Big Foot, unicorns and the conservative case for Obamacare


Ever wonder why the federal government continues to get bigger even when Republicans are in office? Wonder no more.

Just glance at this precious New York Times op-ed in which one J.D. Kleinke purports to make the “conservative case for Obamacare.”

Surely, the conservative case for confiscatory tax rates and partial-birth abortion cannot be far behind.

The essence of that case is that a handful of conservative policy wonks once watered down some liberal health care proposals, some Republican politicians desperately casting about for an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s health plan adopted these half-baked ideas as their own and now some version of them has been inflicted on the entire country.

How lovely. But at least we’ll always have fresh op-eds by conservative policy wonks confusing government coercion with personal responsibility.

This confusion was on display during the presidential debate Wednesday night.

President Barack Obama awoke from his slumber to say “Governor Romney did a good thing, working with Democrats in the state to set up what is essentially the identical model” used by Obamacare.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tried valiantly to assure us that Romneycare was different, but ended up sounding as convincing as Vanilla Ice assuring listeners that the bass line in “Ice Ice Baby” is really different from Queen’s “Under Pressure.”

“We didn’t cut Medicare,” Romney pointed out helpfully. “Of course, we don’t have Medicare, but we didn’t cut Medicare by $716 billion.”

But before we get too far down the path discussing Obamacare’s allegedly conservative pedigree, some context is in order.

The Republican senator who proposed the 1990s legislation that contained the individual mandate as an alternative to Hillarycare was John Chafee, a charter member of the GOP’s Rockefeller wing.

Chafee was arguably the most liberal Republican in Congress.

Bob Dole signed on to the idea because he was, well, Bob Dole.

Conservative senators like Phil Gramm and Don Nickles had other ideas about health care reform, and they didn’t include the individual mandate.

There was never a grassroots conservative movement advocating anything like Romneycare, much less Obamacare, if the word “movement” means something more ambitious than “five guys at a couple of think tanks.”

Romneycare itself was passed by an 87 percent Democratic legislature.

Romney was flanked by Ted Kennedy and the Democratic bosses on Beacon Hill as he signed the bill into law.

That wasn’t some Heritage Foundation policy analyst grinning and back-slapping in the famous photo of the signing ceremony.

The Affordable Care Act was passed by a Congress with a three-fifths Democratic majority in both houses. All Republicans and even most moderate-to-conservative Democrats voted against it.

The health exchanges contained therein were not the free market exchanges envisioned by the conservative wonks of old, but rather government-run entities that regulate insurance like a public utility.

In his New York Times piece, Kleinke makes a great deal of the fact that Obamacare isn’t Canadian-style single payer. It isn’t “Medicare for all” and it doesn’t contain the public option.

This is akin to arguing that the 1993 Clinton tax increase was conservative because it didn’t bring back 70 percent tax rates.

Nearly every single-payer advocate in Congress voted for Obamacare because they saw it for what it was: an incremental increase in the federal government’s role in health care that sets the stage for more government control in the future.

When Obamacare fails to bring down costs — as the Massachusetts experience, alas, strongly suggests it will — they will clamor for an even bigger government role.

We can only hope conservatives counter by advocating more competition and choice.

Obamacare therefore is not, as Kleinke would have it, a “ratification of market ideas, modified to address problems unique to health insurance.”

It is an invitation to mission creep, a problem endemic in government.

Kleinke’s op-ed degenerates from there into such bromides as, “Social conservatives’ hostility to the health care act is a natural corollary to their broader agenda of controlling women’s bodies.”

Perhaps the conservative case for confiscatory tax rates and partial-birth abortion really isn’t far behind.

The problem is that Republican politicians often don’t care very much about domestic policy in general and health care in particular.

This makes them unlikely to understand how real problems can be solved through free markets rather than bigger government.

Which in turn means they are vulnerable to sales pitches from putatively conservative wonks who expand government more slowly than the Democrats.

Most of the conservatives who pushed the patchwork of mandates, regulations and subsidies that inspired Obamacare ultimately came to the conclusion that this approach isn’t the best way to promote a consumer-based, market-driven medical system.

Politicians are a bit slower.

But just because somebody at a think tank had a bout of brain flatulence in 1989 doesn’t mean we should abandon the Constitution.

In order to cut the government back down to constitutional size, we need better politicians — and they need to get better advice.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.

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