Last week, when the combat over Obamacare had reached the hand-to-hand stage in the House, a friend asked me, “Who’s telling the truth?”
I thought about everything I had read about health care reform – for months, to a degree that is neither healthy nor sane – and answered, “I don’t know.”
Nobody does. Truly, nobody does. This bill-turned-law has been manipulated, massaged, tortured and spun for so long that no one in the White House or Congress – on either side – knows the sum total of what it contains, or what it will ultimately do.
Part of that haziness can be racked up to the simple fact of unintended consequences: no one can predict every single outcome of any change, much less one that consumes 2,800 pages and takes 10 years to implement.
But a major part of the fog is a deliberate political choice.
Just for fun, I went through some old files and unearthed a few columns written back in 1994, during the heat of Bill and Hillary’s fight for health care reform. The spin was vertigo-worthy then, too, but what struck me most was the amount of detail out in public long before the voting began.
It was possible to actually read the Clinton plan, to quote specifics by page number, to compare what its backers said against what the proposed law would in fact do.
And when Americans realized the promises were a lot sunnier than the restrictive reality, a majority rejected the plan and Congress voted it down.
Now fast forward to 2010, and Nancy Pelosi’s assertion that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.” As if the controversy was the problem, rather than the pig-in-a-poke feel of her massive, secretive, blatantly partisan bill – which it was, no matter which side you rooted for.
And whether you’re happy or terrified now depends on whether you think massive government intervention is the best way to solve the nation’s problems or the best way to make them massively worse. You will find me in the latter camp – not just because I prefer representative over paternalistic government, but because I think Nancy Pelosi has it exactly backwards.
On reform this radical, “trust us” is not enough, not when it will cost our country $940 billion over 10 years – and that’s with an accounting gimmick that starts the taxes and fees four years before the real costs kick in. Not when it transforms something that so intimately affects our families, our personal solvency and potentially, our very lives.
Americans know this, which is why promises shouted through a fog of controversy would not comfort or satisfy. But instead of specifics we could weigh for ourselves, Congress and the president gave us a furious blur of logrolling, procedural tricks and gamesmanship that seemed to intensify in direct proportion to the public outcry against it. The majority of Americans did not want a pig-in-a-poke bill. We got one anyway, in the dead of night, by the thinnest of partisan margins.
And as we learn what’s in it, maybe we will love it. Maybe it will give us all we were promised through the fog and more. Discoveries like the $10 billion for 16,500 new IRS agents to enforce the new premium and fine structure suggest more is the right word.
But what I will remember is the shot of Pelosi walking through the crowd of protesters surrounded by her lieutenants, her head thrown back in triumphant laughter. The gavel in her hand was huge.
Elections do have consequences – but so does political arrogance. The verdict on this vote is still to come.