As 2016 draws near, the Clintons are already distancing themselves from the Obamacare rollout debacle. Recently, President Clinton faulted President Obama for misleading Americans, urging the 44th President to “honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got.” Beyond the palpable chutzpah of President Clinton attacking Obama for misleading the public and not keeping promises, Bill Clinton’s criticism about the failures of the individual mandate should also be directed at his own wife.
In 2009, President Obama adopted Senator Clinton’s plan almost in its entirety. Obamacare is Hillarycare 2.0. All of the harmful consequences of Obama’s individual mandate — people losing their policies, higher premiums, and increased tax burdens — were the foreseeable consequences of Clinton’s plan. Any criticisms of Obamacare can be aimed equally at Hillary Clinton.
In 2008, the linchpin of Senator Clinton’s health care plan program was a mandate that all Americans must buy health insurance. Those who did not would pay a penalty. This may come as a surprise to many, but in 2008, Senator Obama’s plan did not have an individual mandate. Even more shocking, throughout the primaries, Obama repeatedly attacked Clinton for forcing people to purchase insurance through the individual mandate.
In February 2008, the Obama campaign sent out an alarmist mailer to homes in the battleground state of Ohio, warning that “Hillary’s health care plan forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can’t afford it.” Obama said that Clinton’s individual mandate would “have the government force you to buy health insurance, and she said that she’d consider ‘going after your wages’ if you don’t.”
Perhaps most ironically, Obama repeatedly faulted Romneycare, noting that Governor Romney’s health insurance mandate was forcing people to go without insurance because it was too expensive. In Massachusetts, Obama said, “folks are having to pay fines and they don’t have health care. They’d rather go ahead and take the fine because they can’t afford the coverage.” Obama added, that those subject to Romneycare were “worse off than they were” without it.
In 2008 the biggest opponent of what would become Obamacare was Barack Obama.
Yet, during the summer of 2008, the president was slowly turning towards the mandate. Shortly after Obama secured the nomination, a leading health insurance lobbyist told Senator Obama that the “industry would accept a reform plan” only if it “included a mandate that everyone be covered.” In other words, the mandate was the price for the insurance industry’s cooperation.
Professor Paul Starr reported that before the election, “behind the scenes, the thinking inside Obama’s orbit was clearly shifting.” Obama “dropped or marginalized his health policy advisers from the campaign and brought in advisers with old Clinton connections.” Neera Tanden who had been Clinton’s adviser joined Obama’s policy staff. Tanden recalled that when she asked Obama what he thought of a mandate, Obama replied, “I kind of think Hillary was right.”
Despite his internal turn towards the mandate, remarkably, Obama continued to oppose it publicly. During a debate with Senator John McCain, Obama said that under his plan “there’s no mandate involved” and the penalty would be “zero.” In hindsight, it is painfully clear that the president did not run on Obamacare in 2008, and his electoral victory did not give him a mandate to execute a program he vociferously opposed.
After the election, Obama formally adopted Clinton’s plan, almost in its entirety, even though he had recognized the major flaws of her policy. Politifact awarded Obama’s change of course with the ignominious “Full Flop!” award.
Hillary Clinton cannot run away from the Obamacare. Obama’s plan is her plan. All of the distortions to the healthcare market wrought by Obamacare and the individual mandate were her ideas first. In a 2016 presidential run, Clinton will once again have to defend her failed health care policy.
Josh Blackman is a Constitutional Law Professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, and the author of Unprecedented: The Constitutional Challenge to Obamacare.