Joe Wilson didn’t know how right he was.
When the South Carolina congressman blurted, “You lie!” at President Obama’s health care speech to Congress in September 2009, Wilson could have been summarizing the president’s entire approach to passing and implementing Obamacare.
Most famously, Obama promised, again and again, “If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period.”
Obama knew when he said this -- the dozen times he said this -- that it was false. NBC reported that the administration understood the law would lead to cancellation of about half of the insurance plans on the individual market (that is, plans people get outside of their employers). Although Obamacare allowed some existing plans to be “grandfathered” and avoid the law's requirements, the administration tailored the grandfathering rules very narrowly, maximizing the number of disallowed plans.
Again, this was deliberate. One of Obama's favorite writers, Josh Barro of Business Insider, put it this way: “One of the key reasons that America needed health care reform is that a lot of existing health plans were bad. There are a lot of health plans that Americans shouldn't be able to keep.”
Barro leaves out half the reason Obamacare deliberately killed low-premium plans: stealth redistribution. A central aim of the law was forcing those with more basic plans to buy more comprehensive plans and thus subsidize people who wanted or needed comprehensive coverage.
Beyond “if you like your plan, you can keep it,” Obamacare was passed and implemented through a series of falsehoods.
Obama pushed the bill by pretending he was fighting against the special interests. When the Senate passed the bill in late 2009, Obama thanked them for “standing up to the special interests.” This bill was supported by the largest single-industry lobby group in the country - the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America -- as well as the hospital lobby and the doctor lobby.
In a July 2009 Rose Garden speech, Obama specifically scolded the drug industry, which hurt the feelings of top drug lobbyists who were supporting the law. The White House afterwards assured these lobbyists that the mention was “an error” attributed to “a young speechwriter.”
The administration and its surrogates relied almost solely on misinformation to defend the law's contraception mandate. The Obama campaign claimed that opponents of the mandate were trying to give employers the right to prohibit their employees from getting contraception. Obama surrogate Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was an “issue of whether or not to allow birth control.” This was a constant dishonest refrain of the Obama campaign.
Obama also claimed his bill would check the explosion in health care spending. The week the bill passed, the President humbly declared, “And everybody who's looked at it says that every single good idea to bend the cost curve and start actually reducing health care costs are in this bill.”
In more candid moments, the bill's authors sang a different tune. David Bowen, a former Senate staffer who helped craft the bill, explained in a 2010 briefing on K Street that under Romneycare, “There was a very conscious decision to do coverage first, knowing that that would bring on a cost battle second. ... We certainly made the same decision. This is a coverage bill, not a cost-reduction bill.”
After signing the law, Obama continued to pretend it didn’t include any tax hikes for lower- and middle-class Americans. This was false. The bill curbed the use of tax-favored health savings accounts, shrunk the deductions for out-of-pocket health care costs, and created the individual mandate tax, the tanning tax and others.
The bill’s sleight of hand includes hidden taxes on ordinary Americans, like a new tax on health insurers. Given that insurers enjoy a captive audience (thanks to the individual mandate) and that other provisions in the law determine their profit margins, this tax will be mostly or fully passed along to customers in forms of higher premiums. So Obama has more money to spend, and taxpayers have no clue.
Honest Obamacare defenders say the president shouldn't have promised to let Americans keep their insurance when he really meant that if Obama likes your health care plan, you can keep it.
“Vast swathes of policy are based on the correct presumption that people don't know what's best for them,” Barro wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, defending this approach.
But this paternalistic mindset, so honestly expressed by of one of Obama’s favorite writers, can also explain why the Obama administration was so willing to mislead on Obamacare: If people don’t know what’s best for them, there’s no reason to deal with them honestly.Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.