Obamacare – It’s the Law of Some of the Land

From Jonah Goldberg:

“It’s the law of the land.”

This is rapidly becoming the preferred shorthand argument for why criticism of Obamacare is just so, so wrong. It also serves as the lead sentence of a larger claim that all attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act are really symptoms of a kind of extremist right-wing lunacy.

For instance, here’s Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who walked out of the painting American Gothic to deliver this homespun wisdom: “We’re not going to bow to tea-party anarchists who deny the mere fact that Obamacare is the law. We will not bow to tea-party anarchists who refuse to accept that the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional.”

Where to begin? For starters, I know a great many self-described members of the Tea Party, and I’ve yet to meet one who would not acknowledge — admittedly with dismay — that Obamacare is the law. Nor have I met one unwilling to concede that the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional. Though from my informal polling, I can report that most think the Court’s reasoning left much to be desired (logic, persuasiveness, consistency, etc.).

Lurking beneath such lazy rhetoric is a nasty psychological insinuation that there’s something deranged not just about opposing Obamacare, but about being a conservative. This is an ancient smear, used to discredit conservatives in order to avoid debating them.

Reid is a dim and sallow man whose tin ear long ago started to rust. But it’s worth pointing out that “anarchy” is not defined in any textbook or dictionary I can find as “the absence of Obamacare.” While, yes, it’s true that Mad Max, most zombie movies, and other post-apocalyptic films are set in worlds without Obamacare, that’s really not the most salient factor.

More to the point, petitioning Congress to repeal a bad law through formal procedures is not the kind of behavior educated people normally associate with anarchism. Indeed, the hypocrisy of liberals who find it somehow “extreme” for citizens to organize peacefully to overturn a law they consider bad and unjust is a marvel to behold. The Fugitive Slave Act was once the law of the land. So was the Defense of Marriage Act. Were those determined to overturn them anarchists?

On an almost daily basis, I get a fundraising e-mail from a Democrat or from liberal outfits begging for help to overturn Citizens United, which in case you hadn’t heard is the law of the land. Why won’t these anarchists and extremists accept that the Supreme Court has ruled? I cannot wait for the Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade, just to hear liberals announce, “Well, the fight is over. The Court has spoken.”

Nearly the whole story of American liberalism is a story of dedicated ideologues seeking to overturn what they consider to be bad laws and replace them with good ones. Sometimes those efforts were laudable, as when they fought to overturn the doctrine of “separate but equal” (despite fierce opposition from Democrats). And sometimes they are lamentable, as when they routinely labor to overturn or deny school-choice laws, consigning underprivileged children to horrible schools just to placate teachers’ unions. But when conservatives try to do the exact same thing, they can’t simply be wrong, according to liberals. They must be demented extremists, anarchists, and — another favorite epithet these days — nihilists.

The hypocrisy goes deeper though. Yes, Obamacare is the law of the land. But it is President Obama — who is legally and constitutionally required to faithfully execute the law — and not Republicans who has openly defied it. He has unilaterally and often with no statutory authority opted to waive and delay the parts of the Affordable Care Act that are politically inconvenient to him (or that his administration has been too incompetent to implement).

Obama has declared that in states setting up their own exchanges, no one will have to prove his income in order to sign up for subsidies. He is so desperate to get the subsidies rolling — and thus, he hopes, buy support for the unpopular law — he’s willing to let people skip the part in the law where it says they have to prove they qualify for the goodies. He delayed the requirement for large businesses to comply with the law because the initial turmoil of having millions kicked off their insurance plans was more than he could bear politically.

While this is closer to anarchy than anything the tea partiers have pushed for, anarchy still isn’t the right word for it. Because President Obama still believes people should obey the law of the land — when it pleases him, that is.

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Words and Reality

To Mr. Obama, words matter. But they need not have any connection to reality.

From Charles C.W. Cooke:

I’m honestly at a loss as to where one might start with President Obama’s healthcare speech earlier. It was so utterly mendacious and cynical as to inspire awe. Perhaps one should begin with the outrageous claim that healthcare is an American “right,” which is not only untrue but was bizarrely allied with the insistence that, before Obamacare came along, health insurance had been reserved to the “privileged few” (also know as 90 percent of the country)? Perhaps one should start with that lawyerly language in which the the president insisted that premiums would be “lower than expected,” an irrelevant, vague and misleading metric that conveniently ignores his specific promise that costs would either go down or stay the same for absolutely everyone? Maybe one should start with the peculiar claim that “there’s no widespread evidence that the Affordable Care Act is hurting jobs”? Or, perhaps, with the president’s singling out of a silly and fringe HuffPo piece that compared the law to The Fugitive Slave Act, which was pulled from obscurity and launched into the mainstream in order to tar all conservatives as extremists and racists?

These were all astonishing and infurating in equal measure. But they paled in comparison to the dishonesty of the president’s central claim, which was that the attempt to link defunding to the debt-ceiling fight is illegitimate because Obamacare has “nothing to do with the budget.” I struggle to imagine how the president could have kept a straight face when he said this. This is a law, remember, that was crowbarred through Congress with the questionable use of reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure that is reserved exclusively for budgetary matters; a law that was sold as a deficit-reduction measure; a law that contains a significant spending component, including a 5-10 percent increase in the size of the federal budget; and, alas, a law that boasts a central mandate that was upheld (rewritten) by the Supreme Court as a tax, thus ensuring that any changes to the penalties must be approved by the House. “Nothing to do with the budget”? This is what we call a lie, Watson.

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The Concentration of Power

The Founders feared the concentration of power. Obama and the Democrats welcome it.

From Ben S. Carson:

Our divided government was formed by diligent men who had studied the history of governmental structures throughout the world and wanted to design a system that would not succumb to the temptation to continuously expand its size and scope at the expense of the people.

An important concept was the separation of powers with checks and balances among the three branches of government. It was a rather ingenious idea to invest each of the three branches of government with enough power to check unwarranted power grabs by the others.

There is, however, a breakdown in this system when officeholders are more concerned about their legacy or their re-election than they are about the proper functioning of government. Our Founders were most concerned about the possibility of the executive branch seizing power and disregarding constitutional constraints.

I suspect they would have been horrified to witness the manipulative and secretive strong-armed techniques utilized by the current administration to push through Obamacare. I’m sure they would also be shocked to see an administration that picks and chooses the laws it wishes to enforce, thereby diminishing the power of the legislative branch of government.

This practice in some ways resembles that of the centralized government system that swept the Soviet Union, whose notorious founders wrote that it was sometimes necessary to force ideas on a populace that will eventually come to accept and endorse the ideas. Similarly, our current leadership is certain that Americans will eventually see the wisdom of governmental oversight in almost every aspect of their lives.

If we are to pass a free and prosperous nation on to our progeny, it is imperative that the legislative branch of government exhibit the courage to exercise the check function it possesses. Lawmakers cannot be afraid that they will be blamed for a government shutdown if they defund Obamacare.

They have the ability to separate the health care law from the rest of the federal budget and fund one without funding the other. In doing so, they need to make it abundantly clear that they are willing to fund the government and its essential functions, but they feel that Obamacare is detrimental to the future economic health of America.

If the Democrat-controlled Senate reattaches the law, or if the executive branch makes the decision to fund Obamacare at the expense of other vital national functions, the electorate must take notice and act decisively in 2014. Many say that those who want to restore constitutional restraints are fighting a useless battle, but we must remember that freedom is reserved only for those willing to fight for it.

I am confident that the people will awaken from their apathy and vigorously support whoever has the backbone to stand up for them.

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Obama Republic

From Mark Steyn:

‘This is the United States of America,” declared President Obama to the burghers of Liberty, Mo., on Friday. “We’re not some banana republic.”

He was talking about the Annual Raising of the Debt Ceiling, which glorious American tradition seems to come round earlier every year. “This is not a deadbeat nation,” President Obama continued. “We don’t run out on our tab.” True. But we don’t pay it off either. We just keep running it up, ever higher. And every time the bartender says, “Mebbe you’ve had enough, pal,” we protest, “Jush another couple trillion for the road. Set ’em up, Joe.” And he gives you that look that kinda says he wishes you’d run out on your tab back when it was $23.68.

Still, Obama is right. We’re not a banana republic, if only because the debt of banana republics is denominated in a currency other than their own — i.e., the U.S. dollar. When you’re the guys who print the global currency, you can run up debts undreamt of by your average generalissimo. As Obama explained in another of his recent speeches, “Raising the debt ceiling, which has been done over a hundred times, does not increase our debt.” I won’t even pretend to know what he and his speechwriters meant by that one, but the fact that raising the debt ceiling “has been done over a hundred times” does suggest that spending more than it takes in is now a permanent feature of American government. And no one has plans to do anything about it. Which is certainly banana republic-esque.

Is all this spending necessary? Every day, the foot-of-page-37 news stories reveal government programs it would never occur to your dimestore caudillo to blow money on. On Thursday, it was the Food and Drug Administration blowing just shy of $200 grand to find out whether its Twitter and Facebook presence is “well-received.” A fifth of a million dollars isn’t even a rounding error in most departmental budgets, so nobody cares. But the FDA is one of those sclerotic American institutions that has near to entirely seized up. In October 1920, it occurred to an Ontario doctor called Frederick Banting that insulin might be isolated and purified and used to treat diabetes; by January 1923, Eli Lilly & Co were selling insulin to American pharmacies: A little over two years from concept to market. Now the FDA adds at least half-a-decade to the process, and your chances of making it through are far slimmer: As recently as the late Nineties, they were approving 157 new drugs per half-decade. Today it’s less than half that.

But they’ve got $182,000 to splash around on finding out whether people really like them on Facebook, or they’re just saying that. So they’ve given the dough to a company run by Dan Beckmann, a former “new media aide” to President Obama. That has the whiff of the banana republic about it, too.

The National Parks Service, which I had carelessly assumed was the service responsible for running national parks, has been making videos on Muslim women’s rights: “Islam gave women a whole bunch of rights that Western women acquired later in the 19th and 20th centuries, and we’ve had these rights since the seventh century,” explains a lady from AnNur Islamic School in Schenectady at the National Park Service website, nps.gov. Fascinating stuff, no doubt. But what’s it to do with national parks? Maybe the rangers could pay Dan Beckmann a quarter-million bucks to look into whether the National Parks’ Islamic outreach is using social media as effectively as it might.

Where do you go to get a piece of this action? As the old saying goes, bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is. But the smart guys rob taxpayers because that’s where the big money is. According to the Census Bureau’s latest “American Community Survey,” between 2000 and 2012 the nation’s median household income dropped 6.6 percent. Yet in the District of Columbia median household income rose 23.3 percent. According to a 2010 survey, seven of the nation’s ten wealthiest counties are in the Washington commuter belt. Many capital cities have prosperous suburbs — London, Paris, Rome — because those cities are also the capitals of enterprise, finance, and showbiz. But Washington does nothing but government, and it gets richer even as Americans get poorer. That’s very banana republic, too: Proximity to state power is now the best way to make money. Once upon a time Americans found fast-running brooks and there built mills to access the water that kept the wheels turning. But today the ambitious man finds a big money-no-object bureaucracy that likes to splash the cash around and there builds his lobbying group or consultancy or social media optimization strategy group.

The CEO of Panera Bread, as some kind of do-gooder awareness-raising shtick, is currently attempting to live on food stamps, and not finding it easy. But being dependent on government handouts isn’t supposed to be easy. Instead of trying life at the bottom, why doesn’t he try life in the middle? In 2012, the top 10 percent were taking home 50.4 percent of the nation’s income. That’s an all-time record, beating out the 49 percent they were taking just before the 1929 market crash. With government redistributing more money than ever before, we’ve mysteriously wound up with greater income inequality than ever before. Across the country, “middle-class” Americans have accumulated a trillion dollars in college debt in order to live a less comfortable life than their high-school-educated parents and grandparents did in the Fifties and Sixties. That’s banana republic, too: no middle class, but only a government elite and its cronies, and a big dysfunctional mass underneath, with very little social mobility between the two.

Like to change that? Maybe advocate for less government spending? Hey, Lois Lerner’s IRS has got an audit with your name on it. The tax collectors of the United States treat you differently according to your political beliefs. That’s pure banana republic, but no one seems to mind very much. This week it emerged that senior Treasury officials, up to and including Turbotax Timmy Geithner, knew what was going on at least as early as spring 2012. But no one seems to mind very much. In the words of an insouciant headline writer at Government Executive, “the magazine for senior federal bureaucrats” (seriously), back in May:

“The Vast Majority of IRS Employees Aren’t Corrupt”

So, if the vast majority aren’t, what proportion is corrupt? Thirty-eight percent? Thirty-three? Twenty-seven? And that’s the good news? The IRS is not only institutionally corrupt, it’s corrupt in the service of one political party. That’s Banana Republic 101.

What comes next? Government officials present in Benghazi during last year’s slaughter have been warned not to make themselves available to congressional inquiry. CNN obtained one e-mail spelling out the stakes to CIA employees: “You don’t jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well.”

“That’s all very ominous,” wrote my colleague Jonah Goldberg the other day, perhaps a little too airily for my taste. I’d rank it somewhere north of “ominous.”

“Banana republic” is an American coinage — by O. Henry, a century ago, for a series of stories set in the fictional tropical polity of Anchuria. But a banana republic doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a sensibility, and it’s difficult to mark the precise point at which a free society decays into something less respectable. Pace Obama, ever swelling debt, contracts for cronies, a self-enriching bureaucracy, a shrinking middle class preyed on by corrupt tax collectors, and thuggish threats against anyone who disagrees with you put you pretty far down the banana-strewn path.

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Minimum Understanding of the Minimum Wage

From Thomas Sowell:

Political crusades for raising the minimum wage are back again. Advocates of minimum-wage laws often give themselves credit for being more “compassionate” towards “the poor.” But they seldom bother to check what are the actual consequences of such laws.

One of the simplest and most fundamental economic principles is that people tend to buy more of something when the price is lower and less when the price is higher. Yet advocates of minimum-wage laws seem to think that the government can raise the price of labor without reducing the amount of labor that will be hired.

When you turn from economic principles to hard facts, the case against minimum-wage laws is even stronger. Countries with minimum-wage laws almost invariably have higher rates of unemployment than countries without minimum-wage laws.

Most nations today have minimum-wage laws, but they have not always had them. Unemployment rates have been very much lower in places and times when there were no minimum-wage laws.

Switzerland is one of the few modern nations without a minimum-wage law. In 2003, The Economist magazine reported: “Switzerland’s unemployment neared a five-year high of 3.9 percent in February.” In February of this year, Switzerland’s unemployment rate was 3.1 percent. A recent issue of The Economist reported Switzerland’s unemployment rate as 2.1 percent.

Most Americans today have never seen unemployment rates that low. However, there was a time when there was no federal minimum-wage law in the United States. The last time was during the Coolidge administration, when the annual unemployment rate got as low as 1.8 percent. When Hong Kong was a British colony, it had no minimum-wage law. In 1991, its unemployment rate was under 2 percent.

As for being “compassionate” toward “the poor,” this assumes that there is some enduring class of Americans who are poor in some meaningful sense, and that there is something compassionate about reducing their chances of getting a job.

Most Americans living below the government-set poverty line have a washer and/or dryer, as well as a computer. More than 80 percent have air conditioning. More than 80 percent also have both a landline and a cell phone. Nearly all have television and a refrigerator. Most Americans living below the official poverty line also own a motor vehicle and have more living space than the average European — not Europeans in poverty, the average European.

Why then are they called “poor”? Because government bureaucrats create the official definition of poverty, and they do so in ways that provide a political rationale for the welfare state — and, not incidentally, for the bureaucrats’ own jobs.

Most people in the lower income brackets are not an enduring class. Most working people in the bottom 20 percent in income at a given time do not stay there over time. More of them end up in the top 20 percent than remain behind in the bottom 20 percent.

There is nothing mysterious about the fact that most people start off in entry-level jobs that pay much less than they will earn after they get some work experience. But when minimum-wage levels are set without regard to their initial productivity, young people are disproportionately unemployed — priced out of jobs.

In European welfare states where minimum wages, and mandated job benefits to be paid for by employers, are more generous than in the United States, unemployment rates for younger workers are often 20 percent or higher, even when there is no recession.

Unemployed young people lose not only the pay they could have earned but, at least equally important, the work experience that would enable them to earn higher rates of pay later on.

Minorities, like young people, can also be priced out of jobs. In the United States, the last year in which the black unemployment rate was lower than the white unemployment rate — 1930 — was also the last year when there was no federal minimum-wage law. Inflation in the 1940s raised the pay of even unskilled workers above the minimum wage set in 1938. Economically, it was the same as if there were no minimum-wage law by the late 1940s.

In 1948 the unemployment rate of black 16-year-old and 17-year-old males was 9.4 percent. This was a fraction of what it would become in even the most prosperous years from 1958 on, as the minimum wage was raised repeatedly to keep up with inflation.

Some “compassion” for “the poor”!

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The Unbelievably Small Men Leading Our Country

From Daniel Henniger:

After writing in the London Telegraph that Monday was “the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began,” former British ambassador Charles Crawford asked simply: “How has this happened?”

On the answer, opinions might differ. Or maybe not. A consensus assessment of the past week’s events could easily form around Oliver Hardy’s famous lament to the compulsive bumbler Stan Laurel: “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into!”

In the interplay between Barack Obama and John Kerry, it’s not obvious which one is Laurel and which one is Hardy. But diplomatic slapstick is not funny. No one wants to live in a Laurel and Hardy presidency. In a Laurel and Hardy presidency, red lines vanish, shots across the bow are word balloons, and a display of U.S. power with the whole world watching is going to be “unbelievably small.”

The past week was a perfect storm of American malfunction. Colliding at the center of a serious foreign-policy crisis was Barack Obama’s manifest skills deficit, conservative animosity toward Mr. Obama, Republican distrust of his leadership, and the reflexive opportunism of politicians from Washington to Moscow.

It is Barack Obama’s impulse to make himself and whatever is in his head the center of attention. By now, we are used to it. But this week he turned himself, the presidency and the United States into a spectacle. We were alternately shocked and agog at these events. Now the sobering-up has to begin.

The world has effectively lost its nominal leader, the U.S. president. Is this going to be the new normal? If so—and it will be so if serious people don’t step up—we are looking at a weakened U.S president who has a very, very long three years left on his term.

The belief by some that we can ride this out till a Reagan-like rescue comes in the 2016 election is wrong. Jimmy Carter’s Iranian hostage crisis began on Nov. 4, 1979. One quick year later, the American people turned to Ronald Reagan. There will be no such chance next year or the year after that—not till November 2016.

[…]

The White House, Congress and Beltway pundits are exhaling after the president of Russia took America off the hook of that frightful intervention vote by offering, in the middle of a war, to transfer Syria’s chemical weapons inventory to the U.N.—a fairy tale if ever there was one. Ask any chemical-weapons disposal specialist.

Syria looks lost. The question now is whether anyone who participated in the fiasco, from left to right, will adjust to avoid a repeat when the next crisis comes.

The president himself needs somehow to look beyond his own instinct on foreign policy. It’s just not enough. The administration badly needs a formal strategic vision. Notwithstanding her piece of Benghazi, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who gave a surprisingly tough speech Monday on the failure of the U.N. process and America’s role now, may be the insider to start shaping a post-Syria strategy. Somebody has to do it. Conservative critics can carp for three years, which will dig the hole deeper, or contribute to a way forward.

Allowing this week to become the status quo is unthinkable. A 40-month run of Laurel and Hardy’s America will endanger everyone.

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