As my past writings on the subject can attest, I think Obamacare is a horrendous, likely ruinous, social program. I can thus summon one and half cheers for the Republican leadership, which despite having backed George W. Bush's unfunded Medicare extension but six years ago, has decided to come out strong against Obamacare, follow the Tea Partiers, and try to "kill the bill."
As a friend wrote to me in an email:
Things can always get worse no matter how much the current system sucks. We should applaud the Republicans here for not trying to reach out and do something "bipartisan." Give me spineless slimeballs over true-believing liberals.
There's truth to that ... but there is also a way in which a political opposition, even a forthright and unwavering one, can do serious intellectual damage to a cause by essentially agreeing with the premises of its adversary and not actually defining what is wrong with the other side.
Boiled down to its essence, the Republican argument against Obamacare goes something like this:
Our current system is the best in the world, a wonder of free-market economics. It might need some tweaking here and there -- and tort reform is a good idea -- but we can't allow Obama to ruin this good thing we've got going by passing his plan, which shall cost too much and might restrict care for seniors. We conservatives will fight to defend Medicare and make sure everyone in American gets fully covered by the health insurance companies.
I don't think my characterization is off by much.
Everyone but true-believing liberals is spooked by Obamacare, but one reason why the "healthcare reform" argument has purchase is that the status quo is, quite simply, frightful:
- Health insurance for a family of four costs somewhere on the order of $15,000 a year.
- A trip to the hospital for a broken leg will be priced in the hundreds of thousands.
And on the macro level,
- Healthcare makes up between 16 and 20 percent of the entire U.S. economy.
- Medicare and Medicaid compose some 30-35 percent of the entire federal budget.
Clearly, something is going horribly wrong.
In this line, I disagree with Larry Auster when he writes that Obamacare, if passed, would be "the most revolutionary, nation-changing leftist act in American history." It wouldn't be. The U.S. government already spends more on healthcare than our "socialist" European cousins, and Obamacare is simply more -- much more -- of the same.
I can't claim to have read a fraction of the thousand-page bill, but I gather that once the "public option" was dropped, there was little chance that the government would start building big, Kafka-esque concrete facilities where everyone would go when sick or injured -- "health centers," which due to affirmative action and worsening demographics might start to resemble L.A.'s infamous Martin Luther King Harbor Hospital. The public option wouldn't have been like the NHS -- more like something out of the SAW film franchise!
Though such a terrifying outcome has been avoided for now, Obamacare, if passed, would essentially expand and intensify the system already in place of price-fixing and heavily subsidized (or even semi-mandated) health insurance.
Attacking Obamacare thus means attacking the current medical system. And with this in mind, here's how I would articulate my opposition to the bill, were I a Republican.
1Healthcare is big business, and as such, the industry can offer some outstanding services, for a price. But normal, middle-class, healthy people are getting a raw deal and paying far too much. The reason for this is that the government is much too involved. Costs have ballooned along with the federal budget; on the other hand, those medical practices that aren't covered by Medicare or the subsidized insurance industry, like Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery, have experienced stable or even falling prices.
2We're broke! We can't afford existing entitlements -- not to mention Obamacare -- without increasing taxes or debasing the currency. We will thus need to drastically curtail benefits. In order to make sure that care can be provided, the government will get out of the marketplace and offer full freedom to medical entrepreneurs.
3Phrases like "universal insurance," "safety net," "full coverage" might sound nice, but in fact, high levels of insurance only make care more expensive and providers more inefficient. People who have federally subsidized insurance through their employer are more likely to make frequent doctor's visits and demand tests and care that they simply don't need. Catastrophic insurance is probably a good idea, but most people function quite well without insurance for routine maintenance on their home, computer, and car, and thus there's no reason why they should need "full coverage" for their body. Paying out of pocket is the surest way to make prices fall!
It seems like such common-sense reforms and cutbacks would be attractive to Republicans, who are always talking about how much they love the free-market and personal responsibility. They won't, of course, because in actuality the Republicans are one of three things:
1Hypocrites/sociopaths who actually don't believe the things they say they do.
2Brainless conservatives who staunchly defend the status quo, whatever that might be.
3"Social gospel" conservatives who actually like socialism (à la Ross Douthat or John Dilulio.)
Since "compassionate conservatives" have gone the way of Dubya, I conclude that the Republican Party is some admixture of socipathic number 1 and spineless number 2. Democrats, on other hand, say they are "progressives" (read: socialists) and actually are, which makes them far more principled and trustworthy in my opinion.
And finally, before this terrible bill gets passed this evening, let me sound a few apocalyptic notes, as I'm wont to do.
Back when Medicare was first rolled out, it cost a measly $3 billion, and it was estimated that it'd reach $10 billion over the next 25 years. In fact, Medicare was costing over $100 billion during that stretch, and now requires over $700 billion in federal funds, taking up a quarter of the entire national budget.
My aforementioned friend believes, Zeno-like, that "things can always get worse no matter how much the current system sucks." But in the world of budgets, credit, and fiat currency, there actually are breaking points: limits to just how much a government can spend, how much debt it can take on, and how much money it can print. Even if Obamacare were to miraculously go down in defeat tonight, I think we will be reaching such a breaking point sooner than most think.