Washington’s reverse Midas touch

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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This week, Americans received two reminders of Washington’s limited ability to stage-manage either the economy or world events.

The first was the White House’s unexpected decision to delay the Obamacare employer mandate for a year, announced in a pre-Fourth of July weekend news dump. The vaunted health care reform law has faced a rocky roll-out — retiring Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus called its implementation a “train wreck” and he helped write the thing — but this was the biggest bump in the road yet.

So far Obamacare defenders have blamed opponents of the law for its struggles out of the gate. Jonathan Bernstein writes in The Washington Post that if Obamacare collapses, “it’s unlikely it will be the result of inherent problems with the legislation. If Obamacare fails, it’s going to be because the Republican Party’s all-out war on it — a war that doesn’t seem to have any concern at all for health-care consumers or the economy — succeeds.”

But it isn’t a Republican war that is causing employers to cut back on health care benefits to avoid Obamacare benefits, a trend hitting the restaurant industry particularly hard and that the Congressional Budget Office believes will impact some 7 million people.

It’s not a Republican war that is causing businesses to trim benefits overall as they brace for Obamacare. “Employer spending on benefits rose at the slowest pace on record in the first quarter, as companies began bracing for higher health costs with next year’s launch of ObamaCare,” reports Investor’s Business Daily. “Total employee benefits provided outside of government jobs declined outright.”

It’s not a Republican war that is causing 58,000 Californians to lose their existing health coverage as major insurers opt out of the individual market in the state rather than face Obamacare regulations.

The president once vowed that “if you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.” But that will not always be true.

Every single one of these problems is a consequence of the law itself. The employer mandate delay is a concession ahead of the 2014 midterm elections that Obamacare’s tangled web of mandates, regulations and subsidies will have tangible real-world effects on the economy.

You can bet the mandate wouldn’t have been delayed if the administration was confident those effects would be positive.

The Treasury Department also announced, in a statement ironically titled “Continuing to Implement the ACA in a Careful, Thoughtful Manner,” that it was delaying the employer insurance reporting requirement. This will necessarily make it more difficult to determine who is eligible to receive subsidies for the purchase of insurance through the Obamacare exchanges.

Those who insist there is nothing to see here say employers will still have to participate in the subsidy application process, so the delay won’t have any real impact. But it follows a delay in the opening of the small business exchange, and the repeal of the law’s 1099 reporting requirements, with the medical device tax not far behind.

The chaos in Egypt is another blow to Washington’s wisdom. The U.S. spent decades propping up Hosni Mubarak’s regime, then the Obama administration cheered on an Arab Spring that empowered the Muslim Brotherhood while continuing to send tanks and planes that would eventually overthrow that same Muslim Brotherhood.

The price of our political class’ cleverness — aside from the tax dollars spent on foreign aid — is resentment of America on all sides. When the choice is between Islamists and military dictators, there are no good choices. But you can bet there will be a concerted effort to keep the aid dollars flowing regardless of which Egyptian faction ends up on top or what our own laws say.

If politicians and bureaucrats can’t set up a functioning health care program at home, they can’t create a functioning democracy where one has never previously existed abroad.

There is one law that Congress and the Obama administration can never repeal, even as they repeatedly demonstrate its force: the law of unintended consequences.

Samuel Johnson memorably wrote, “How small of all that human hearts endure/That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!”

He was half right.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the recently released book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.