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Policy: Entitlements

Obamacare is the zombie law of the land of entitlements

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Three and a half years after it was signed, sealed and delivered, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act remains the undead; not interred, not thriving, but fought over on numerous fronts.

This enrages the left, which calls the case settled, and says it has facts on its side: The act was passed legally by both houses of Congress, survived the Supreme Court and five center-right justices, and survived 2012 and the presidential election, in which voters endorsed it.

Like other big laws — Social Security, Medicare and Medicare Part D — it had initial delays, but will soon be accepted. No entitlement has ever been scaled back or repealed once it got started, as this one soon will.

They say it, they swear it, they may even believe it. But none of these things rings quite true.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicare Part D were passed by large and bipartisan majorities, were never opposed for four years by consistent majorities, were nowhere nearly as complex or disruptive, or did so many people such harm.

Health costs are much higher, coverage is being dropped in a number of cases; this is becoming a country of non-growth and part-time employment.

What happens if the benefits for the relatively few uninsured pale in the face of expense, pain and stress for a much larger number? We may be about to find out.

The bill passed both houses, but with votes from only one party. And to say it passed fair and square stuns those who remember the bribes, threats and buy-offs, the millions spent on the votes of one or two people, and the parliamentary wringers through which House members were put.

Obama did win the 2012 election, on which the fate of the law surely was riding, but to call it a vote for the law isn't true. "I was surprised when I looked back at the national exit poll to see what 'the people' said about Obamacare when they gave the president a second term," wrote Nathan Gonzales in Roll Call.

Gonzalez noted that, while Obama beat Mitt Romney by four points for president, 51-47; support for repeal of the law beat support for it by a still larger margin, 49-44.

Twenty-five percent wanted it repealed completely, 24 percent partially; 31 percent wanted to see it expanded, and 16 percent left as it was. Only 18 percent thought health care was the major problem facing the country, perhaps the cause of what seems a split verdict.

If people thought defeating health care was important enough, they would have voted for Romney. On the other hand, the bill lost by a larger spread than Obama won by.

Perhaps if they could have had the president minus the bill, they might have liked it still better. But it’s not quite the win that some say.

The ratification that wasn’t goes hand-in-hand with the fact that while the bill was passed legally, if just barely, it was not passed legitimately in the view of the public, which goes to the crux of the case.

By the will of the people and the law of the land, the bill should have died with Scott Brown’s election, but the corpse was propped up and pushed through on a loophole, and has been a zombie law of sorts ever since.

It remains half-alive, not quite dead but not living, either; never accepted by most of the country, its laws not enforced by more than half of the governors, half of its deadlines unmet.

This is the flaw that was there from the beginning, and the one that will always remain.

Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."
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