Earlier this evening, Steve asked whether President Obama is any good at politics. A fair question. Here is another: Does Obama have any idea what is going on in his own administration?
When President Obama speaks off the cuff, he is often revealing, if you can penetrate his trademark incoherence. I found this riff from today’s press conference to be particularly interesting:
One way I — I described this to — I met with a group of senators when this issue first came up. And it’s not a perfect analogy, but you know, we made a decision as a society that every car has to have a seat belt or air bags. And so you pass a regulation. And there’s some additional cost, particularly at the start, of increasing the safety and protections, but we make a decision as a society that the costs are outweighed by the benefits of all the lives that are saved. So what we’re saying now is if you’re buying new — a new car, you got to have a seat belt.
Well, the problem with the — the grandfather clause that we put in place is it’s almost like we said to folks, you got to buy a new car, even if you can’t afford it right now. And sooner or later folks are going to start trading in their old cars.
But, you know, we don’t need — if their life circumstance is such where, for now at least, they want to keep the old car, even if the new car is better, we should be able to give them that option, and that’s what we want to do.
And by the way, that’s what we should have been able to do in drafting the rules in the first place. So again, you know, these are two fumbles on something that — on a big game which — but the game’s not over.
So Obama is now–for the first time–criticizing the regulations that his own departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury adopted in June 2010. He’s saying they should have done a better job of drafting them. One way or another, this statement is stunning.
As the world knows, Obama promised over and over that if we like our health insurance plan, we can keep it. Actually, based on the language of the Affordable Care Act itself, this was not an absurd claim. This is Section 1251 of the act, titled “Preservation Of Right to Maintain Existing Coverage.”
SEC. 1251. PRESERVATION OF RIGHT TO MAINTAIN EXISTING COVERAGE.
(a) No Changes to Existing Coverage-
(1) IN GENERAL- Nothing in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be construed to require that an individual terminate coverage under a group health plan or health insurance coverage in which such individual was enrolled on the date of enactment of this Act.
(2) CONTINUATION OF COVERAGE- With respect to a group health plan or health insurance coverage in which an individual was enrolled on the date of enactment of this Act, this subtitle and subtitle A (and the amendments made by such subtitles) shall not apply to such plan or coverage, regardless of whether the individual renews such coverage after such date of enactment.
(b) Allowance for Family Members To Join Current Coverage- With respect to a group health plan or health insurance coverage in which an individual was enrolled on the date of enactment of this Act and which is renewed after such date, family members of such individual shall be permitted to enroll in such plan or coverage if such enrollment is permitted under the terms of the plan in effect as of such date of enactment.
(c) Allowance for New Employees To Join Current Plan- A group health plan that provides coverage on the date of enactment of this Act may provide for the enrolling of new employees (and their families) in such plan, and this subtitle and subtitle A (and the amendments made by such subtitles) shall not apply with respect to such plan and such new employees (and their families).
(d) Effect on Collective Bargaining Agreements- [omitted]
(e) Definition- In this title, the term “grandfathered health plan” means any group health plan or health insurance coverage to which this section applies.
That certainly sounds like, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” doesn’t it? But the Devil, as always, is in the details. Grandfathering only applies if it’s the same plan. So in 2010, three of Obama’s departments–Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury–collaborated on implementing regulations that defined the conditions under which a pre-Obamacare plan (either employer-sponsored or individual) would lose its grandfathered status. We have written about those regulations repeatedly. The administration’s prediction was that, with its regulations in place, half or more of all employer-sponsored plans would be cancelled within the first 12 months after Obamacare became effective. (The agencies also acknowledged that it was only a matter of time before all pre-Obamacare plans went out of existence.) The administration’s conclusions were summarized in this chart, which was published along with the grandfather regulations in the Federal Register on June 17, 2010. We can’t publicize it too often:
So that’s the background. What did Obama tell us today?
[T]he grandfather clause that we put in place [Ed.: He means the regulations.] is it’s almost like we said to folks, you got to buy a new car, even if you can’t afford it right now.
That is correct. And Obama now regards this as a mistake:
[I]f their life circumstance is such where, for now at least, they want to keep the old car, even if the new car is better, we should be able to give them that option, and that’s what we want to do.
And by the way, that’s what we should have been able to do in drafting the rules in the first place.
So Obama now disapproves of his own administration’s regulations! Are we to assume, then, that he didn’t know about them, and their predicted effects, when they were promulgated in 2010? And that he never heard about them during the succeeding three years? That seems to be his implication. But is it conceivable that his own Secretaries of HHS, Labor and Treasury wouldn’t tell him that they planned to adopt, or had adopted, regulations that would make an utter lie out of his “if you like your plan you can keep it” promises? Or that Obama was so detached from his own signature legislation that he didn’t bother to learn what the implementing regulations said? That seems impossible. One would think that Obama would get wind of what his own administration was up to, if only by rumor and hearsay.
But if Obama knew what the regulations said, and what their predicted effect would be–i.e., half or more of all employer-sponsored plans will terminate, more or less immediately–how could he continue making his futile promise? Did he not know that it was an exploding cigar that inevitably would blow up in his face?
Finally: if Obama really didn’t know what his own administration was doing in 2010, and the disapproval he expressed today was sincere, consider the contempt with which he was treated by three of his own cabinet secretaries: they falsified the one promise that millions of Americans had relied on and would remember, the key to Obama’s one supposedly historic achievement, without bothering to tell him.
One of the books on Chappaquiddick describes how the Kennedy brain trust gathered at the family compound in Hyannis Port to plot a strategy to salvage Ted Kennedy’s career. One person conspicuously absent from the conclave was Teddy himself. He was on the beach, flying a kite. The family’s advisers considered him too stupid to make any contribution to saving his own skin. Is that how senior members of Obama’s administration treat him? Is he considered a useless fifth wheel? Or was Obama just lying once again when he suggested that his administration’s decision to bring about the cancellation of most individual health care policies, and half or more group-sponsored policies, was just a “fumble,” an inadvertent failure to do a better job “in drafting the rules?”