It's hard to know why President Obama said what he said at Tuesday's health-care town hall in New Hampshire. He actually stated: "If you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. It's the Post Office that's always having problems."
Oops. Freudian slip? Subliminally speaking, was the president inferring that private health insurers are doing just fine?
Government insurance is what's in trouble today. Medicare is in the hole by about $40 trillion on a discounted present-value basis over the next 40 or 50 years. And if we're going to equate government care to government mail, according to Steve Hayes of The Weekly Standard, the U.S. Postal Service is going bankrupt with a $7 billion net loss this year. With 633,000 career employees, the Post Office won't be able to make $5.4 billion in retiree health-benefit payments. How many of these federal employees will populate the new government-backed insurance plan if it passes?
So it's something of a mystery why the president went down the FedEx/UPS/Post Office turnpike. Perhaps the inner Obama is a free-enterprise guy. Maybe in the heat of battle, his private-sector FedEx/UPS endorsement kind of, well, slipped out unconsciously.
Some will be skeptical of this reasoning. But having once had dinner with the man, along with other conservative pundits, and knowing how carefully he parses his words, it's hard to understand how he let this free-market blessing slip out. Perhaps he's secretly competing with Joe Biden to win the hoof-in-mouth disease contest.
Obama's health-care gaffes are mounting. At a press conference a few weeks back, the president let fly with an attack on doctors who remove tonsils instead of handing out allergy pills. Since doctors are very popular in America, and with many Obamacare protesters opposed to putting government central planners between doctors and patients, this was a big mistake. Worth noting, at that same presser, Obama also put his foot in it by attacking the Cambridge police officer at the center of the Henry Louis Gates affair. More hoof-in-mouth.Obama's response in New Hampshire to the so-called death-board issue also was revealing. Some say these boards are tantamount to euthanasia for the elderly. Placards outside the meeting read: "Obamacare, Down the Chute Granny." (Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is spearheading this protest.)
Obama's response? He says reform "would not basically pull the plug on grandma because we decided that it's too expensive to let her live anymore." But the House bill comes dangerously close to giving unelected health boards the power to pull that plug. And as policy students know, it's not always the precise wording of legislation that counts, but the regulatory interpretations of laws that are made by federal and state officials.
So, in a sense, Obama's denial was a non-denial denial. He should have unequivocally demanded that the death-board language be removed from any bill. But he didn't -- perhaps because he agrees with it. In interviews earlier this year, the president said that while he would have fought for his own grandmother's hip replacement, clinically he can see how these expensive decisions should not be made.
Grandma may indeed represent Obama's biggest political problem right now. As Team Obama attempts to placate concerns at the Congressional Budget Office that health reform is a budget-buster, seniors are rightly worried that the Medicare program on which they depend will be ravaged by cost cuts.
It's still tough to know whether this behemoth government takeover of heath care will actually pass. But two key markets are betting against it. First, over at the Intrade pay-to-play online betting parlor, the bid for the U.S. government health-plan contract is only 38 cents. That's down from 50 cents in late July. Second, the share prices of big private health insurers have rallied in recent weeks. UnitedHealthcare is up 13 percent, Humana is up 12.4 percent, and Aetna is up almost 10 percent. These firms will be decimated if the government insurance plan passes. But investors are now predicting it won't.
For the sake of economic freedom, liberty and fiscal sanity, let's hope the markets are right.