ObamaCare's Day of Reckoning

Published November 1, 2010


All signs point to an electoral rebuke of epic proportions tomorrow for those who sponsored and pushed ObamaCare through Congress in 2009 and early 2010. That would certainly be just. Because, months ago, ObamaCare's advocates decided it was more important to them to jam the health care bill of their ideological dreams through Congress than it was to secure the consent of the governed for a more balanced, consensus plan. Now voters are set to do what they should under the circumstances: turn out of office those responsible for such a brazen act of political arrogance.

It was clear as early as August 2009 that the government-heavy health plan the president was pushing did not enjoy consensus support from voters, to put it mildly. Thousands of Americans took it upon themselves to attend last summer's congressional town hall meetings and express — in clear and unmistakable terms — that the president and Congress should cease and desist from pushing their ideologically driven health care agenda through the legislative process. These concerned Americans were not an isolated minority. Polling data has consistently shown since mid-2009 that a majority of Americans opposed the president's health care plan, and still do today.

And so what did those in power do when confronted with this deep and widespread opposition to their health care agenda? They ignored it. The president delivered an address to a joint session of Congress in September 2009 that dismissed the voices of opposition as an ill-informed minority who were easily swayed by demagogic excess. His allies then proceeded throughout the fall to march in lockstep as they pushed the legislation through its various stages of consideration, with no backtracking whatsoever from their plan to pass a full government takeover of American health care.

The voters, however, also did not give up. They flooded their elected representatives' offices with calls and letters pleading with them to change course, work with Republicans, and pursue sensible reforms that would enjoy wide support. These efforts bore some fruit, as a bipartisan coalition of rank and file House and Senate members began to express grave concerns with the emerging legislation, and pushed their leaders to seek a broader consensus by dropping their liberal ambitions and compromising with their adversaries.

But ObamaCare's proponents responded again by stepping on the accelerator rather than the brakes. To get around growing congressional opposition, their leaders stooped to the lowest forms of threats, bribes, and political brinksmanship to get their way. They bought votes, bullied opponents, and broke arms on their way to narrow passage of the original versions of the legislation in the House and Senate.

Of course, all of the back-room deals and taxpayer giveaways only infuriated the public even more. As it happened, there was a special election in Massachusetts in January to pick a successor to Senator Ted Kennedy, who had died the previous summer. No one had paid much attention to the race in 2009, under the assumption that Massachusetts' voters were almost certain to pick an ideological soul mate to Kennedy as his replacement. But Massachusetts's voters turned out to be just as irate as the rest of the country that the House and Senate had rammed through such an unpopular measure on a matter of such import. Republican state senator Scott Brown ran in the special election on the explicit promise to become the 41st vote in favor of a filibuster of the final version of the legislation — and won in a rout.

But, once again, ObamaCare's proponents showed an unusual capacity to ignore the will of those who sent them to Washington. Within days of Brown's election, the administration and congressional leaders decided to press ahead with their plans for government-run health care by effectively bypassing the new senator from Massachusetts. After promising not to do so in 2009, House and Senate leaders chose to pass the final version of their health care plan under special, expedited procedures that required only a majority vote in the Senate, and thus avoid a filibuster.

By the end of the health care debate, ObamaCare's advocates had dropped all pretense of public persuasion. They knew they had lost the debate. There was no convincing the American people that the federal government had the capacity to manage the entire health sector well. Or that piling a massive new entitlement on top of the unaffordable ones already on the books was a good idea. Or that $1 trillion in new spending, $700 billion in new taxes, and $500 billion in Medicare cuts were sensible steps to take when the federal government was already running a $10 trillion deficit over the coming decade. In the end, it became an exercise in raw political power. ObamaCare's sponsors saw a once in a generation chance to bring the American middle class into full dependence on government-run health care, and they weren't going to pass it up.

But the electorate can only be ignored for so long. ObamaCare doesn't really become operational until 2014. Between now and then, the voters will have two opportunities (tomorrow, and again in November 2012) to render judgment on those who sponsored and rammed it through Congress. And after those votes are counted, ObamaCare's advocates may rue the day they embarked on their ideological health care crusade. Because not only will many of them lose their jobs, but ObamaCare itself could be well on its way to reversal before ever taking effect.

James C. Capretta is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and project director of ObamaCareWatch.org.

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