory Council on Green, High-Performing Public School Facilities, and grants for “retrofitting necessary to increase the energy efficiency and water efficiency of public school facilities.”

The public will now think the health care system is what Democrats want it to be. Dissatisfaction with it will intensify because increasingly complex systems are increasingly annoying. And because Democrats promised the implausible — prompt and noticeable improvements in the system. Forbidding insurance companies to deny coverage to persons because of pre-existing conditions, thereby making the risk pool more risky, will increase the cost of premiums. Public complaints will be smothered by more subsidies. So dependency will grow.

Seeking a silver lining? Now, perhaps, comes Thermidor.

That was the name of the month in the French Revolutionary calendar in which Robespierre fell. To historians, Thermidor denotes any era of waning political ardor. Congressional Democrats will not soon be herded into other self-wounding votes — e.g., for a cap-and-trade carbon rationing scheme as baroque as the health legislation. During the Democrats’ health care monomania, the nation benefited from the benign neglect of the rest of their agenda. Now the nation may benefit from the exhaustion of their appetite for more political risk.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. georgewill@washpost.com


Lindsey Buscher 8 years, 3 months ago

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Boston_Corbett 8 years, 3 months ago

The best reporting I have seen on the issue was last night's Daily Show. And I don't think Shewman would like it.

cowboy 8 years, 3 months ago

Hows that waterloo and armageddon thingy workin out for ya Tommy boy

geekyhost 8 years, 3 months ago

It's funny to see people justify exclusion based on pre-existing conditions as a good thing. Yes. Awesome, and boy did it sure keep our premiums down. That's why we have the lowest cost health care in the world... oh wait.

Maddy Griffin 8 years, 3 months ago

"Health care will not be seriously revisited for at least a generation..." BS!! I think we will be fine-tuning this one for at least the next generation. It's not the perfect bill and there's much more I would like to see added( like a public option) but we have to start somewhere.

jayhawklawrence 8 years, 3 months ago

Tom Shewmon:

"The most despicable smear to come out of weekend rallies in Washington were unsubstantiated charges that Obamacare protesters shouted racial slurs at black members of Congress walking from the Cannon House Office Building to the Capitol. No evidence backs this up."

I guess the Republicans are never despicable.

I doubt if the Washington Times is much of a source anyway, they are just about bankrupt, which is where the Republican Party really is right now in the categories of good ideas, good leadership and credibility.

Their only hope is start running more moderate candidates and move away from the Tea Party knuckleheads. But they are in denial right now.

The American people want Obama to be successful. They are going to blame the Republicans if he fails.

cowboy 8 years, 3 months ago

The only news channel that has kept high standards of journalism is Fox News.

Now I don't care who you are that is fricking funny !

News Flash

The insurance industry wants it's money back. After investing billions in the health care reform war the insurance industry wants all of it's funds returned from the republican party. This includes the hookers , carribean trips , game tickets , homosexual choice counseling for members of congress , Ugandan junkets , ad agency funds for all those tea party signs , Palins speaking fees . Only good thing is all the anti spending did tick up the economy a bit.

jayhawklawrence 8 years, 3 months ago

I am a native Kansan but I lived in Chicago for over 10 years as well as many other large cities.

In my humble opinion, Chicago is the greatest city in America and the people of Chicago are very proud of their city. If you got in between a Chicago Democrat and a Chicago Republican, they would both drop everything and come after you. It would be like a domestic dispute.

The idea that all Chicago style politics is somehow crooked is a myth. Politics is politics wherever you are.

Chicago is also one of the largest cities, so it is going to have a few bad apples. Just like all cities.

feeble 8 years, 3 months ago

If Tom had read the actual internals of the poll he cited, he would have discovered that:

Approval ratings for Congressional minority leaders were not included.

Congressional Republicans had lower approval ratings (25% vs 32%) than Congressional Dems.

Congressional Republicans had higher disapproval ratings (64% vs 60%) than Congressional Dems.

61% of respondents thought Congressional Republican opposition to the bill was purely political, only 29% thought it was based on policy.

That nearly 46% of respondents thought too much time was spent debating healthcare, while 28% though not enough time was spent debating the bill.

60% of respondents thought the bill was a major win for Dems, while 59% thought it was a major loss for Republicans.

Finally, he would have noticed that the poll was conducted before the HCR vote.

In any event, the next two major legislative items, education and jobs, are "easy" wins for Obama, as he will be able to pick up moderate Republican votes on both bills. This sets the stage for Immigration reform to enter into the arena this summer, just in time for the November elections. I suspect things will become quite interesting when this bit of legislation is introduced.

beatrice 8 years, 3 months ago

Actually, the Democrats cashed in on their political capital. In the next few months, we will be hearing stories about people whose lives are being saved now that they can't be denied insurance. It will begin to have a real impact in people's lives and will touch many of us -- we are all likely to know someone who will get insurance that couldn't get it before. As we are already starting to see, things will swing even further in the Democrats' favor. Republicans' stand against health insurance reform may well be their Waterloo (as if Bush wasn't it already).

Tom, you have shown yourself to be a blatant liar. Who cares what you have to say?

LoveThsLife 8 years, 3 months ago

Why do people on here throw the word liar around when someone has a different view point??

Why can't they just realize that two people can look at the same situation and interpret it differently?

beatrice 8 years, 3 months ago

lovethislife, I use the word liar here because it is appropriate. It isn't just based on opposing viewpoints. Tom recently told the story of how Joe Biden fell off the wagon following the "beer summitt." It was pointed out to him that Biden had a non-alcoholic beverage at the publicity stunt on the White House lawn, and that the source he was using was actually a satirical website akin to The Onion. Didn't matter to Tom, and he kept repeating himself on this proven false story. This makes him a liar.

So, Tom's opposing viewpoint doesn't make him a liar, his repeating what he knew were lies is what makes him a liar. Questions?

jimmyjms 8 years, 3 months ago

"Insurance is not where you get something for nothing."

Especially when two companies have a monopoly on huge swaths of the US.

Tom Stewmon sure is bitter.

LoveThsLife 8 years, 3 months ago

beatrice that is a fair point. I apologize for the earlier post.

beatrice 8 years, 3 months ago

LTL, you were probably right for calling me on it. I shouldn't drag nonsense from other stories into this one. Good call. I should have just left it at "Tom, who cares what you have to say?"

geekyhost 8 years, 3 months ago

Liberty_One, yes I do think it's perfectly fair to consider every citizen to be part of the risk pool and in turn require every citizen to purchase insurance. It's what my work does on a smaller scale, and it's one of the reasons my workplace can negotiate a more reasonable rate than I could as an individual. Everyone at my job is in the risk pool. Now everyone in the US is in the risk pool. That's hardly requiring insurance companies to operate at a loss.

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