The Unhealthy Politics of Deja VuBefore a tense and packed House, the President told Congress:
September 10, 2009
"Millions of Americans are just a pink slip away from losing their health insurance, and one serious illness away from losing all their savings... And in spite of all this, our medical bills are growing at over twice the rate of inflation..."
That's President Clinton, sixteen years ago almost to the day, in a speech about a complex health-care plan built on government expansion, with billions in hidden costs. Last night, a President—who was only 32 then—is now in the White House, out to prove that nothing has changed in the minds of the Democratic leadership since the Clinton debacle.
President Clinton's health-care legislation didn't fail in 1994 because people didn't want better health care. The White House plan failed because it was too bureaucratic, too complicated, and too expensive.
Last night, President Obama's response to sixteen years (and one angry August recess) worth of bi-partisan doubt was to double down and bet even more political capital on the same approach. It's as if he expected Americans to tune in, and suddenly realize their mistake.
This was supposed to be the Administration of the post-partisan rational center. Arguments were supposed to work with this White House. While many critics of President Obama's health-care plan have been too extreme, some rational criticism should have broken through. The speech was brilliant—unless you've actually read the legislation behind it, which contradicts many of the President's restated "commitments."
Last night, the President said that, "Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have." Countless observers have already show that this is not true, as proposed new regulations mandating a whole range of benefits, setting community rating schemes, and banning individual incentives will radically change many existing plans.
Last night, the President said his reforms would fight rising costs, not add to the deficit, and reduce government waste. Countless observers have already shown that the President is wrong, among them the Congressional Budget Office, which calculates that the plan will increase costs and explode the deficit. And, as I observed in the Washington Examiner, government waste will grow under ObamaCare, since the House bill creates a sea of new Washington-based programs, offices, and bureaucracies (53, by one count) to micro-manage your health insurance, your hospital, and even your family doctor.
Last night, the President said competition from a government-run insurance plan was needed to "give Americans a choice." And the President has been shown to be wrong there, too. Federal employees have over 230 private alternatives to choose from in their existing health exchange (the model for the new national market); a public plan would just add one new option (a government financed and price controlled one, at that).
It's not that President Obama wants to turn the health-care policy clock backwards sixteen years. It's worse than that. It's as though the last sixteen years never even happened. It's like a health-care Groundhog Day where Americans wake up to the same tired arguments for government-run care every morning, simply because Democratic Presidents can't resist testing the same pick-up lines on an unwilling America.
And the lines are wearing thin. The President (yes, Obama this time) told Congress that "our collective failure to meet this challenge—year after year, decade after decade--has led us to a breaking point." Has it really? When President Clinton conjured similar fears about pink slips and millions losing coverage to Congress in 1993, 15.3% of Americans were uninsured. In 2007, the percentage of Americans without insurance was...15.3%. A solution to this problem is needed, but the fact that it hasn't grown worse is a sign that Congress has time to think, and little reason to panic.
Since President Clinton spoke of health inflation in 1993, health costs continued to rise faster than wages, but President Obama refuses to acknowledge years later that the U.S. health inflation rate is almost identical to rates in government-run systems. Rising costs must be attacked, yes, but if rationed health management can't stop health inflation in Britain or Ireland, will a rush to President Obama's version of HillaryCare do any better?
President Obama's address to Congress made it clear that he's barely listened to the national debate on health care that he himself set in motion. Yesterday's teachable moment: the more America learns about government-run health care, the more Barack Obama wants to talk, and the less he wants to hear.
Dr. David Gratzer, a physician, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.