Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress this week came as his healthcare plan was dying a slow death on Capitol Hill, the victim of a newly emboldened Republican opposition that has suddenly found its backbone and red-state and Blue Dog Democrats who went wobbly after a hot August of town hall protests. In spite of White House claims that these protests were the work of industry-sponsored "Astroturf," anyone who attended them (and I did) can tell you that the opposition came from citizens concerned about the health of their families and loved ones.
Did the speech work, which is to say, did it revive Obamacare? The preliminary evidence suggests that it did not. The latest Rasmussen survey shows an uptick of only 2 percent in support for Obama's healthcare scheme, from 44 to 46 percent. Obama's speech will likely lift his job approval and healthcare numbers for a while, but it will be ephemeral. Within a short period of time, the afterglow of the speech will fade, and we will be back to status quo antebellum.
The reason is simple. Obama's problem can't be solved with eloquence and speech-craft. The White House's problem is not one of communications. It has to do with substance. The American people have reviewed the bidding on the healthcare issue, and they have decided (I believe with a certain finality) that they do not want a Big Government, one-size-fits-all solution from Washington that herds millions of people into a public plan and puts a bureaucrat between patients and doctors.
Most of the mainstream media's focus (predictably) has been on Congressman Joe Wilson, who said during the speech, "You lie." I am not defending Congressman Wilson's remark, and, by the way, neither has he. The remark was ill-advised and inappropriate, and he swiftly apologized, as he should have. But two wrongs don't make a right, and it was just as wrong for the president to tell falsehood after fib after misrepresentation after distortion about both his plan and his opponents' opposition to it.
Obama's speech was remarkable for its petulance, its partisanship, and its falsehoods. To put it mildly, Obama told repeated falsehoods about his plan, falsehoods that were bald-faced, audacious, and shameless. Consider just a few of the dishonest statements in Obama's speech:
First, he said, "I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future." If so, then the president should have announced his public opposition to the Senate leadership bill and H.B. 3200, the so-called tri-committee bill that is the House leadership's approved legislation, months ago. In June the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the legislation will increase the budget deficit by $240 billion over the next 10 years. That's just the beginning. A new study by the Lewin Group finds that in the second 10 years, it will increase the deficit by $1 trillion. The White House has publicly praised and supported both these bills. So Obama stated a whopping $1.24 trillion falsehood.
Second, Obama said he would not cut Medicare and affect basic care for seniors. On the defensive, he said that "Medicare is another issue that's been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate." He called Medicare a "sacred trust" and said "I will protect Medicare." But the Obama plan includes $600 billion in unspecified Medicare cuts. It destroys Medicare Advantage with $250 billion in cuts, decimating a pro-consumer option that one out of every four seniors takes advantage of and allows them to choose the best insurance and doctor for them.
Even The Associated Press has called Obama on this lie. AP reported that "although wasteful spending in Medicare is widely acknowledged, many experts believe some seniors almost certainly would see reduced benefits from the cuts. That's particularly true for the 25 percent of Medicare users covered through Medicare Advantage. Supporters contend that providers could absorb the cuts by improving how they operate and wouldn't have to reduce benefits or pass along costs. But there's certainly no guarantee they wouldn't."
Third, Obama took a cheap shot at Sarah Palin and others who have pointed out that the healthcare rationing implicit in the plan combined with panels of experts approving of certain procedures that allow younger patients to receive care while certain older patients are denied care based on a "quality of life" standard will lead inexorably to the denial of care to the elderly and the dying. Obama said — falsely — that Palin and others have claimed that "we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens." This is totally false, and Obama knows it. What critics have pointed out is that seniors will be required to submit regularly to "end of life" counseling sessions (detailed on page 425 of H.B. 3200) that, combined with cost controls and rationing of care, could lead to them being denied life-saving treatment.
Moreover, as healthcare expert Betsy McCaughey, chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, has pointed out, the bill includes "substantial funding for comparative effectiveness research, which is generally code for limiting care based on a patient's age. Economists are familiar with the formula, where the cost of treatment is divided by the number of years (called QUALYs, or quality-adjusted life years) that the patient is likely to benefit."
Fourth, Obama claimed that the bill does not use taxpayer funds for abortion. This is also false. The Democrats rejected amendments in a House committee that would have specifically excluded abortion from coverage under the so-called government option. In its place, the Democrats took the private portion of the premium (not the public subsidy) and specified that only those funds could be used for abortion services. This is an accounting gimmick. Funds in an insurance policy are fungible, and the fact is that abortion will be massively subsidized with billions of dollars in taxpayer funds for the first time in U.S. history.
Fifth, Obama claimed that his plan did not provide care for illegal immigrants. Here again, false. By rejecting a Republican amendment requiring proof of legal residence prior to receiving care under the government-run plan, the Democrats have opened the door for non-citizens and non-legal residents to receive care for which they have not paid into the system. If one refuses to require proof of citizenship or legal residence, one cannot claim to limit benefits to only citizens.
Joe Wilson has apologized; Obama has not. And when it comes to calling your opponents liars, Obama has no peer. He did so Wednesday night repeatedly. He previously held a conference call with liberal faith groups and accused his opponents of "bearing false witness." He has told falsehoods about his own plan, repeatedly and shamelessly. As he has done so, he has not only taken the glow off his "Hope, Change" campaign mantra, he has diminished his office. That is a loss not only for his political team, but for all Americans.
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