This post originally appears at Frum Forum.
You have to feel a little sorry for liberals today. It’s been so long since they could claim a world-historical figure as their very own, that their gushing encomiums over President Barack Obama’s triumph in passing national health insurance reform have become just a touch too mawkish.
For example, Matthew Yglesias has placed Mr. Obama into the pantheon of liberal lions exactly one year and two months into his presidency:
Now that it’s done, Barack Obama will go down in history as one of America’s finest presidents. It’s always possible of course that, like LBJ, he’ll get involved in some unrelated fiasco that mars his reputation. But fundamentally, he’s reshaped the policy landscape in a way that no progressive politician has done in decades.
Not to be outdone, The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait makes virtually the same point:
Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don’t know what will follow in his presidency, and it’s quite possible that some future event–a war, a scandal–will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has.
So eager are our liberal friends to anoint the president as the inheritor of Franklin Roosevelt’s mantle that Chait goes the extra mile in homage and writes that the bill is not only good — it’s great!
Historians will see this health care bill as a masterfully crafted piece of legislation. Obama and the Democrats managed to bring together most of the stakeholders and every single Senator in their party. The new law untangles the dysfunctionalities of the individual insurance market while fulfilling the political imperative of leaving the employer-provided system in place.
I’m sure it will come as a surprise to you that this cut-and-paste, deal-laden, haphazardly thrown together, mish-mash of an entitlement bill was “masterfully crafted.” Perhaps Chait means it the same way that a Da-Daist painter “masterfully crafts” a surreal portrait — you don’t have a clue who it is or what it means but it’s expensive and nobody really wants one hanging in their living room.
Pre-sanctifying Obama before the president has even started his second season on the golf course is sort of pathetic. It’s like consecrating a baseball rookie as a Hall of Fame candidate in April when he’s hitting over .300. Let’s revisit the rookie’s stats at the All Star break and tell me then if we should send his uniform to Cooperstown.
Similarly, the real damage Obamacare will do won’t kick in until 2014, when the individual mandate forcing everyone to buy insurance kicks in. That’s when those 10,000 extra IRS agents that are being hired will find something to do with their time besides annoying citizens about their taxes. Our IRS overlords will be on the job, making a list and checking it twice for insurance scofflaws. Beyond making sure you have insurance, these 10,000 extra pairs of eyes will also determine whether or not you have the right kind of coverage that have been dictated by the bureaucrats.
I see the potential for a situation comedy in this, as intimidated citizens are forced to argue with the Revenuers that A, B, and C in their policies puts them in compliance with the law while the infallible Treasury Agents don’t quite see it that way. Hilarity ensues when the poor schmuck gets caught in the wheels of IRS administrative justice and is ground to powder — outlasted by the well meaning, but bumbling bureaucrats. Perhaps we could call it 2 ½ Feds.
Then there’s the deficit. A great deal was made by proponents of the bill that the preliminary analysis by the Congressional Budget Office gave the House bill with reconciliation fixes a passing grade when it came to cost versus savings. The $940 billion price tag over the first ten years of the bill was accompanied by $138 billion in deficit reduction. The fact that the total budget deficit over that same span of time is predicted to be $7.12 trillion wasn’t mentioned by supporters of Obamacare for obvious reasons; the $138 billion reduction in that number is an obscene joke and Congress is, after all, a family show.
To be sure, history is not on the side of Obamacare supporters. Every single health care entitlement has far exceeded budgetary expectations. In the case of Medicare, it is particularly telling.
In 1965, the House Ways and Means Committee estimated that the hospital insurance program of Medicare — the federal health care program for the elderly and disabled — would cost $9 billion by 1990. The actual cost that year was $67 billion.
In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee said the entire Medicare program would cost $12 billion in 1990. The actual cost in 1990 was $98 billion.
In 1987, Congress projected that Medicaid — the joint federal-state health care program for the poor — would make special relief payments to hospitals of less than $1 billion in 1992. Actual cost: $17 billion.
It seems there is a kind of Murphy’s Law of health care legislation: “If it can cost more than the highest available official estimate, it probably will.”
All of this begs the question; aren’t liberals being a little premature in granting President Obama mythic hero status among presidents? If Obamacare bankrupts us 10 or 15 years down the road, or sooner, will that take the sheen off of his reputation?
Probably not. They’ll just blame it all on Bush.