The Obamacare meltdown should not be cause for joy anywhere, although I can understand why the Republicans are giddy and conservative pundits are searching for ways to say “Didn’t I tell you?” in unobnoxious ways. There are no obnoxious ways. There is no worse feeling than knowing that a leader, a movement or a cause that you fervently believed in and defended against doubts and criticism was not worthy of your trust. For the politically and socially committed, comparing this experience to losing a loved one is no exaggeration. Are you in the habit of pointing at your neighbor and shouting, “Haha, your mother died! I told you she looked sick!”? Mocking and razzing the Democrats or progressives in your life is not much better.
We all, however, share responsibility for running this republic, and lessons must be learned. Back in 2010, I wrote of the process whereby the Affordable Care Act was passed…
“…Once the bills began to emerge, though, things got worse. They were far too long and convoluted to read and understand; this was incompetent and irresponsible. None of the Senators or Representatives (or the President himself) who advocated the bills in the most emphatic terms had read them, which is a breach of diligence, and many frequently made statements in public that misstated the provisions of the bill, sometimes egregiously. Not reading a technical bill on a well-understood or narrow matter and still voting for it may be common (though, I would argue, outrageous), but doing so with a massively expensive and complex bill affecting the life of every American is irresponsible and an abuse of power. This has continued. Politicians who the public should be able to trust are still making assertions of fact that are not facts they have independently confirmed, and they are insufficiently familiar with the details to either make fair arguments or inform the public.
“Since nobody could read the bill, this allowed the President and his allies to make general arguments that were often half-truths devised to mislead the public or avoid raising sensitive subjects. President made many “promises” about what would and would not be in the bill, knowing that they were promises he might well not be able or willing to keep. Indeed, the bill now being voted on fails to fulfill many of those pledges. Important policy trade-offs that might erode support were not discussed, or misrepresented.”
This isn’t a partisan point, you know. I am sure that Republicans don’t read bills before voting for them either, but the practice is unconscionable, professional negligence and reckless, and if nothing else good comes out of this miserable blot on democracy, if the public finally demand that its law-makers read, understand and be candid about the laws they make, then something of value may lie beneath the rubble.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office has compiled a list of 27 Democratic Senators who, like President Obama, pledged that Americans could keep their coverage under Obamacare. None of them have any excuse. All of them are as accountable as President Obama, who signed a law he either did not understand, or did understand and lied about, repeatedly. Either explanation is as bad as the other: I suspect that for some, it is one, and for others, the alternate explanation is the correct one. I do not believe for one second that any of the Senators or the President, read the bill thoroughly, or with sufficient comprehension. My sister, who authored some provisions in the final bill, attempted to read the whole thing (as I did with an earlier version). She pronounced it unreadable, both because of the impenetrable bureaucratic jargon and legal gobbledygook, and because the text was constantly referencing pages and footnotes ahead and behind. “I honestly suspect that there is no single person who had read the entire thing,” she told me. Do you know what a legislator’s duty is when he or she is asked to vote for such a monstrosity? Send it back.Putting laws on the books without knowing specifically, not just generally, what the law is and how it will work, who it will affect and what its problems are before they are passed is a formula for utter disaster. I have been arguing this for years, and the past week came as no surprise at all. Here is that disaster. And here is what I am sure is an incomplete list of the Democratic Senators who didn’t know what was in the law they voted for. I want to hear them apologize for that. They were not doing their job.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-Nev.): “In fact, one of our core principles is that if you like the health care you have, you can keep it.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.8642, 8/3/09)
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: “We believe — and we stand by this — if you like your current health insurance plan, you will be able to keep it, plain and simple, straightforward.” (Sen. Durbin, Congressional Record, S.6401, 6/10/09)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): “If you like your insurance, you keep it.” (U.S. Senate, Finance Committee, Bill Mark-Up, 9/29/09)
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-Wash.): “Again, if you like what you have, you will be able to keep it. Let me say this again: If you like what you have, when our legislation is passed and signed by the President, you will be able to keep it.” (Sen. Murray, Congressional Record, S.6400, 6/10/09)
SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-Mont.): “That is why one of the central promises of health care reform has been and is: If you like what you have, you can keep it. That is critically important. If a person has a plan, and he or she likes it, he or she can keep it.” (Sen. Baucus, Congressional Record, S.7676, 9/29/10)
SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-Iowa): “One of the things we put in the health care bill when we designed it was the protection for consumers to keep the plan they have if they like it; thus, the term ‘grandfathered plans.’ If you have a plan you like — existing policies — you can keep them. … we said, if you like a plan, you get to keep it, and you can grandfather it in.” (Sen. Harkin, Congressional Record, S.7675-6, 9/29/10)
THEN-REP. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-Wis.): “Under the bill, if you like the insurance you have now, you may keep it and it will improve.” (Rep. Baldwin, Press Release, 3/18/10)
SEN. MARK BEGICH (D-Alaska): “If you got a doctor now, you got a medical professional you want, you get to keep that. If you have an insurance program or a health care policy you want of ideas, make sure you keep it. That you can keep who you want.” (Sen. Begich, Townhall Event, 7/27/09)
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-Colo.): “We should begin with a basic principle: if you have coverage and you like it, you can keep it. If you have your doctor, and you like him or her, you should be able to keep them as well. We will not take that choice away from you.” (Sen. Bennet, Press Release, 6/11/09)
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): “So we want people to be able to keep the health care they have. And the answer to that is choice of plans. And in the exchange, we’re going to have lots of different plans, and people will be able to keep the health care coverage they need and they want.” (Sen. Boxer, Press Release, 2/8/11)
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-Ohio): “Our bill says if you have health insurance and you like it, you can keep it…”(Sen. Brown, Congressional Record, S.12612, 12/7/09)
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-Md.): “For the people of Maryland, this bill will provide a rational way in which they can maintain their existing coverage…” (Sen. Cardin, Congressional Record, S.13798, 12/23/09)
SEN. BOB CASEY (D-Pa.): “I also believe this legislation and the bill we are going to send to President Obama this fall will also have secure choices. If you like what you have, you like the plan you have, you can keep it. It is not going to change.” (Sen. Casey, Congressional Record, S.8070, 7/24/09)
SEN. KAY HAGAN (D-N.C.): ‘People who have insurance they’re happy with can keep it’ “We need to support the private insurance industry so that people who have insurance they’re happy with can keep it while also providing a backstop option for people without access to affordable coverage.” (“Republicans Vent As Other Compromise Plans Get Aired,” National Journal’s Congress Daily, 6/18/09)
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D-La.): “If you like the insurance that you have, you’ll be able to keep it.” (MSNBC’s Hardball, 12/16/09)
SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-Vt.): “[I]f you like the insurance you now have, keep the insurance you have.” (CNN’s “Newsroom,” 10/22/09)
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.): “If you like what you have, you get to keep it” “Menendez is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is expected to release a bill later this week. He stressed that consumers who are satisfied with their plans won’t have to change. ‘If you like what you have, you get to keep it,’ he said.” (“Health Care Plan Would Help N.J., Menendez Says,” The Record, 6/19/09)
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-Oreg.): “[E]nsuring that those who like their insurance get to keep it” “The HELP Committee bill sets forward a historic plan that will, for the first time in American history, give every American access to affordable health coverage, reduce costs, and increase choice, while ensuring that those who like their insurance get to keep it.” (Sen. Merkley, Press Release, 7/15/09)
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D-Md.): “It means that if you like the insurance you have now, you can keep it.” (Sen. Mikulski, Press Release, 12/24/09)
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D-W.Va.): “I want people to know, the President’s promise that if you like the coverage you have today you can keep it is a pledge we intend to keep.” (U.S. Senate, Finance Committee, Hearing, 9/23/09)
SEN. JACK REED (D-R.I.): “If you like the insurance you have, you can choose to keep it.” (Sen. Reed, Town Hall Event, 6/25/09)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.): “‘If you have coverage you like, you can keep it,’ says Sen. Sanders.” (“Sick And Wrong,” Rolling Stone, 4/5/10)
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.): ‘if you have health coverage that you like, you get to keep it’ “My understanding … is that … if you have health coverage that you like you can keep it. As I said, you may have missed my remarks at the beginning of the call, but one of the things I that I said as a requirement that I have for supporting a bill is that if you have health coverage that you like you should be able to keep that. …under every scenario that I’ve seen, if you have health coverage that you like, you get to keep it.” (Sen. Shaheen, “Health Care Questions From Across New Hampshire,” Accessed 11/13/13)
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-Mich.): “As someone who has a large number of large employers in my state, one of the things I appreciate about the chairman’s mark is — is the grandfathering provisions, the fact that the people in my state, 60 percent of whom have insurance, are going to be able to keep it. And Mr. Chairman, I appreciate that. That’s a strong commitment. It’s clear in the bill … I appreciate the strong commitment on your part and the president to make sure that if you have your insurance you can keep it. That’s the bottom line for me.” (U.S. Senate, Finance Committee, Bill Mark-Up, 9/24/09)
SEN. JON TESTER (D-Mont.): “‘If you like your coverage, you’ll be able to keep it,’ Tester said, adding that if Medicare changes, it will only become stronger”. (“Tester In Baker To Discuss Health Care,” The Fallon County Times, 11/20/09)
SEN. TOM UDALL (D-N.Mex.): “Some worried reform would alter their current coverage. It won’t. If you like your current plan, you can keep it.” (“What I Learned: About Health Care Reform This Summer, By Your Lawmakers In Congress,” Albuquerque Journal, 9/8/09)
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-R.I.): “…it honors President Obama’s programs and the promise of all of the Presidential candidates that if you like the plan you have, you get to keep it. You are not forced out of anything.”(Sen. Whitehouse, Congressional Record, S.8668, 8/3/09)
This was a disgrace.