Thursday, November 13, 2014

The legislative details of Obamacare were clear to anyone who was paying attention

I totally agree. In the first half of 2010, I was in a small provincial city in Southern Kazakhstan, where I was only able to access the internet for 1-2 hours per day (with occasional missed days when the internet was cut off at the end of the month when the cafes hit their traffic cap). And yet, I still was able to follow the legislative details as Congress hashed out the Affordable Care Act. There was a lot of press coverage of legislative details that don't normally get covered for other legislation, not to mention all the blog commentary about each proposed revision and tweak.

I think part of what is driving the current fake controversy over Jonathan Gruber's comments is that a lot of people on the right did not pay any attention to the actual details of the health care law. They were more concerned with slogans like "death panels", "government takeover of health care", and "socialized medicine" than anything that was actually in the law. To this day, I hear my conservative friends make comments about how no one knows what is in the law. If that were true, those Obamacare opponents wouldn't have anything to worry about because a law which provisions that no one knows about would be unenforceable. But that's not true. Instead, the wingnutosphere doesn't seem all that interested in finding out how the law actually works. They just want to pick out some detail of the law (sometimes a real detail, sometimes not) that reveals a flaw that they can make political hay out of.

I mean, unless a lot of conservatives still don't know much about the ACA, how else can you explain Ted Cruz's remarkably stupid comment that net neutrality is "Obamacare for the internet." You have to be completely ignorant about how both net neutrality and the ACA work for that comment to make any sense. But that is Senator Cruz's audience.

Similarly, the idea that the ACA only passed because of "the stupidity of the American voter" plays on that idea that what is in the law is somehow not clear. In fact, Gruber was referring to something different. He was talking about how the ACA was submitted in a way to make the taxes in the bill not be counted as a "tax" when it was scored by the CBO, because taxes were politically unpopular. (Note: his statement about the CBO is actually untrue. The CBO counts the revenue generation or costs regardless of what the politicians label it) The "stupidity" he refers to is the American public's knee-jerk aversion to anything that is called a "tax" while the public mostly accepts "fees" or "penalties" that are really just taxes under a different name. That is pretty stupid. But it is the political reality. It is a reality that exists thanks to decades of rhetoric from the American right demonizing the idea of taxes.

Gruber's point, however, was not that any detail of the bill was hidden from the public. But rather that some of the provisions of the law were labeled in a way to make it more politically palatable. Note: Gruber's actual point pre-supposes that the American public was paying attention to the contents of the health care bill. Otherwise why else would anyone care if the mandate was labeled a "tax" or not? If the public wasn't being told what was in the bill, how would they even know about the mandate under any label?

(Beutler link via Memeorandum)