Obamacare’s Epitaph: “Live By The Rationalization, Die By The Rationalization”

obamacare-gravestoneRemember in 2010, when the Democrats ensured that the Affordable Care Act would clear its final hurdle to passage this way?

Democrats will finish their health reform efforts within the next two months by using a majority-vote maneuver in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. Reid said that congressional Democrats would likely opt for a procedural tactic in the Senate allowing the upper chamber to make final changes to its healthcare bill with only a simple majority of senators, instead of the 60 it takes to normally end a filibuster.The move would allow Democrats to essentially go it alone on health reform, especially after losing their fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate after Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in Massachusetts.

Republicans have protested the maneuver as a hyperpartisan tactic to ram through a health bill, and have said that plans to use the reconciliation process make moot a bipartisan summit at the White House this week, where both GOP and Democratic leaders are supposed to present their ideas on healthcare.

At the time, Republicans, as is their wont, over-stated their objections to the maneuver, calling it unconstitutional and a breach of rules. No, it wasn’t quite that, nor was it as unusual as the GOP claimed. It was within Senate rules, but still the first time it was ever used to amend a bill that had already passed the Senate via cloture, and under such contentious circumstances.  Reconciliation was legal, all right, but since the Affordable Care Act was so revolutionary and controversial, its passage needed to be seen as democratic, and it wasn’t. Democrats ignored the Golden Rule, and extended the acceptable use of reconciliation by using a number of rationalizations, as well as “the ends justify the means.”

Let’s see: “Everybody Does It” wouldn’t work, because the problem with using reconciliation was that everybody didn’t do it, at least not very often.  So Democrats opted for 13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants”#24. Juror 3’s Stand (“It’s My Right!”)25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now” 40. The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”59. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do”…and perhaps a few other rationalizations on the list.

Republicans, however, felt that they and the process had been abused, and much of the public, a majority of which opposed the bill, felt likewise. The steamroller methods of the Democrats created deep resentment, launched the tea party, and greatly exacerbated what was already a dangerous partisan polarization in the nation.

All of this might have subsided, if so many of the flaws in the Affordable Care Act pointed out by its critics hadn’t been lurking exactly as they predicted. It might not have mattered so much if it hadn’t turned out that President Obama’s promise that we could keep our health plans if we liked our health plans hadn’t been a lie, or if the architect of the law, Jonathan Gruber, hadn’t publicly gloated about how the bill’s advocates fooled gullible citizens, or if the law hadn’t resulted in massive premium increases for anyone who wasn’t eligible for a subsidy. Moral luck might have saved the law and the Democrats from the consequences of pulling an obnoxious and divisive powerplay, if the law worked, as Democrats gambled it would when they passed it without reading it.

But it didn’t.

Now cut to today..from Vox:

The new Congress was sworn in on Tuesday, and the first thing it did was prepare to repeal Obamacare.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Michael Enzi (R-WY) introduced a budget resolution Tuesday that includes “reconciliation instructions” that enable Congress to repeal Obamacare with a simple Senate majority. Passing a budget resolution that includes those instructions will mean that the legislation can pass through the budget reconciliation process, in which bills cannot be filibustered.

That means Republicans will only need 50 of their 52 members in the Senate, and a bare majority in the House, to pass legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act. According to the Wall Street Journal, the budget resolution could be passed by both houses as early as next week.

Democrats set the precedent for this in 2009; they cannot credibly whine now (not that they won’t.) Of course, an ethical political party, which the Republicans are not, any more than their counterparts, could, and indeed should, say,

“Now we could kill Obamacare undemocratically, and use the same reconciliation device that you Democrats used, knowing that it was no way to pass such a controversial, complex and risky bill that the public neither understood nor wanted. But we won’t do that. In the interest of comity, and public trust, we’ll restore the restraint and mutual respect that served this body so well, and invite our colleagues to join with us and address the problems with the law, openly, democratically, and with full debate.

And if you don’t cooperate, then we’ll do to you what you did to us.”

Nah. The GOP has plenty of rationalizations at its disposal now, and is going to use them: 2. Ethics Estoppel, or “They’re Just as Bad”, 2 A. Sicilian Ethics, or “They had it coming”,7. The “Tit for Tat” Excuse, Rationalization 8A. The Dead Horse-Beater’s Dodge, or “This can’t make things any worse”, 14. Self-validating Virtue, and 17. Ethical Vigilantism.

Next up will be Democratic regret for the party’s maneuver in 2013, when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Democrats, convinced that GOP delaying tactics were crippling Washington, triggered the so-called “nuclear option” which  lowered the threshold to overcome a filibuster from 60 to 51 votes.

Indeed, that regret has arrived. Democratic minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer was lamenting that decision today on CNN.  “I argued against it at the time. I said both for Supreme Court and in Cabinet should be 60 because on such important positions there should be some degree of bipartisanship,” Schumer, a New York Democrat and the incoming Senate minority leader, told CNN’s Dana Bash. “I won on Supreme Court, lost on Cabinet. But it’s what we have to live with now. Wish it hadn’t happened.”

I’ll bet you do, Chuck. But when you ignore the Golden Rule, you can’t be surprised when your opposition decides that it’s been waived. In fact, there is another rationalization the Republicans can use, thanks to your party:

36. Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”




Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Incompetent Elected Officials, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

46 responses to “Obamacare’s Epitaph: “Live By The Rationalization, Die By The Rationalization”

  1. Democrats set the precedent for this in 2009; they cannot credibly whine now (not that they won’t.) Of course, an ethical political party, which the Republicans are not, any more than their counterparts, could, and indeed should, say,

    “Now we could kill Obamacare undemocratically, and use the same reconciliation device that you Democrats used, knowing that it was no way to pass such a controversial, complex and risky bill that the public neither understood nor wanted. But we won’t do that. In the interest of comity, and public trust, we’ll restore the restraint and mutual respect that served this body so well, and invite our colleagues to join with us and address the problems with the law, openly, democratically, and with full debate.

    And if you don’t cooperate, then we’ll do to you what you did to us.”

    I don’t know, I’m not sure there is anything unethical about undoing by a simple majority each law that was passed by simple majority and THEN revert to the old civil ways before the Democrats broke it.

  2. But it isn’t revenge. Which would be wronging a wrong.

    It’s righting a wrong.

    • Righting a wrong wrongly, by one’s own previously expressed opinion.

      • Right, But in this case it isn’t slam dunk that the Right righting this wrong of the Left is wrong. Was anything left out?

      • “Do unto others as they have done unto you, but only once, after which you do unto them as you would have them do unto you despite the fact that they won’t and you damn well know it”?

        • Repealing the law isn’t doing anything to anyone. It is undoing something that was done to someone else.

          Your new golden rule there would be the valid ludicrous construct if the GOP crammed a whole new health care law down our throats.

          • I don’t think anyone REALLY looks at it that way. It might be the convenient half-fiction used to sleep well at night. We all know exactly what’s happening and why it’s happening, and painting it slightly differently reeks of the obfuscations democrats have been laying for a decade.

            • In a preschool class, there are well established rules that everyone, well, all the decent children, follow. One of the rules is, you don’t take a toy from a child who was already playing with it unless you ask politely and the first child agrees.

              Well, one day, a little petulant toddler named Barry wanted the truck that Sam had been playing with. So Barry’s equally petulant friend, Harry, decided to go snatch the toy away from Sam, so Barry wouldn’t throw one of his typical temper tantrums.

              Harry snatched the toy away from Sam, who’d been following the rules all this time, just like all the other kids had been following the rules.

              Which solution is the correct one?

              A) The grown-ups snatch the toy back from Harry and Barry, scold them, and then once they’ve shown contrition and a willingness to play nicely with everyone else, who had been following the rules, then start treating them as equals again.

              B) Let Harry and Barry keep the toy they snatched and gently and politely beg for the petulant toddlers to give the toy back to Sam.


              It sure as hell isn’t B. And option A is not tit for tat. Option A is resetting the conditions to a state before the 1st Unethical Act occurred.

          • But…but…it’s a CRISIS, so we simply *must* *un*-DO something!

            • This is silliness.

              Resetting the conditions to the state prior to the unethical conduct is not unethical.

              • So, TexAg, you are equating this with equitable justice to redress the ‘crime?’

                Not sure I am happy with that take… seems too simplistic (although sometimes the best answer is the simple one)

                It seems to lower Democrats to children who need to be punished for misbehavior (not saying I disagree, there!) and the situation is more complex, more nuanced than that. Isn’t it?

                I also have problems with the eye-for-an-eye flavor of the response in your example. Children only understand direct action (thus, spanking, time-out, etc.) while adults should have matured to understand true justice.

                But does that make it unethical?

                I will have to meditate on this

                • Law and order is not analogous.

                  I know my hypothetical posed to Humble appears that way, but that isn’t the intent.

                • It isn’t eye for eye. The response isn’t doing anything to anyone. It’s undoing a colossal wrong that was done in a colossally wrong way.

                • Steve in NJ’s post crystallized my thoughts on this.

                  Why do we punish small children and animals to correct behavior? Because they lack the reasoning ability to understand a more subtle response.

                  Small children lack the cognitive ability and self control to understand and redress their behavior based on a stern lecture or object lesson. Explain all day about thermal transfer, burn first aid, and the cost of avoidable medical service, and a small child will still touch the stove burner. Slap the hand with a sharp retort, and the small pain and shock will prevent the greater injury. They ‘get’ the method you used, even if they do not understand why you used it.

                  Moreover, this is the ethical course to take, in this instance. Yes, you broke the rules when you slapped their hand (when hitting is forbidden) and you raised your voice (while normally telling them not to scream), but the alternative (ER visit, possible scar for life) justifies the actions. It is justified even if the child does not understand why mommy can do what the child is told not to.

                  Exactly so with the Democrats.

                  They have proven that they can not or will not redress behavior based on subtle intellectual discussion or debate. They must understand that this behavior will hurt them in the long run, by being ‘punished’ for the act, in the only way they seem to understand: the naked use of power. Making sure they see that this is why you don’t do the things they did, because… breaking the Golden Rule will bite you in the end. Sic semper tyrannis.

                  Cry Havoc, and loose the hounds of war!

              • luckyesteeyoreman

                [Reply to texagg04 Jan 4 at 12:12 pm]
                “This is silliness.”

                I agree. That is all it was meant to be. I was not intending to mock anything you said or implied. I do think it is unrealistic, though, to expect a full repeal. Thinking purely cynically, which is justified because of how the process in Washington works (that is to say, doesn’t work), I expect even partial repeal to require at least double the pages of law written for enactment (weren’t there something like 3,000 page in the ACA?).

                Regarding the ethics of a repeal, using the same process used to pass the law…I am going to pass on commenting.

  3. A.M. Golden

    Could the Republicans also ask the Democrats that, in the spirit of restoring the public trust, while working to tinker with this massive law, the Democrats agree to refrain from telling the American public that the GOP hates women, children, the poor and that it wants people to die?

    • Steve-O-in-NJ

      They could ask, and the Democrats would either burst out laughing or sneer and say they were just telling the truth. Neither side is going to give up the opportunity to sling moral tar at the other, and hope some of it sticks.

  4. Steve-O-in-NJ

    Although I won’t tell the joke about what color Obama is going to be after we rip up his sole achievement, I am going to have a great deal of schadenfreude picking up some acquaintance’s lines about how this law passed Congress, the SCOTUS refused to strike it down, and Obama was reelected, so, never mind all the flaws, lies, and procedural irregularities, we should just all sit down and shut up, it’s here and it’s here to stay, and throwing them right back in their faces.

    I know it’s not ethical to gloat, and it’s not ethical to grind anyone’s face in their failures. However, I don’t think there’s anything unethical about picking up the other side’s taunting or mocking which he did when he was holding all the cards, and throwing it right back in his face when you are holding all the cards. Those who were not magnanimous in victory do not deserve magnanimity in defeat. I didn’t know whether to laugh or gasp two years ago when Harry Reid asked Mitch McConnell to restore the filibuster in the wake of the GOP victory in 2014. It speaks to complete tone-deafness and a disconnect from reality on the Democratic side.

    The Democrats could probably have prevented this, but they chose to go Eliot Spitzer (“I’m a f—ing steamroller and I’ll roll right over you). What’s more, given some of their behavior in the past (like Harry Reid’s promising Arlen Specter all sorts of goodies if he switched parties, then reneging after he did), there’s no reason for the GOP to believe that if they take the high road they won’t get double crossed down the line.

    Payback’s a bitch, especially when that payback has come after the Democrats convinced themselves, and not a few other folks, that there would never be payback because of demographic reasons. Well, guess what, it’s the angry white man’s day now, and he’s not just angry, he’s furious. The Democrats are about to find out what it feels like to be at the mercy of the merciless. It’s not a good place to be, but it is largely a place of their own making, same as 2009 was a place of the Republican’s own making. No one gave a damn about being fair then, and no one is going to give it now.

    Interestingly, the same people who said trying to resist or slow down Obama’s agenda was racist or treasonous are now calling on the Democrats still in Congress to fight tooth and nail to stop Trump, stop his agenda, and start building the impeachment dossier from day one. Apart from the obvious hypocrisy, this sounds like a recipe for a government at war with itself. Why should people like this get any kind of break?

  5. Every person in this blog should copy and paste this into an email to their representatives in the United States Congress (especially the Republicans) AND to Donald Trump personally AND post it in Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media outlet available.

    Here is what the new Republican controlled Congress should openly say and do about “Obamacare”.

    “Now we could kill Obamacare undemocratically, and use the same reconciliation device that you Democrats used, knowing that it was no way to pass such a controversial, complex and risky bill that the public neither understood nor wanted. But we won’t do that. In the interest of comity, and public trust, we’ll restore the restraint and mutual respect that served this body so well, and invite our colleagues to join with us and address the problems with the law, openly, democratically, and with full debate.

    And if you don’t cooperate, then we’ll do to you what you did to us.”

    If there is any real interest in truly draining the DC swamp, this needs to go viral!

  6. People like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will not cooperate, they have and will continue to revert to their old tactics of smearing.

    Democrats prepare for early ‘act of cowardice’ with GOP attempt to repeal Obamacare

    “You break it, you own it,” the California Democrat said.

    • Other Bill

      Maybe Pelosi’s district can be gerrymandered to include part of Fresno or Stockton?

    • Steve-O-in-NJ

      Ah, shaddup, Nancy Bugeyes. Weren’t you the one who said we have to pass it to find out what’s in it? Well, now we’re going to eat it, and pass it another way.

  7. In these days of Rules for Radicals restoring decency to/by political parties is seen as weakness. It may even BE weakness. I don’t hold out much hope for any branch of the government behaving ethically.

    I had a bunch of war/combat comparisons, but I sincerely hope this isn’t a war. Unfortunately both sides seem to be arming up.

  8. Chris

    I think repealing the ACA would be wrong for many reasons–and I don’t think the Republicans will actually do it–but if they repeal it using the same underhanded measures the Dems used to pass it, I hardly see how Dems can complain on those grounds.

  9. zoebrain


    Quite clever, really. Can’t fire a Federal Employee? Just pass a bill that reduces their salary to $1. May work on Federal Judges too.

    House Republicans this week reinstated an arcane procedural rule that enables lawmakers to reach deep into the budget and slash the pay of an individual federal worker – down to a $1 – a move that threatens to upend the 130-year-old civil service.

    The Holman rule, named after a Indiana congressman who devised it in 1876, empowers any member of Congress to offer an amendment to an appropriations bill that targets a specific government employee or program.

    No Holds Barred apparently. The Rules are different now, custom and tradition no longer barriers.

    • I’m pretty sure that kind of legislation is unconstitutional, as a Bill of Attainder. Grandstanding. Federal employment is a racket, and this just expresses frustration.

      • zoebrain

        President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition staff has issued a blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day, according to several American diplomats familiar with the plan, breaking with decades of precedent by declining to provide even the briefest of grace periods.

        The mandate — issued “without exceptions,” according to a terse State Department cable sent on Dec. 23, diplomats who saw it said — threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada and Britain. In the past, administrations of both parties have often granted extensions on a case-by-case basis to allow a handful of ambassadors, particularly those with school-age children, to remain in place for weeks or months.


        Any part of governmental practice that is only “traditional”, not enforced by statute, is liable to be discontinued without notice. This is not a conservative regime, it’s a radical one. Gentlemen’s agreements only stand when both parties are gentlemen.

        As for bill of attainder – the $1 pay is for the position, not the person. So they can resign of course. After which another bill is passed restoring the situation, unless it’s the program or department that is to be rid of, not just the current occupant.

        • It’s a distinction without a difference. I wouldn’t bet against a lawsuit prevailing. Gimmicks are always a bad idea. They backfire.

          Oh, I agree that it’s a radical administration, whose barrels were loaded by the previous one.

  10. Wonder if this applies to pensions as well? Lying Lorretta comes to mind.

    Now that this has been brought forward, wanna bet the Dems use it even if the Republicans don’t?

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