Dems Way Behind in VA, NJ Gov Races

New polls continue to bring bad news for Democrats in this year’s governors’ races in two states won comfortably by President Obama. In New Jersey, a Monmouth County poll gives challenger Chris Christie a 14-point lead over Gov. Jon Corzine, who has an anemic 35 percent job approval rating among likely voters, compared with a disapproval rating of 58 percent. Meanwhile, in Virginia, Republican Bob McDonnell also edges out his Democratic opponent Creigh Deeds by 14 points in a Public Policy Polling survey. In both cases, the polls are trending against the Democrats, and as Dave Weigel notes, a deeper look at the Virginia data show waning enthusiasm on the Democratic side, suggesting dampened turnout.

What Obama Actually Said

Drudge has been pumping up a video purporting to show Obama in March 2007 telling the SEIU that his health care plan would eliminate private health coverage. I haven’t blogged about it at this point because the video only excerpted a short clip, and I didn’t want to pass judgment until I heard the full context of his quote. I was able to track down the full video of his question and answer session, and wanted to set the record straight about what Obama did and didn’t say. Let me start by quoting Obama’s fuller statement (bold refers to section in the Drudge-linked video):

“As I indicated before, I think we’re going to have to have some system where people can buy into a larger pool. Right now their pool is typically their employer, but there are other ways of doing it. I would hope that we could set up a system that allows those who can’t go through their employer to access a federal system or a state pool of some sort. But I don’t think we’re going to be able to eliminate employer coverage immediately. There’s going to be potentially some transition process. I can envision a decade out, or 15 years out, or 20 years out, where we’ve got a much more portable system, employers still have the option of providing coverage, but many people may find that they get better coverage or at least coverage that gives them more for the health care dollars that they spend outside of their employer, and I think we’ve got to facilitate that and let individuals make that choice to transition out of employer coverage. I do believe that employers are going to have to pay or play. I think that employers either have to provide health care coverage for their employees, or they’ve got to make a decision that they’re going to help pay for those who don’t have coverage outside the employer system, so I think that’s one important principle.”

(Video below, relevant section begins around the 1:25 minute mark.)

Some background. There are health care policy experts on both the left and right who agree that the employer-based insurance system is problematic because people can’t take their health insurance from job to job and losing a job can often mean losing one’s health coverage. But these experts offer drastically different remedies. Advocates of a free market system argue for changing the tax code that currently discriminates against those purchasing insurance on their own to the advantage of those purchasing insurance through their employers. Such a change would not only address the portability issue, but also give people an incentive to search for better deals, since they’d be paying rather than their employers. But liberals argue, fundamentally, that there can’t be a functional market for individual insurance because in order to get a good deal on insurance a person needs to be part of a larger pool, typically either an employer or the government. And this is the point Obama is trying to make. 

In the video, when Obama talks about creating a different sort of pool, he’s referring to what is now being described as a government insurance exchange, along the lines of what they have in Massachusetts. What he’s saying is that he wants to give people the option of either getting insurance through their employers, or through the government exchange.  Over time, he says, he can see that leading to a system in which most (if not all) people buy their health insurance at a government store instead of through their employers. Would this be the same as eliminating private insurance? Not technically, since private insurers could do business through the exchange. But at the same time, all of the private insurers would be subject to much more government control, and if Obama gets his way, they’d have to go up against a new government-run plan that would also be offered on the exchange.

It’s important to note that these comments were made just two months after Obama announced he was going to run for president, and before he even had a formal plan. Now we have actual bills to look at and thus can see how they stack up against what he talked about in the March 2007 remarks.

On one hand, the House Democrats’ bill, once implemented, would not allow individuals to purchase insurance outside of a government store. (More detail here). On the other hand, much to the chagrin of liberals, the Democratic bills also restrict the ability of an individual already covered by his or her employer to opt out of that plan and purchase health insurance through the government exchange. In other words, one provision would accelerate the number of people who buy their insurance through government, while the other would place limitations on it.

The Drudge-linked video also includes the 2003 clip of Obama arguing that he favors a single-payer health care system to the AFL-CIO, as well as clips of Democratic Reps. Barney Frank and Jan Schakowsky arguing that offering a government-run plan (or “public option”) will lead to single-payer over time. Taken together, I think this highlights Democratic double-talk on health care. When speaking to liberal audiences who want a single-payer system, Democrats will argue to them that offering a government-run plan within a government-run exchange is the politically pragmatic way of getting to a single-payer system over time. But when addressing the general public, they talk about the government plan merely as something that will provide people with “choice” and foster “competition.” They don’t get to have it both ways.

Durbin Accuses Citizens Opposed to Obamacare of Being Planted By Insurers

With opponents of government-run health care speaking out at town hall meetings in growing numbers and with increased ferocity (watch this video of Arlen Specter hearing it from constituents), liberals are attempting to delegitimize citizens exercising their rights by portraying them as part of some ominous conspiracy run by evil corporations.

Lee Fang of the Center for American Progress’s ThinkProgess blog snarls:

ThinkProgress reported today on the growing number of angry right-wing activists viciously harassing Democratic, as well as moderate Republican, members of Congress on health care reform. Jonathan Cohn wrote that these tactics represent “classic astroturf organizing, in some cases bankrolled by the health care industry.” The insurance industry is sending staff members to over 30 states to “confront” lawmakers about health care reform. Simultaneously, Cohn writes, the health care industry will use the August recess to “flood the airwaves with ads picking apart reform legislation.” Indeed, AHIP, the lobbying juggernaut for the health insurance industry, has promised to change its tone and begin running negative ads on reform soon.

The site also runs a video in which Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin says:

“These health insurance companies and people like them are trying to load these town hall meetings for visual impact on television. They want to show thousands of people screaming ‘socialism’ and try to overcome the public sentiment, which now favors health care reform. That’s almost like flooding the switchboards on Capitol Hill. It doesn’t prove much other than the switchboards have limited capacity, so we want to have a balanced approach that allows members of Congress to hear both sides of the story, rather than be sucker-punched, or sidetracked by these tactics.”

This is absolutely absurd on several levels.  For one thing, I’ve been closely tracking liberal groups involved in the health care fight for some time, and all I’ve been hearing is how much money unions and other activist groups would be pouring into fighting for liberal health care legislation. Last July, the group Health Care for Americans Now announced the start of a $40 million campaign expressly for this purpose, and the groups were loaded with backers from big labor and groups such as MoveOn, Planned Parenthood, and ACORN. As I’ve reported elsewhere, the group received a $10 million grant from Atlantic Philanthropies, whose CEO, Gara LaMarche, was previously director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Institute, the philanthropic foundation founded and chaired by George Soros.

In June, I attended a news conference in which HCAN and other liberal groups announced they would spend $82 million in an effort to support President Obama’s health care push and press for legislation that includes a new government-run plan modeled after Medicare. Howard Dean, former chair of the DNC, is involved in this supposedly grassroots effort.

But aside from this, Durbin’s statement that the American public is supportive of the Democratic health care agenda and thus any people protesting it at townhall meetings are merely tools of the insurance companies flies in the face of the actual polling data we have. For instance, a Pew poll released last week found that just 38 percent of Americans favor the health care proposals making their way through the Democratic Congress, compared to 44 percent who are opposed. And you can’t pin this one on “angry right-wing activists.” The poll also found that among independents, only 34 percent favored the proposals, compared with 49 percent who opposed them (the number opposed rose to 70 percent among independents who said they were following the health care debate closely).

The liberal effort to discredit American citizens who are expressing their views on an issue of vital importance is completely without merit, but it is instructive. It tells us that liberals know that despite their tremendous advantages in terms of resources and power in Washington, they are losing the health care messaging war. It’s becoming clear that Americans are not ready for a government takeover of the health care system, and they aren’t going to sit by idly while Democrats ram it down their throats.

Schumer Threatens Republicans Have Until September, Enzi Responds

Bloomberg reports:

(Sen. Chuck) Schumer said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus set a Sept. 15 deadline for getting a bipartisan agreement among six senators on the finance panel who are negotiating a deal.

“If we cannot produce a bipartisan solution by then, you have to wonder if the Republicans would ever be willing to agree to anything,” Schumer, a New York Democrat and member of the panel, said on a conference call with reporters. “We will enact health-care reform by the end of the year. If the Republicans are not able to produce an agreement, we will have contingencies in play.”

To which Mike Enzi, one of the Republicans involved in the talks repsonded:

“I have not and will not agree to an artificial deadline because I am committed to getting health care reform right, not finishing a bill by some arbitrary date.  Improving access to quality, affordable health care for American families is too important to do hastily.  Additionally, since many of the policies under discussion will not take effect for a number of years, we should focus on the goal of meaningful reform and not rush to meet timelinesâ€_

“We’re making progress, but we still have several significant, outstanding items to work on.  I won’t be moved by partisan threats to misuse the budget reconciliation process.  I am committed to getting health care reform right.”

Why Health Insurance Mandates Are A Middle Class Tax Hike

Drudge has been pumping up the fact that the Obama administration would not rule out the possibility of raising middle-class taxes to pay for health care legislation. While this is worth highlighting, it shouldn’t distract attention from the fact that the health care bills currently being proposed all include a middle-class tax hike in the form of a mandate requiring that individuals purchase health insurance.

It’s true that current proposals offer subsidies to help people buy insurance, but even the more generous subsidies in the House Democratic health care bill cap off at 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $43,320 for individuals. Yet if you look at Census data, 8.5 million of the uninsured have incomes of between $50,000 and $74,999, while an additional 9.1 million have household incomes of $75,000 or more. We can’t put a precise number on the full cost of the mandate to the middle class based on these statistics. For instance, Census data refers to “household” income which in some cases could mean individuals but in other cases could mean families, and we don’t know how the uninsured population breaks down within the over $75,000 group (i.e., how many of them have household incomes of between $75,000 to $85,000 vs. how many are above $200,000). But what is pretty obvious is that there will be millions of middle-class Americans who won’t qualify for subsidies, yet will be forced to either buy insurance or pay a fine. While people focus on the penalty aspect of it, if you’re making $45,000 a year and the government begins forcing you to spend thousands of dollars each year for a product, that’s a lot of money, and it’s undeniably a tax on the middle-class.

And there’s also something else insipid about the idea of mandates. While those advocating mandates accuse those Americans who are uninsured by choice as being burdens on the system, there’s a flip side to that. Millions of the uninsured are young and healthy and simply don’t spend enough on medical care each year to justify the annual cost of premiums. If Obama gets his way, they’ll be forced buy something that isn’t a good deal for them so that older and sicker people can obtain more affordable insurance. If liberals want to argue that it’s a moral imperative that government make it affordable for sick Americans to get health insurance, they’ll have to be forced to acknowledge that the cost of doing so will have to be paid by others — and some of that burden will be borne by the middle class.

In 2012 Preview, Pawlenty Takes Aim at RomneyCare

In today’s Washington Post, Tim Pawlenty has an op-ed urging Washington to learn from health care reform experiences at the state level. Not surprisingly, he touts reform efforts in Minnesota, but it’s also noteworthy that he takes aim at the Massachusetts overhaul that was led by Mitt Romney (though he doesn’t mention Romney by name). Not that Pawlenty is a free market puritan on health care — he supported SCHIP, for example — but the disastrous results of Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts could prove a big obstacle for him during the 2012 Republican primaries in which at the moment, he’s viewed as the very early frontrunner.

Romney has tried to have it both ways on health care. On the one hand, he points to health care as an example of his ability as an executive to get things done, yet at the same time he blames the Democratic legislature for changing his original plan (even though he signed it with changes, knowing that he wouldn’t be around to oversee its implementation and that his successor would likely be a Democrat). He wants to take credit for the fact that his plan expanded coverage, but doesn’t want to accept blame for the endless wait times for doctors, skyrocketing costs and the fiscal crisis that went along with that expanded coverage. He claims that his plan is a free market alternative to a government takeover of health care, and yet it’s a plan that expanded Medicaid rolls, forced individuals to purchase insurance or pay a tax, and had government provide subsidies to people to purchase a government-run insurance on a government-run exchange. Anybody worried about life under ObamaCare should not be a fan of RomneyCare — other than the absence of a government plan in the exchange, both plans are structurally very similar.

Alternative Hypocrisy

One of the ways Democrats and President Obama have sought to deflect attention from the growing public opposition to their health care plans is to turn the tables and argue that Republicans are just trying to kill “reform” without offering any alternatives. This argument is problematic on serveral levels. Republicans do not have the votes to kill any legilsation, and in any event, several Republicans have offered alternatives (see here and here). Now, it is true that Republicans as a whole haven’t united around a single alternative bill. However, it’s hypocritical for Democrats to try to criticize them for it given that in 2005, they didn’t offer an alternative to President Bush’s plan to reform Social Security — and still haven’t offered anything on this crucial issue after two and a half years in control of Congress, and six months in control of the White House. Instead, they just attacked Bush’s plan until public support for it collapsed and any chance of passage died. So, Democrats simply have no leg to stand on when they argue that Republicans are being the “party of no” on health care.