Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Don't Underestimate Obamacare's Epic Fail

Let's start with an inconvenient but obvious exposition. Obamacare isn't Obama's 'signature' or 'greatest' achievement, it's his only achievement. Think, really, what else has he done in 5 years in the White House?

- We are still in Afghanistan and continue to periodically punch at beehives like Syria and Libya.        - Younger generations' hope that he would act as an enema to Bush Jr's police state policies like the Patriot Act is dead and buried, along w/ his gun control reform.
- The economy remains a tumultuous disaster despite the media shamelessly abusing statistics that indicate the insulation of the rich and banks to cheer a non-existent recovery.

We can argue all day regarding what is good and bad about this stagnation and whose fault it is, but my point is simply that Obamacare is all this President has. More importantly than that, the Democratic Party is hopelessly divided on many other issues, certainly on all the domains I listed above. For these reasons and in response to the deconstructive stubbornness of the Tea Party, Democrat politicians have clung to that poorly written and unpopular legislation like a slowly melting iceberg in the middle of the ocean. It's nothing to be proud of, but it's all they have to keep them together and behind their President at a time when the other party is engaged in a brutal internal struggle. But with the epic failures of Obamacare's implementation, Democrats' unity around Obamacare is showing signs of weakness, and when it disintegrates - the Democratic Party as we know it will cease to exist.

For starters, anyone who thinks Obamacare's roll out will be improved or fixed is just plain naive. As Joe pointed out in our latest show, it's nearly impossible to fix a poorly built website; doubly so in short time. While theoretically it can be done, this administration is notoriously incompetent at picking efficient private industry partners (remember Solyndra?) as well as responding to political crises (the examples are too many to list). The websites will continue to suck, discouraging people from signing up and adding to insecurity about health insurance and potential fines for those who counted on it, all while fanning the flames of opposition elements blaring "I told you so!" As I've mentioned in many previous posts, Obamacare is already colossally underfunded, and this additional reduction in consumer confidence will leave it with 0 hope of hitting the targeted numbers for its risk pooling mechanism to work. In the meantime, its popularity BEFORE all this hovers at 40%, and the peak of its failure coinciding with the next budget standoff in January/February, during Primary season - will mean even Obama's disconnected groupies mostly don't turn out to defend it from the wrath of standoffish Republicans.

In the midst of this, I predict Democrat politicians will stay mostly united behind wanting to fix the legislation rather than discard it; but in an election year they will panic and be divided by disagreement over how to do so. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) last night became the first Democrat to call for a delay of Obamacare's individual mandate, while the President and Sebelius continue to adamantly declare the problem will be fixed, and Senate leaders like Schumer and Durbin spin it as still being a great program. As the failures escalate rather than go away, so will these splits. Then there are unruly Democrat voters, many already quite dissatisfied that their representatives essentially voted with John Boehner to overpower the Tea Party rather than sticking to their gun about sequestration cuts. That is bound to lead to some contested Primaries and the Democrats' own base demanding to know specifics on how their politicians intend to fix the failing health care overhaul. So between further dwindling of both numbers and morale for those who still support Obamacare, further alienation of the 10% or so that think it doesn't go far enough, and a coming year of contentious Primary elections - I really don't see the Democratic Party maintaining a united message on this, and they don't have one on anything else.

Now recall that the Tea Party's strategy revolves around refusing to compromise on any legislation they oppose and forcing them to fail because the other 70% can't carve out a majority. The Republican establishment has already essentially been destroyed by this strategy, and the next election should put the Tea Party firmly and undisputedly in control of the GOP. If Democrats could stay united and maybe even pick up some moderate voters they could easily take on the radicalized new Republican Party in that scenario, but without unity on Obamacare to hold them together - they are quite liable to do the opposite. The internal structure of the Democratic Party is relatively top-down and establishment policy will become party policy, alienating millions of voters and driving them to side grudgingly with the only opposition. Short of a renewed Constitutional challenge, Obamacare will of course remain on the books as long as Obama is President. But much like Republicans turned on G.W. Bush in his final years and even his last act of shame - TARP - was passed mostly with Democratic support, so Obama will be very lonely for the remainder of his term in office. His 'signature' legislation is about to tear his party asunder, commencing the next phase of the re-alignment.


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