Columns » Ernest Dumas

The anti-government plot

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It turns out that Republican leaders did not blunder into the cataclysm that faces the nation over the budget and the debt but merely followed the script written by a few of the country's richest and angriest men.

That had been obvious, but The New York Times spelled it out Sunday. As President Obama prepared for his second inauguration, the men gathered in Washington to plan the disruption or defunding of the health law before its final parts took effect in January 2014. They planned to blackmail the president and Democrats with the threat of shutting down government and defaulting on the national debt if they did not scrap Obamacare and to blame the president for the economic collapse. Now, they want the country to know it was their doing, not just the rash impulses of a few zany Tea Party politicians like Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton.

The leader was Edwin Meese III. You remember the attorney general whom President Reagan refused to fire in 1988 after his role in the Wedtech, Iran-Contra and Bechtel pipeline scandals came to light. After his top Justice aides resigned to protest his crooked actions, Meese quit. After 25 years his bitterness has not subsided.

Much of the money for the campaign came from billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch, who viewed the Affordable Care Act as part of the lineage of Social Security, Medicare, depositors insurance, pollution control, the GI bill, workplace safety and all the other federal programs that punish and tax their class to benefit the undeserving.

On a cruise ship in the maritime provinces at the end of September, a man who enjoyed a fortune from some enterprise or inheritance captivated all of us within earshot about the evils of "Obamacare" — horror stories with no basis in the law or facts — with a mixture of humor and anger. It was so important that Obamacare's new insurance markets be thwarted that he thought Republicans were doing a good thing by shutting down the government, sending the nation into bankruptcy and destroying global faith in U.S. currency to stop it. (I didn't hear him mention it, but Obamacare makes him pay the 3.8 percent Medicare tax on his investment income, heretofore untaxed unlike your wages and salaries, to shore up Medicare. Could that have been in his craw?)

It was too bad, in his mind, that Republicans had not taken similar steps when all this started, in 1935 with the passage of the Social Security Act or later when Republicans regained enough clout in Congress and the White House to undo it.

The next day there was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on the Senate floor delivering the same manifesto. Obamacare had to be stopped at whatever cost. If it were not, people would grow to love health insurance and the other protections guaranteed by the act and would come to expect them. Even a Republican Congress and president would not have the courage, or gall, to end them.

There is merit to their Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare analogies. In all three cases, the government mandated that nearly everyone — employers and employees — buy insurance: old-age and survivors insurance, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, old-age and disability health insurance and finally, with the Affordable Care Act, health insurance for able-bodied people under the age of 65.

The only difference is that the original Social Security and Medicare acts required people to buy the coverage from the federal government and have the premiums withheld from their payroll checks and matched by employers. The Affordable Care Act encourages them to buy insurance on the regulated private market, where the insurance companies could not deny them coverage for a predisposition to illness or end their coverage in the event of a catastrophic illness or accident.

Cruz's hunch that people would quickly grow to like Obamacare, foiling any future repeal, has a basis in evidence. Polls have shown that Americans overwhelmingly like each of the major elements of the law. Three of four like it that children can stay on their parents' policies until they are 26, and the same percentage support the idea of giving tax credits to working people with low incomes so that they can afford health insurance — the single provision that Republicans most loathe (unless you count the tax increases on people earning more than $250,000 a year and on manufacturers of medical equipment). Two-thirds favor barring insurers from denying people coverage because of a predisposition for sickness.

Surveys also show that when people are asked about the Affordable Care Act, they like it. It's "Obamacare" that terrifies many.

The loopiness is understandable. Stories about how the law works usually label it by its shortened actual name, the Affordable Care Act, but stories about the political attacks always call it Obamacare. At Fox News, it's always Obamacare. Republicans must refer to the law written by Senate committees as Obamacare, never the Affordable Care Act.

My excursion mate and Cruz are right that protections grow on people. If you are old enough you recall actor Ronald Reagan's brave campaign to block Medicare in the '60s. His LP, paid for by the American Medical Association and widely distributed, urged people to help him fight health insurance for people over 65 or disabled.

"If you don't do this," Reagan warned, "one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was like in America when men were free." Twenty years later, as president, he wanted to protect the programs he once called socialism.

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