Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stop with the Piecemeal Obamacare changes. Or: Why Republicans bear no responsibility for what's going wrong, but that might change.

I was not a fan of the shutdown.  It's not because I'm against shutting down the government.  I would have been totally on board if the House had started with the strategy they ended with, and started passing small funding bills a year ago.  I think shutting down the government rather than passing an omnibus funding bill just because Appropriators can't stand to pass funding for National Parks without also funding their pet constituency is a great idea.  Alternatively I wouldn't have a huge problem with shutting down the government rather than raise the debt limit.  If Republicans were steadfast in refusing to raise the debt limit then that's basically the equivalent of a balanced-budget amendment as was very well outlined on Power Line.  It's admittedly not the cleanest way to get a balanced-budget, but democracy is rarely clean and we can't afford to keep borrowing a couple million dollars per minute forever.

The reason I'm not a fan of the shutdown is it was done to benefit yet-another-half-repeal of Obamacare.  If the Democrats were smart, it would have ended with a disastrous delay on the individual mandate.  Here allow me to go off on a tangent.  I have already started to hear politicians and media types saying that this is partly the Republicans fault.  That's insane.  The Republicans tried to get amendments introduced to change the bill when it was introduced; none of them made it to the bill.  They then tried to prevent the bill from coming to a vote in the Senate: it was put through as a budget reconciliation bill so that it could come to a vote with no Republican support.  They then tried to prevent passage: it passed without a single Republican vote.  They then tried to repeal it when they took over the house: they failed.  They then tried to delay the individual mandate: they failed.  They have tried to change the rules to allow insurance companies to offer policies that were legal before the bill's passage: that has gone nowhere.  It's accurate to say the Republicans have done everything they can to prevent Obamacare, but they have been utterly hapless, failing to accomplish change at every turn.  To say that it's somehow their fault is to say the Democrats passed exactly what they wanted, but the Republicans didn't overcome Democrat majorities in order to force us to have something better.  The only changes that have been made to Obamacare since it's passage are the ones illegally made by the President himself decreeing that certain parts of the bill just didn't need to be followed, no matter what Congress might say.

So why, given that I think the whole bill is such a disaster, do I think a delay would be disastrous?  Because the whole bill is a house of cards.  It's, to borrow a phrase from Boehner, a crap sandwich, but it's constructed such that pretty much any single changes leaves things worse than you found it.  Millions of people on the individual market are, predictably, having their coverage dropped.  The exchanges are, predictably, a disaster where people may not be able to register for coverage in time.  The employer mandate (this one I wouldn't have predicted) is just not being enforced by the President, despite the fact that the law plainly requires it.  All of these things add up to a ton of people who are going to have to pay a tax penalty in 2014 instead of getting a refund, because they won't have insurance.  So why would a delay of that be a bad thing?

Because the entire insurance system could collapse if the only people who buy coverage are those that are going to need service, massively inflating the costs of coverage for next year.  Because currently I can make the above screed about how every part of this mess is owned completely by Democrats and you can't do that if Republicans force through a market-destroying delay on the mandate.  Because delaying the mandate for one year means people can ignore just how bad the bill is until after the 2014 elections and then find out that they're going to have to either pay a penalty or buy the new, even higher than this year's outrageous prices for insurance only after the Democrats are safely re-elected.

Conservatives predicted the messes we're seeing now when the bill was first passed, but they're only the first taste of the crap-sandwich to come.  Obamacare should be repealed, but only when the entire thing can be repealed.  The one small change Republicans should propose is to change the subsidy such that if the whole thing collapses in the next five years (which it will) the law doesn't provide for an automatic increase of the debt to provide the insurance subsidy.

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