Key Obamacare questions were never asked

Like ‘How is this going to work when it gets implemented?’

In the crush of media coverage of the politics of the government shutdown, and political jockeying in government itself, a bit of common sense stands out.

Like this little snip about CNN’s Wolf Blitzer saying maybe we could benefit from a little delay on Obamacare. First, CNN correspondent Brian Todd reported on the problems with the healthcare law rollout:

“We’re also hearing now that the administration was warned about these potential problems months in advance,” Todd continued. “We spoke to a health care consultant who has clients who are insurers. He says his insurers, who dealt with the administration in the months ahead of time, had contentious meetings with people at [Health and Human Services] and other health care officials who were in charge of this, warning them, ‘This isn’t working, it’s not going to be smooth, don’t do it.’ He says those warnings were ignored, they went full speed ahead, and said we’ll work these problems out. There’s been a bit of pushback from the White House, we’ll hope to get more later from them.”

Right now, that’s just protocol for network correspondents to say, because they know they’re not going to get more from them later.

Here’s Slate with a little more specificity about what the pre-launch warnings were likely about. I can’t remember right now where I read it, but one techie was quoted in a news story a few days ago as saying that using two different contractors to build the “front end” and “back end” of the site is sort of like trying to build a bridge by starting on opposite shorelines and trying/hoping to meet in the middle:

“So we had (at least) two sets of contracted developers, apparently in isolation from each other, working on two pieces of a system that had to run together perfectly. Anyone in software engineering will tell you that cross-group coordination is one of the hardest things to get right, and also one of the most crucial, because while programmers are great at testing their own code, testing that their code works with everybody else’s code is much more difficult.

“Look at it another way: Even if scale testing is done, that involves seeing what happens when a site is overrun. The poor, confusing error handling indicates that there was no ownership of the end-to-end experience—no one tasked with making sure everything worked together and at full capacity, not just in isolated tests. (I can’t even figure out who was supposed to own it.) No end-to-end ownership means that questions like “What is the user experience if the back-end gets overloaded or has such-and-such an error?” are never asked, because they cannot be answered by either group in isolation.”

This is a good, grabbable, concise message. So is‘s conclusion.

Blitzer’s offhand endorsement of a one-year delay is an intriguing bit of anecdotal evidence that Glitchapalooza might be nudging public opinion towards supporting a postponement of the law for a few months or a year while the bugs are worked out. But then that raises the question — why isn’t “delay” the GOP’s core message right now? Boehner’s holding one or two press conferences a day to complain that Obama won’t talk to him when he should be using that free media to hammer the point that O-Care isn’t ready for primetime. Frankly, unless I missed it, this has been a minor point from Ted Cruz and Mike Lee lately too. Whenever I’ve seen them on the news the past few days, they’re more likely to be talking about using small funding bills to restart parts of the government than the many, many catastrophic technical problems with the exchanges.

This all needs attention. Because while everyone is on talking points, the right questions aren’t being asked, answered, covered, or explained to the American public.

As Ed Morrissey so well points out here.

Obamacare as settled law, or not

This whole government shutdown and funding stalemate is sheer politics and lack of reason.

As noted here before, the House of Representatives’ effort to settle on a funding agreement that adds conscience protection to the ‘Affordable Care Act’ actually funds necessary government services, tried to avoid the now days old shutdown and asks for a delay in the implementation of Obamacare as the president has already granted, by executive order, to selective institutions, bodies and organizations.

Thomas Sowell points this out in National Review Online.

There is really nothing complicated about the facts. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted all the money required to keep all government activities going — except for Obamacare.

But on the idea that Obamacare is “settled law”, there’s considerable dispute. This WaPo opinion piece explains:

The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress, signed by President Obama, upheld by the Supreme Court and reconfirmed by the president’s reelection. Many of its provisions have gone into effect. As Democrats have taken to saying, it is the law of the land.

But contrary to what the president suggested in the Rose Garden this past week, that does not mean Obamacare is “settled, and it is here to stay.” And it is not illegitimate for Republicans to use every lawful means at their disposal to stand in its way.

Lawyers use the term “settled law” to describe court decisions that clearly establish a rule or a doctrine. Yet settled law also refers to legal actions that are accepted by society. Consider two of the most famous Supreme Court decisions: Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated public schools, and Roe v. Wade, which created the constitutional right to have an abortion. Both of these cases are “the law of the land.” They are binding on all courts in the United States. Only one of them, though, is settled in the broader sense of that phrase. It is perfectly acceptable for politicians, judges and ordinary citizens to attack Roe and call on the Supreme Court to overturn it. It is totally unacceptable to criticize Brown in 2013.

A statute or court opinion becomes settled law when there is a broad consensus that it is just. But a more practical rule of thumb is that both political parties must agree on its legitimacy. Roe remains unsettled after 40 years primarily because Republicans refuse to accept it…

The Affordable Care Act is not settled law because the public remains deeply divided over it: More than half of Americans are opposed. But even more critically, congressional Republicans have withheld their stamp of approval. Many Republican lawmakers refuse even to call it a law; they keep referring to it as a “bill.”

Republicans offer several explanations for their rejection of the act’s validity. Most often, they note that the law was passed entirely with Democratic votes. This is in contrast to other major legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support and thus became settled much more quickly.

Republicans also cite the unusual procedures used to pass the health-care act — most notably, the budget reconciliation process that avoided a filibuster while moving the final legislation through the Senate. This tactic left many Senate Republicans feeling cheated.

Republican suspicions about the legitimacy of the act were exacerbated by a report that Chief Justice John Roberts switched his position on the constitutionality of the individual mandate — the provision at the heart of Obamacare — late in the Supreme Court’s deliberations. According to unnamed sources who spoke to CBS News, Roberts initially sided with the conservative justices and started to draft an opinion striking down the mandate, but at some point he became “wobbly” and decided to join the liberal justices and uphold the bulk of the law.

Ethics and Public Policy Center scholar George Weigel offered his opinion on why Roberts’ did that. It’s provocative. Take this snip of it posted by one of his colleagues:

The deepest of the “deeper truths” that one might find in Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion is that America’s success in forming a more perfect union, providing for the general welfare, and ensuring the blessings of liberty to our posterity ultimately rests on the strength of American political culture. And here, the sensus plenior of the Roberts opinion intersects with the social doctrine of Pope John Paul II, especially in the 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. Democracy, the Polish pontiff taught, is not a machine that can run by itself. It requires a critical mass of…men and women who have internalized the habits of mind and heart that make responsible self-governance possible…to make democracy work. Beneath the functions of democratic government lies the character of a people. And if the machinery has become dysfunctional, then it is time for the people to examine their conscience about the ways in which they are living their freedom: nobly or basely, selfishly or philanthropically, responsibly or dependently?

This was written before the last election, by the way.

And to note, a sensus plenior (the key to trying to understand Roberts’ decision) is “a fuller or deeper meaning, than can be apparent at first glance,” as Weigel explains in the original piece.

The chief justice thereby suggests that if “we, the people of the United States,” do not like the way the Congress taxes and spends, it is not only our prerogative but our responsibility to do something about it by electing new representatives who will tax and spend differently…

The second of the deeper truths implied by the Roberts opinion is that the Congress as presently constituted and currently functioning has too often been derelict in its constitutional duties. Thus at several points in his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts suggests, in some instances sharply, that the Congress should get serious.

No sign of that at the moment. But they’re facing the debt ceiling deadline next week, and anything could happen by then. Except, it appears, any fundamental agreement.

The mid-term elections are just over a year away. But you can still contact your congressional representatives, in the House and the Senate, whether anyone answers the phones or not. Emails, letters, visits to district offices, notes slipped under their doors if necessary, all convey the spirit of the electorate. We’re proving the adage…we get the government we deserve.

Abortion in Obamacare and government standoff

There may be a lot of people and issues causing the deep divide in government, but this is one few are talking about.

At least, few in the House, almost no one in the Senate or White House, and ditto that in what’s still called the mainstream media.

But some bold voices are speaking up about H.R. 940, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act that proved too major a sticking point in the government spending agreement that didn’t happen. The bill that took some House members a lot of work and effort to pressure Speaker John Boehner into standing up for it, in spite of opposite pressure to give in on it. All within the GOP. Democratic members of Congress are almost uniformly against it.

So what is ‘it’? This piece in the lead up to the showdown explains.

H.R. 940 advances a proposition you might expect any decent person to embrace — and it does so by making a small amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The key language in that amendment says nothing in the Obamacare law “shall require an individual to purchase individual health insurance coverage that includes coverage of an abortion or other item or service to which such individual has a moral or religious objection, or prevent an issuer from offering or issuing, to such individual, individual health insurance coverage that excludes such item or service.”

Similar language in H.R. 940 also protects employers and health-insurance issuers from being forced to buy or provide coverage for items or services to which they have a “moral or religious objection.”

H.R. 940 mirrors the first words in the Bill of Rights, which say: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

To object to H.R. 940, a person must argue that the federal government has the moral and constitutional authority to force Americans to act against the teachings of their religion and the dictates of their conscience.

To defend H.R. 940, a person need only argue it is wrong for the government to force Americans to act against their religion or the conscience.

Yet, President Barack Obama and his bureaucratic subordinates are effectively doing just that by pushing forward with a regulation that will require all health care plans (except those bought directly by actual churches and their immediate auxiliaries) to cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

A week later, as the deadline loomed for a government shutdown if a spending agreement wasn’t reached, U.S. bishops again implored members of both houses of Congress to stand for fundamental conscience rights, a small amendment in a massive law overhauling the healthcare system in America.

We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act(H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such “must-pass” legislation.

Protection for conscience rights in health care is of especially great importance to the Catholic Church, which daily contributes to the welfare of U.S. society through schools, social services, hospitals and assisted living facilities. These institutions, which have been part of the Church’s ministry since the earliest days of ourcountry, arose from religious convictions. They should not be told by government to abandon or compromise those convictions in order to continue serving their own employees or the neediest Americans. Nor should individual Catholics or others be told they cannot legally purchase or provide health coverage unless they violate their conscience.

A particular threat is the Administration’s mandate for covering contraception, sterilization and related education and counseling as “preventive services” for enrollees and their minor daughters. The mandate includes drugs and devices that can act against a human life after fertilization, implicating our moral teaching on abortion as well as contraception. The more than six dozen lawsuits filed against this mandate by hundreds of for-profit and nonprofit organizations led by people of faith highlight the need to reassert Americans’ right to live and serve in accord with their deepest convictions about the sanctity of life…

We make our plea as religious leaders who strongly support universal access to health care. Such access is threatened by Congress’s continued failure to protect the right of conscience. Those who help provide health care, and those who need such care for themselves and their families, should not be forced to choose between preserving their religious and moral integrity and participating in our health care system. Please act on this matter without delay.

A coalition of House Representatives also urged Speaker Boehner to stand for the conscience rights provision as part of the spending resolution.

Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act’s HHS mandate, employers must provide all employees with insurance plans that include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception with no co-pay, or pay a fine of $100 per employee per day.

Business owners who are evangelical, Catholic, or otherwise hold to traditional values have sought relief from ObamaCare’s crushing provisions in the courts.

The Health Care Conscience Rights Act, introduced in March, would exempt all employers from that requirement, as well as strengthening the conscience rights of health care providers.

Its author, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, came on my radio show Monday just before another House vote to send another proposal to the Senate, where each proposal got rejected and kicked back demanding a “clean CR”, or a continuing resolution with no strings attached. As some put it, ‘my way or the highway’. I asked the congressman whether there weren’t some senators willing to form even a small coalition to support such fundamental protection for basic conscience rights. “No,” he said, bluntly and frankly, startlingly. Partisan, strong arm politics had come to that.

Fortenberry called on everyone who heard his voice to contact their elected representatives and thank them if they supported conscience protection legislation, or encourage them to support it if they hadn’t done so yet. “This is Bigger than who it covers and other details, this is so much bigger than that,” he said. “It’s about human dignity.”

And human lives. Following Fortenberry that evening of high drama on Capitol Hill, my radio guest was Chuck Donovan, who caught my attention with this article about Obamacare subsidizing abortions, based on his studies and report detailing them. “Tens of thousands of publicly subsidized abortions.” Read it. It’s very thorough. And though it may seem wonkish, that old cliche ‘the devil is in the details’ seems to apply.

The report is summarized here:

“The issue of whether the Affordable Care Act creates streams of taxpayer funding for abortion has been hotly debated,” Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, said Sept. 26. “Research done by the Lozier Institute makes clear that, through the Multi-State Plans alone, Americans will be complicit in the deaths of thousands of unborn children each year through their tax dollars.”

How many Americans know that? Media haven’t mentioned it. Politicians haven’t mentioned it, beyond those working to pass the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, and they’re trying to get legislation through that protects basic provisions of the Bill of Rights. They’re not getting into the tall weeds of the ACA the way Chuck Donovan and other researchers are.

Consider their findings:

The institute estimates federal taxpayers will heavily subsidize between 71,000 and 111,500 abortions per year through federal premium tax credits and Medicaid expansion for subscribers to plans that permit abortion.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia do not bar health plans with elective abortion coverage from the health insurance exchanges created by the 2010 law. Seventeen states permit state funds to be used for elective abortion coverage in their Medicaid programs.

These laws mean that about 5.57 million girls and women could gain abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act through either the Medicaid expansion or the insurance exchanges created by the act.

During debate over whether to pass the health care legislation, President Obama secured the support of several pro-life Democrats by signing an executive order that confirmed the application of long-standing restrictions on elective abortion funding to the health insurance exchanges.

However, critics of the executive order said at the time that it would not prevent federal subsidies from going to insurance plans that pay for abortion and are allowed on the health exchanges.

Donovan, the report’s author, said that the current multi-state plans’ rules would allow the administration to push for the creation of health plans that cover elective abortions in states where they are not explicitly banned.

And he told me this is only part of the profoundly complex layers of problems the ACA is fraught with, confusing as it is to most people, including those who passed it without reading it. This thing that’s called a ‘train wreck’ is so much worse than that. The collateral damage of a machine so out of control as this is potentially beyond calculation.

After people contact their elected representatives on the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, they ought to follow up quickly to contact the media and urge them to do their job as well.

Budget battles and abortion

During the course of this contentious week in Washington over federal spending and a government shutdown at the end of it, the issue of abortion has emerged at the height and center of controversy. This isn’t a wonkish debate after all. It’s about core social values. Like….human beings who become the society that drives the economy.

Who saw this coming?

The policy fight threatening to blow up budget negotiations involves an issue that has been on the sidelines in recent months: abortion.

Until this week, social issues have been largely overshadowed by economic matters amid suggestions from Republican leaders that such debates be put aside while the nation tackles its debt. But now, social conservatives are flexing their muscles, insisting that Planned Parenthood be stripped of federal funding in the spending bill for the rest of the current fiscal year.

There is no reason why taxpayer dollars should fund the abortion industry. Or some of the other protected special interests coming to light this week.

And reason is finally being applied to the debate.

And then again…

There’s this update:

Democratic sources tonight said the major sticking point to a budget deal remains the GOP rider prohibiting any federal funding to Planned Parenthood or any of its affiliates. An aide to Speaker John Boehner denied that Planned Parenthood is the main remaining sticking point, saying, “Spending, spending, spending. That is the remaining issue.” Do you think Planned Parenthood should be part of this debate?

Wow, what a question.

Washington’s budget showdown

Excuse me, but there is so much posturing and politicking going on in all these press conferences by both parties on America’s budget crisis and the looming government shutdown, it’s hard to know who to believe or what to think.

I’m loaded with links. Starting with my hometown paper, President Obama’s hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune. The lead editorial:

Tuesday brought a welcome blast of truth-telling among the grown-ups on Capitol Hill. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled a politically risky proposal to curb federal deficits and pay down the national debt. As he and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, correctly stated, America has a moral obligation to stop spending like there’s no tomorrow.

The Trib has been on a rampage for a while now to call government, state and federal, to accountability. Good.

Has Ryan got all the answers? No, but his plan sure beats doing nothing. And nothing is mostly what we’ve heard from Democrats evidently more concerned about winning next year’s presidential and congressional election than leveling with Americans about the perils of a federal debt north of $14 trillion.

Remember how (not that long ago) we couldn’t get our minds around a ‘billion’?

Now here’s where it gets more personally urgent. Let’s put it this way….Minnesota is known as ‘the state of hockey’. The Trib editors ran a series in the last election dubbing this ‘the state of corruption.’ In one of my calls to a healthcare giver for my Father in Massachusetts, I got into a chatty conversation with the lady who answered, and she remarked “the only time Chicago is in the news it’s either for weather or corruption.” All too true…

So, back to the Trib, and their worries that under this seemingly good plan of Ryan’s, the states would have to take more control over Medicaid and Medicare.

Like any thinking resident of this state, we’re worried that Illinois would botch its responsibilities, but that’s no reason to reject Ryan’s plan out of hand. We can’t afford the plan we’ve got. We need free-market checks and balances, and think-big ideas for saving a program that has grown to serve one in five Illinoisans.


If not the Ryan plan, Democrats, then what?

It was a shame to hear influential lawmakers such as Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attack Ryan practically before he had finished talking. As Ryan acknowledged Tuesday, his “Path to Prosperity” hands a potent weapon to his political opponents, who may indeed follow the usual playbook by fanning the fears of seniors, and demonizing the GOP as the enemy of America’s most vulnerable citizens.

Depressingly, public opinion polls show that most Americans want Congress to cut the federal deficit without cutting entitlements. That isn’t feasible: In round numbers, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security totaled $1.5 trillion in a fiscal 2010 federal budget of $3.5 trillion.

Unchecked, our current entitlement system will destroy our fiscal future. Other developed countries — including several in Europe that now are choking on their own vast public debts — have launched austerity programs. America instead has boosted spending. It can’t go on like this, and Ryan’s proposal includes a sobering account titled, “How a Debt Crisis Would Unfold.”

Trust us: It ends badly.

Ryan is warning us about perils that stretch from economics to psychology: The sense of victimization among citizens who object to reforming unaffordable entitlements…

What is best for the nation and its citizens?

Here’s a citizen expressing what may be a startling viewpoint (or not):

What if the U.S. government shut down and no one noticed?

Even worse (or better, depending on one’s point of view), what if all federal workers went on furlough and the public realized there were benefits, not just costs, to smaller government?

There’s a radical thought.

President Barack Obama says a shutdown would devastate the economy at a time when job growth is struggling to reach a cruising altitude. What’s more, it would further reduce confidence in government.

Guess what? It can’t go much lower. The approval rating for Congress dropped to 18 percent last month, near the lowest in the Gallup poll’s 37-year history of tracking the trend.

Out of the couple of dozen other links I’ve saved, this article dares to say what many Americans are thinking.

No lawmakers means no new laws, regulations, targeted tax breaks, exemptions or loopholes. Members of Congress would have much-needed time to read the health-care bill they passed last year, holding then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to her word when she said: “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.”

So, then. Swing for the fences.

A government shutdown would give family-values Republicans more time to spend with spouses and children (preferably their own). Democrats favoring income redistribution (yours, not theirs) could use the time to consult with their accountants so they can take advantage of the loopholes they write into the tax code. Members of both parties would have more time for fundraising.

Too-big-to-fail banks would get a taste of what it’s like to swim without a life preserver should a crisis strike while the government is shuttered.

Media companies should see improved profits as paid advertisements replace the endless obligatory coverage of the president and Congress bloviating.

Finally, a shutdown would produce such an outcry and warnings of dire consequences from the media, activists and politicians, it might just get open-minded folks to reflect on how the government got so big and why it’s so intertwined in our lives.

This is an evolving news story. Stay tuned….