David Brooks’ Shifting Opposition to Obamacare

David BrooksDavid Brooks has a new reason to be disappointed in Obamacare. The problem is not so much that the new law has done bad things — he concedes that it has insured 20 million people — but that it was sold on a false basis. It is mostly helping poor people obtain insurance, he observes sadly, rather than overturning the entire system. “[T]his is not bad. But we’d have had a very different debate if we knew the law was going to be a discrete government effort to subsidize health care for more poor people,” writes Brooks in his column today. “For one thing, Democrats would have probably paid a much smaller political price if their effort wasn’t billed as an extravagant government grab to take over the nation’s health care system.” This is a great point. Why, exactly, did the Democrats decide to advertise their plan as an extravagant government grab to take over the nation’s health-care system? That turns out to have been a really poor choice!

Oh, wait a second. They didn’t. A close inspection of the public record actually reveals that it was the Republicans who described Obamacare as an extravagant government takeover. The Democratic message was just the opposite. President Obama proposed a plan that would create subsidized insurance for those who were too poor or too sick to buy it on their own while also introducing a wide range of reforms designed to bend the curve of long-term cost growth. He repeatedly and explicitly made the case that his plan would leave the existing system in place for people who already had employer-sponsored insurance…

Brooks always took pains to make it clear that he was not one of those Republicans who opposed universal insurance on principle. It was just the costs that concerned him. “Health care reform is important,” he wrote, “but it is not worth bankrupting the country over.” Today, Brooks complains that the program is not too lavish but too stingy: “The subsidies are too small. The premiums are too costly. The deductibles are too high,” he writes. It’s almost as if Brooks decided to oppose health-care reform and then filled in the specifics of his argument later.

—Jonathan Chait
Why Did Democrats Promise a Big Government Health-Care Takeover?

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