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In Obamacare’s Wake
Oct 8, 2014
File this one under, “Someone had to say it; I just didn’t think it would be him.” In the New York Times Nicholas Kristof raises the alarm about “the Ebola fiasco.” The fiasco he complains about is the slow response of the developed world to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The Ebola virus is a little bit of biological mischief with a terrible footprint and a high fatality rate. We know how to stop the spread of such a disease, Kristof tells us, and we know from past experience (see AIDS) how important it is to stop the spread of infectious diseases earlier rather than later. Later is more expensive both in lives and treasure. Later gives the disease more opportunities to mutate into a more virulent form. Right now Ebola is transmitted only by contact with bodily fluids, but what if it should become airborne? Cue the ominous music.
Yet the world’s governments have been tardy in using their resources to deal with the problem. Kristof expresses his exasperation:
"We would never tolerate such shortsightedness in private behavior. If a roof leaks, we fix it before a home is ruined. If we buy a car, we add oil to keep the engine going. Yet in public policy — from education to global health — we routinely refuse to invest at the front end and have to pay far more at the back end."
Well, yes. What conservatives believe as a matter of principle Kristof (no conservative) finds himself compelled to blurt out: private decision making is much more efficient than public policy.
This is not a lesson he is likely to apply to other issues, such as Obamacare. Only last November he earnestly told us why we needed to transfer management of the American health care system to unelected bureaucrats. That was before the Veterans Administration scandal, so maybe he’s rethinking. I doubt it.
It may be that Obamacare is working, in the sense that it hasn’t yet collapsed. About 7 million people seem to have enrolled, though the details about that are fuzzy. We don’t really know how much the program has cost so far, because it is so very complex. Bloomberg estimates $73 billion. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Administration is cagy about how many people they expect to sign up in 2015. They also point out that, even if 10 million sign up this year, it will leave 30 million uninsured.
Obamacare was passed by a Congress controlled by Democrats, and signed into law by President Obama, despite the fact that the project was deeply unpopular. It was so unpopular, in fact, that it cost Democrats a Senate seat in Massachusetts. They had convinced themselves that pulling back would do them even more damage. Maybe they are right, in the long term. Perhaps the program will flourish and become as entrenched as other entitlements.
It isn’t working yet. Election analyst Jay Cost identifies 12 Democratic Senators, from states that Mitt Romney carried, who voted for Obamacare. Two of them won re-election. One of them, Blanche Lincoln from my home state of Arkansas, was defeated. Five of them resigned or did not seek re-election and Harry Bird of West Virginia passed away. Cost does not mention South Dakota. Almost everyone expects that the seat vacated by Sen. Tim Johnson, who voted for Obamacare, will be filled by Republican Mike Rounds.
Of the remaining Obamacare votes, all three (Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana) are struggling for reelection this year. If the Republicans do take control of the Senate in January, Obamacare will be the biggest part of the reason. And that is as it should be.
Government cannot be as efficient as the private sector but it can be responsible to private individuals. In a republic, where ordinary folks stepping into makeshift booths in libraries, schools and city halls select the office holders, it is perilous for one to ignore the other. For better or worse, confidence in government in the United States is at a very low ebb. One reason may be that our Congress and our President have been all too contemptuous of the people that put them into office. Another reason, as Mr. Kristof suggests, is that they aren’t doing their damn job.
Editor's Note: Ken Blanchard is our political columnist from the right. For a left-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Cory Heidelberger every other Wednesday on this site.