Popcorn: Democrats in Disarray, Debating Whether to Turn On Obamacare

Posted: Nov 13, 2013 10:29 AM

Bill Clinton's comments may have been the tipping point. Yesterday, the former president told an interviewer that the White House should keep its promise and honor its commitment on Obama's infamous "keep your plan" pledge. And if there's one person on planet earth whose reputation for honoring both the truth and personal commitments is -- ahem -- unimpeachable, it's him. Snark aside, Clinton's remarks were hugely impactful; not because he was expressing his own personal opinion, but because in doing so, he was extending a tacit permission slip to fellow Democrats. Message: It's okay to abandon Obama by starting to dismantle big parts of this law. His wife, who is widely expected to run for president, had no comment on the matter. And then, as these horrific poll numbers started to seep into the Washington bloodstream, the dam broke:

Yes, that would be liberal California Democrat Dianne Feinstein pledging to co-sponsor Mary Landrieu's iteration of the GOP's "keep your plan" legislation. The House will vote on its own version on Friday, and CNN reports that even Democratic leadership is befuddled as to how members should vote. Accordingly, Friday is now the White House's "de facto deadline" to prevent perhaps dozens of House Democrats from sprinting away from the president, shattering the party's ruthless party discipline on Obamacare in the process:

This desperation mentality is contagious, and it's exceedingly risky for Democrats. Last night's Quinnipiac poll shows public support for an Obamacare delay swelling to 73 percent. Rasmussen shows that a similar percentage believes people ought to be able to keep their existing plans, in accordance with Obama's violated vow. Will Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi give their caucuses a free pass to approve these populist "solutions"? If they don't, all hell breaks loose. If they do, and these measures pass both chambers in one form or another, what does Obama do? Vetoing any legislation along these lines will look wildly out-of-touch and unreasonable. He and his party will take another beating. But if he acquiesces under immense political pressure, he certainly must still know that the results would be non-viable. This creaky mess can't just be stopped on a dime at the very last minute; the wheels are in motion, and have been for some time. Plans have been outlawed, cancellation notices have been sent, and people have been signing up for new coverage -- either through the exchanges or Medicaid. Insurance companies have spent months preparing for the new regime; reverting back to the old system involves much, much more than flipping a switch. Whether it's even remotely possible to reverse course before December 15 (the deadline to ensure coverage starting in the new year) is up for debate.

The House Republicans' version of this bill would trash the administration's excessive mandates for a year, allowing plans that were made illegal by the law to continue. It also makes the old plans available to everyone, not just those who were previously enrolled in them. The Landrieu/Feinstein bill limits "keep your plan" to newly-grandfathered, current and previous policy holders -- but it actually goes further in another sense. It proactively forces insurers to allow those people back onto their previous plans if they so choose (as opposed to giving insurers the option to reintroduce the cancelled plans). Again I ask, would any of this be logistically feasible at this late stage? And what happens to the revenue streams upon which Obamacare's fiscal health relies? Remember, relatively healthy and young people are being compelled to overpay for mandate-laden coverage by design. Those new revenues are essential to offset the steep costs associated with taking on millions of older and sicker Americans, many with pre-existing conditions. Quoth Allahpundit:

You can’t run a two-tiered healthy/sick insurance system. If the risk pools aren’t merged, replete with higher rates for the former, you can’t pay for the latter.

Correct. So if the young and healthy are able stay on their older, cheaper plans, where does all the necessary new money come from? Two readily apparent options: A tax increase, or a federal bailout of insurance companies. Either one of these would be positively radioactive politically. Absent either of those, insurance companies would jack up rates again to compensate, pulling the country around a major death spiral bend. There really are no good options left. Don't forget, every single Senate Democrat voted against Republicans' "keep your plan" fix in 2010, when it might have made a difference. Today's panicked reversal is only about optics. Problem: The illusion of a quick fix is quite likely to metasticize into fresh nightmares in the coming months. How many of the Democrats who are frantic to vote for something -- anything -- to make their current problem go away actually grasp the severity of these problems? How many don't care? Tick tock. The White House's self-imposed deadline for Healthcare.gov is looming, and things aren't looking good. Oh, and two more rounds of sticker shock are on the way over the next year. Panic time has arrived. What to do, Democrats?

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