It has now been almost six weeks since the Oct. 1 partial federal government shutdown. It is football season. Let us do some Monday morning quarterbacking.
When there is a disagreement between the two political parties, like the shutdown situation, the disagreement is a fact. However, the reason for the failure to agree is generally a matter of opinion. According to the Democrats, the reason was the unacceptable use of improper leverage by the Republicans to try to defund or change Obamacare, an established law. According to the Republicans, the reason was the unwillingness of the Democrats to entertain any change in the unpopular law. Contemporaneous and related issues, the budget and raising of the debt ceiling, involved the Obamacare issue as well as the impending $17 trillion government debt and the continuing annual deficit. Your views as to why the disagreement arose probably reflects your political leanings.
The “compromise” reached to end the shutdown illustrated our political malaise as our distinguished Congress, abetted by the president, simply deferred any solution for about 90 days. This “kicking the can down the road” is demonstrative of a critical unwillingness by our legislators and our president to deal meaningfully with the major problems of our times.
There is a fundamental divide between the parties as to the role of the federal government in our society. A major battleground in that conflict is Obamacare, which was adopted when the Democrats had control of Congress without a single Republican vote. Polling has shown that at no time was Obamacare favored by a majority of the American citizens. The current cost of national health care is now nearly 20 percent of our economy. This entitlement program is huge to impose without majority support.
In order to promote the passage of the Obamacare law and seek public support of it, the president repeatedly told us that health care costs would go down with Obamacare ($2,500 per year for the average family); that if we liked our existing insurance plan, we could keep it; that if we liked our doctor, we cold keep him or her; and that the cost of installing Obamacare would be less than $1 trillion. All of these claims are in whole or in part inaccurate. To call these statements lies may be pejorative but they certainly were misrepresentations. A consequence of an abuse of the truth is that it leads to credibility problems, generating doubt as to the reliability of and lack of trust in current statements. Obamacare is simply not what we were told it would be and critics are saying we were duped.
Although the president has, by directive, altered or delayed the application of several terms of the law, including the “employer mandate,” the delay of the “individual mandate” sought by Congressional Republicans has been resisted.
The pressure for an individual mandate delay has been intensified recently because of the massive failures of the program to select desired coverage. The furor over the inability of the roll out system to function has masked a more critical consequence. The law imposes certain minimum standards for coverage. The president’s pledge was that if a person liked his or her plan, it could be kept, and the law purported to “grandfather” existing plans. But regulations provided otherwise and up to two-thirds of individual plan holders, perhaps as many as 10 million people with individual plans, will be losing their existing coverage. This failure to meet a guarantee is unacceptable. These people will find out that, on average, any replacement coverage will be more costly, and if the roll out website continues to malfunction, securing coverage may not be obtainable by the January deadline. We have yet to learn the plan loss from employer plans.
Another troublesome aspect that should be noted is that in order to provide the revenue needed to meet estimated costs, over five million younger persons must obtain coverage to defray the demands anticipated from older persons. Preliminary indications are that the required sign up by younger persons will not occur.
It is not known at this point whether Obamacare and its multiple issues will be a part of the early 2014 discussions relating to our federal budget and the renewal of the current debt ceiling limits. But it should. Obamacare has been well described by a Democrat senator as a “train wreck” and the time to resolve its difficulties should be before they become disasters.
It seems increasingly clear that if the health care needs of our citizens are to be protected, Obamacare must either receive basic changes or be brought to an end. The course of events is in the hands of our president and Congress. The partisan divide that is demolishing our federal government must somehow be bridged. This will be particularly hard for the president whose signature legislation and transformational intentions are on the line and who must learn to admit his errors. But Republicans will also need to become more statesman-like to achieve an acceptable restructuring. I wish I felt comfortable that our national government put the welfare of the people ahead of partisan interests and personal ambitions.
• Walter Lewis writes a regular column for The Garden Island.