On the Affordable Care Act front today, there's very good practical news, and not-so-good political news. That gives us an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves to keep in mind what's really important when we talk about health care.
Marie Antoinette goes out the easy way. (Wikimedia Commons)
Yesterday, the state of Missouri executed Herbert Smulls, who had been convicted of a 1991 murder, despite a number of appeals and temporary stays. Smulls' lawyers had noted that the state refused to disclose where they got the pentobarbital they were going to use for the lethal injection, and apparently if the drug is not mixed properly it can create extreme pain. As you may know, in the last couple of years, pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs used to perform lethal injections have decided to suspend their manufacture, leading some states scrambling for ingredients they need to send condemned prisoners to the great beyond. Some have even considered antiquated execution techniques; there are bills in Missouri and Wyoming to bring back firing squads, and one Virginia lawmaker wants to make the electric chair an option again.
Which leads me to ask this. It's the 21st century. We can build skyscrapers a kilometer high. We can send ships to Mars. We can put a powerful computer in the pockets of billions of people. Are you telling me that with all our technology, all our engineering knowledge, and all our good old-fashioned American ingenuity, we can't come up with a quick, effective, and painless way to kill a man?
Last week, student activists against sexual assault got some exciting news: The president announced that he was forming a task force to tackle the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses. “An estimated one in five women is sexually assaulted in college, and that’s totally unacceptable,” Obama said in his weekly address. “We’re going to do help schools do a better job of preventing and responding to sexual assault on their campuses, because college should be a place where young people feel secure and confident.” Obama gave the task force ninety days to come up with an “action plan” for combating campus rape.
Union membership remained steady last year—steady at its near-hundred-year low. A mere 6.7 percent of private-sector workers are union members, as are 11.3 percent of U.S. workers overall, according to figures released last Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.)
A typical State of the Union address is criticized for being a "laundry list," little more than an endless string of proposals the president would like to see enacted. The criticism usually has two parts: first, most of the items on the laundry list will never come to pass, and second, it makes for a boring speech (the pundits who make the criticism seem to care more about the second part). Last night's SOTU didn't have the usual laundry list (which of course meant that it was criticized for being too vague), but the one specific proposal getting much attention today is President Obama's idea to require that on future federal contracts, all workers be paid at least $10.10 per hour. So naturally, Republicans are crying that this is the latest example of Obama's tyrannical rule, in which he ruthlessly ignores the law whenever he pleases.
As Ted Cruz wrote in today's Wall Street Journal, "Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president's persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat." Is there anything to this criticism? Is Obama more of a tyrant than, say, his immediate predecessor? Let's take a look.
Those hoping for a full-throated, legacy-defining speech from President Barack Obama at his State of the Union address last night were sorely disappointed. In what amounts to a grudging acknowledgment that turning back the clock on not just four, but 40 years of stagnating wages and declining economic mobility will require the cooperation of Congress and broad government intervention, the president focused on small-bore economic initiatives that he could accomplish without cooperation from Congress—most markedly, an increase the minimum-wage limit for federal contractors to $10.10 an hour.
For Democrats, for liberals, today’s political climate poses a singular challenge. On one hand, poll after poll shows the public believes the economy is rigged against all but the rich. On the other, poll after poll shows that the same public—particularly after the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare—doesn’t believe government is the answer to the failings of the market economy. Indeed, recent polls show that the public mistrusts big government more than it does big business (which does not mean it holds big business in high, or even middlin’, esteem).
It was a strange State of the Union Address—mixing emotional tugs on the heartstrings with anodyne rhetoric that made it seem like everyone from Barack Obama to the angriest Tea Party Republican was bored with the annual exercise. The speech had no over-arching theme save (yawn) America’s enduring greatness. There were hard-hitting sentences and paragraphs, but no dramatic policy proposals nor even bold, if unattainable, dreams. The State of the Union address was unlikely to anger anyone whether it was financial titans fearing economic Kristallnach or Bashar al-Assad.
In one of the better lines in last night's State of the Union address, President Obama chided House Republicans for their endless series of votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act: "[L]et's not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of Americans ... The first 40 were plenty." He followed up by observing that "we all owe it to the American people to say what we're for, not just what we're against." As it happens, last week three Republican senators outlined a plan that can be fairly described as a Republican plan to replace Obamacare. (The basic features of the plan are clearly described by Sarah Kliff of Wonkblog here.) Because most of the Republican Party convinced themselves in 2009 that a tax penalty for people who don't carry health insurance was a grave threat to the American constitutional order, the plan does not include an individual mandate. But otherwise, in its general priorities the plan strongly resembles the Heritage Plan of the late 1980s. That is, it's radically different than the ACA, and it's horrible, immoral public policy.