E.J. Dionne Jr: [My] Willful Stupidity in the Obamacare Debate

E.J. Dionne Jr.’s latest column in the WaPo (February 06, 2014) is aptly titled “Willful stupidity in the Obamacare Debate“, and the only way I could improve upon that would be to clarify it with the prefix “My” (there, I fixed it for you!).  Here at EoT the fisk has never gone out of style, so let’s unsheathe the long knives and have at it!

“One of the best arguments for health-insurance reform is that our traditional employer-based system often locked people into jobs they wanted to leave but couldn’t because they feared they wouldn’t be able to get affordable coverage elsewhere.”

The missing word here is “remaining”, as in, “one of the best remaining arguments for health-insurance reform”, what with most previous argument having been shown to be shameless lies. Obamacare will not save us money, it will help insure only a small fraction of the number of uninsured that were told it would, and these were the two primary arguments in favor of passing the law. Oh, and you won’t be able to keep your doctor or your current health plan. You’re welcome!

“This worry was pronounced for people with preexisting conditions, but it was not limited to them.”

This is because people with preexisting conditions who want coverage for their condition are not trying to get insurance, per se. I’ve written about this previously: health insurance is a business model predicated on risk pooling. If you already have the problem that you want to be insured against then the certainty that the policy will have to pay for it is 100%, no probabilities about it. In that case, what you’re demanding is more like a payment installment plan, or a handout. Far from being “one of the worst abuses by the insurance industry”, when it comes to preexisting conditions, denying coverage or charging high premiums is what’s fair to the insurance companies and their premium-paying customers, neither of which are or should be obligated to pay for anyone else’s healthcare.

“Consider families with young children in which one parent would like to get out of the formal labor market for a while to take care of the kids. In the old system, the choices of such couples were constrained if only one of the two received employer-provided family coverage.”

Of course, fixing this isn’t a sufficient reason to overhaul one-sixth of our economy, but think of the children!  Don’t overthink it, though, because although adding a newborn to your policy was easy under the old system, using the Obamacare portalfail it turns out to be extremely difficult. You’re welcome!

“Or ponder the fate of a 64-year-old with a condition that leaves her in great pain. She has the savings to retire but can’t exercise this option until she is eligible for Medicare. Is it a good thing to force her to stay in her job? Is it bad to open her job to someone else?”

Again, not a good enough reason to overhaul one-sixth of our economy, but at any rate, a situation like that is a shame.  Life is like that. E.J. does not point out that his solution – Obamacare – will stick you with the bill for her health care, nor does he remind you that Obamacare will cut Medicare by $711 billion dollars between 2012 and 2022.

“By broadening access to health insurance, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ends the tyranny of “job lock,” which is what the much-misrepresented Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study of the law released Tuesday shows. The new law increases both personal autonomy and market rationality by ending the distortions in behavior the old arrangements were creating.”

Obamacare increases personal autonomy and market rationality? E.J. provides no substantiation for these assertions because he can’t. Obamacare does not increase personal autonomy in the least, except insofar as you’re on your own to find coverage when your employer drops healthcare insurance as a part of their compensation package (That sour taste in your mouth?  That’s the taste of freedom!).  Nor does Obamacare increase market rationality in the least; in the long-term markets act rationally on their own in response to market conditions, and what Obamacare does is to change market conditions.  Obamacare introduced a distortion in the the job market by disincentivizing part-time workers from taking full-time jobs, and their choice to forgo a full-time job is an example of market rationality in action. Workers will stay part-time because they’ll end up with more money that way. The market will provide them with more money if they go full-time, but the government will take it away, and then some.

In effect, Obamacare will hamper upward mobility.  Democrats excel at making you poor, and then keeping you poor and dependent – on them.

Here’s a quote from the the CBO report which lays it out:

CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor—given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive. Because the largest declines in labor supply will probably occur among lower-wage workers, the reduction in aggregate compensation (wages, salaries, and fringe benefits) and the impact on the overall economy will be proportionally smaller than the reduction in hours worked.

E.J. presses on:

“But that’s not how the study has been interpreted, particularly by enemies of the law.”

Go ahead, interpret that quote above from the CBO report for yourself, and compare it to how E.J. Dionne has “interpreted” it. Note also his characterization of opponents as “enemies”, and remember how red-faced angry Liberals always accuse the right-wing of being divisive and uncivil. It’s only uncivil when you do it to them, of course.

“Typical was a tweet from the National Republican Congressional Committee, declaring that “#ObamaCare is hurting the economy, will cost 2.5 millions [sic] jobs.” Glenn Kessler, The Post’s intrepid fact checker, replied firmly: `No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs.’ What the report said, as the Wall Street Journal accurately summarized it, is that the law `will reduce the total number of hours Americans work by the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time jobs.'”

A fair point, insofar as it goes, but it’s an old reporter’s trick: Find a boob, quote him, and portray the boob as being representative of all your opponents – sorry, enemies. If you’re at a rally, find the doofus in a clown costume on stilts and put him on camera. See? These guys are all clowns (OK, bad example). The rest of the marchers may be typical and ordinary suburban moms and lunchbox Joe’s with their adorable kids in tow, but it’s the clown who gets to be the media-selected representative of them all.

In this case, Dionne uses a tweet from the NRCC which lacks a smidgen of nuance; the NRCC tweet makes it sounds like only 2.5M workers would have been affected, but Dionne is quick to provide the added nuance in phrasing – which makes it clear that far more than 2.5M workers will be affected by this because the CBO added up total hours and came up with a total full-time job equivalent.  (Late at night, when all is quiet and still, if you listen closely you can still hear the echo of the slap of Dionne’s facepalm)

Recall that Pelosi used to made the claim that the ACA was a jobs bill because 400,000 new jobs would be created getting the exchanges up & running, and a new bureaucratic  apparatus would be required to administer it.  So, jobs!

“Oh my God, say opponents of the ACA, here is the government encouraging sloth!”

No. Opponents (oh, are we opponents now, not enemies? too soon for hugs?) are not saying that. Sure, if you’ll look hard enough you’ll find some right-winger saying that, but you can find pretty much whatever you’re looking for on the internet.  What E.J. is doing here is mischaracterizing the arguments of his opponents and then condemning them for the words he put in their mouths, i.e., a straw man. As above, what we’re saying is that we want these part-time employees to be able to take a full-time position without having to pay penalties which make it financially disadvantageous, so much so that they’re better off staying part-time.

“That’s true only if you wish to take away the choices the law gives that 64-year-old or to those parents looking for more time to care for their children. Many on the right love family values until they are taken seriously enough to involve giving parents/workers more control over their lives.”

Message: Our gift to you is that you can pass the time any way you want when you’d rather be earning wages.  The reality is that low-wage workers will be financially penalized for working full-time hours, a market distortion brought to you by the Democrat party. You’re welcome! Of course, with fewer hours to work, you could spend more of your time with your children. Or hustling at a pool hall for some extra scratch. Your call.

To put it another way, “Over the longer run, CBO finds that because of this law, individuals will be empowered to make choices about their own lives and livelihoods, like retiring on time rather than working into their elderly years or choosing to spend more time with their families.”  That’s from POTUS Press Secretary Jay Carney’s press release.  It would be unfair to characterize E.J. Dionne as “carrying water” for the POTUS; he’s really more of a conduit (or “storm drain”, perhaps “sewer pipe”).

E.J. continues:

“And it’s sometimes an economic benefit when some share of the labor force reduces hours or stops working altogether. At a time of elevated unemployment, others will take their place. The CBO was careful to underscore — the CBO is always careful — that `if some people seek to work less, other applicants will be readily available to fill those positions and the overall effect on employment will be muted.’”

So they’re effectively limiting low wage workers to working part-time hours resulting in more low-wage part time positions to go around.  More jobs, you see, for which there will be plenty of workers to fill those positions because the mismanagement of the Democrats economic policy has kept the idle labor force in oversupply. You’re welcome!

“The CBO did point to an inevitable problem in how the ACA’s subsidies for buying health insurance operate. As your income rises, your subsidy goes down and eventually disappears. This is, as the CBO notes, a kind of “tax.” The report says that if the “subsidies are phased out with rising income in order to limit their total costs, the phaseout effectively raises people’s marginal tax rates (the tax rates applying to their last dollar of income), thus discouraging work.”

Here E.J. points out the CBO finding which has been the focus of the right-wing, except that he seems to be portraying it as something he uncovered, as in, “oh, by the way, there is this little hiccup I found”. This is no hiccup, and E.J. didn’t find it. This is the crux of the right-wing criticism citing this CBO report because it adds additional validation to their long-standing opposition to Obamacare, and he knows it. His response is as telling as it is predictable:

“But the answer to this is either to make the law’s subsidies more generous — which the ACA’s detractors would oppose because, as the CBO suggests, doing so would cost more than the current law — or to guarantee everyone health insurance, single-payer style, so there would be no “phaseout” and no “marginal tax rates.” I could go with this, but I doubt many of the ACA’s critics would.”

Basically, what E.J. is admitting here is that the opposition is, indeed, correct. The law, as written, has this negative effect. This is what the right-wing has been saying, the left-wing has denied, and E.J. answers with two options: throw more of other people’s money at it (which the ACA’s detractors would oppose, but not E.J. because he’s always in favor of more wealth redistribution), or have the government take over and go full-on socialism, always the preferred solution of the left-wing statist.  When socialist policy based on socialist theory fails, socialists will always insist that the solution is more socialism.

“The rest of the CBO report contained much good news for Obamacare: Insurance premiums under the law are 15 percent lower than originally forecast […]”

That’s a story which has yet to play out, since the cost-structure of the Obamacare is still in flux, due in no small part to the stream of unconstitutional executive orders distorting the business models of the insurers. What E.J. does not mention is that, unexpectedly, insurers are changing the balance of policies to keep premiums lower by increasing deductibles, dramatically so.  Sure, the right-wing thought it was premiums that would skyrocket, but, yeah, you can get the equivalent effect by keeping premiums low and attaching a booster rocket to the deductibles.  Still, I’m ready for some good news, so do go on, E.J.:

“[…] , “the slowdown in Medicare cost growth” is “broad and persistent” and enrollments will catch up over time to where they would have been absent Obamacare’s troubled rollout.”

So, the ginormous cost of the Medicare behemoth is spiraling higher at a slower rate, and pitifully small numbers of Obamacare signups will one day eventually grow to what we were promised they would be by now had the Obamacare portal not been an epic disaster made of fail.  Remember, this is what E.J. just called “much good news”.  He characterizes it as good news because he doesn’t expect his audience to realize that it’s bad news, and he’s right, in that his audience consists of liberals, and liberals believe what they’re told to believe, think what they’re told to think, and ignore what they’re told to ignore.

“The reaction to the CBO study is an example of how willfully stupid — there’s no other word — the debate over Obamacare has become. Opponents don’t look to a painstaking analysis for enlightenment. They twist its findings and turn them into dishonest slogans. Too often, the media go along by highlighting the study’s political impact rather than focusing on what it actually says. My bet is that citizens are smarter than this. They will ignore the noise and judge Obamacare by how it works.”

E.J. Dionne Jr. is a reliably steadfast apologist and political hack for Democrats and Liberalism, and he knows it.  He’s not a “true believer”, like fellow WaPo columnist Eugene Robinson, who is certainly stupid and uninformed but will at least try to hold to his principles, such as they are.  Dionne, in contrast, has but one principle, which is to help his side, and when that leads to contradictions in his principles he will simply argue whichever way benefits his side, using the pretext of principles.

Sometimes, in a debate, one side will give an argument which is finely crafted with artfully deceptive nuance to support their side while ever-so-carefully avoiding the facts which contradict them. It’s like watching a Mexican hat-dance, and when the fact they’re dancing around is revealed we can see it as the center of gravity around which the debater has been exerting great effort to stay in orbit, lest they get trapped into the gravity well of truth.  Given that he must surely be aware of the criticisms I’ve made above, and his willful dishonesty in defending the indefensible Obamacare law, I read the above paragraph by Dionne as necessarily and knowingly applying to himself.  He knows he’s a hack, and he can’t believe you don’t see through him.

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