Beware the hidden costs of beautifully misnamed laws
Washington has a bad habit of naming laws by what they are not.
These euphemisms usually win temporary public support. After all, who wants to be against anything “affordable”? But on examination, such idealistically named legislation usually turns out to be aimed at special interests and the opposite of what voters were promised.
The “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010,” otherwise known as Obamacare, frontloaded for immediate enactment some popular freebies. Who would oppose keeping children on their parents’ health coverage until age 26, or prohibiting denial of insurance for those with pre-existing illnesses?
Then, three years later and with two elections out of the way, the tab for all the perks suddenly came due. The law turns out neither to protect patients from pay hikes nor to make health care affordable. In fact, the administration promises of 2009-10 are becoming the nightmare of 2013.
Health insurance premiums are skyrocketing. Taxes to pay for the bill increased. So far, the Obamacare sign-up website has made going to the DMV seem like a picnic. Businesses are not made more competitive as promised, but cutting back on their full-time employees. The deficit will not go down due to Obamacare.
Doctors do not welcome the radical changes; many may retire to avoid them. Healthy young adults are not rushing to buy Obamacare plans — at least not once they learn that they will pay a lot for something they use rarely to pay for others who pay little for something they will use constantly.
All individuals must buy a plan or pay a penalty, while businesses have already been given a one-year reprieve from skyrocketing expenses of the coverage. Congressional and administration staffers who wrote the law, insider businesses that supported it and pet unions that donated for it now all want to be excused from it.
At a time when the national debt has just hit $17 trillion and Medicare and Social Security are facing impending insolvency, another gargantuan redistributive entitlement does not seem a good way to revive the economy or streamline the nation’s health care.
Obamacare does, however, grow government. It increases the federal workforce. And clerks in Washington will judge which Americans have too much health care and which have too little — and then even everything out.
Our next fight is over “comprehensive immigration reform.” Washington knows what the public supports, and so it certainly offers the necessary platitudes. There are promises of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have avoided public assistance, lived a long time in the U.S. and have not been convicted of crimes.
Applicants, we are told, must be willing to learn English, pay a fine and get in line behind those who played by the immigration rules. The public also first wants a closed border and legal immigration based on ethnically blind and meritocratic criteria.
Unfortunately, the above is not quite what congressional supporters of the comprehensive reform really want. There will be no comprehensive guarantees that illegal immigration will first cease. Most legal immigration will still be based on family ties and proximity to the southern border, not on ethnically blind education or skill requirements. Those convicted of many sorts of crimes may still be eligible for amnesty. Dependence on public assistance will be not necessarily be a barrier to citizenship. In other words, the bill will be comprehensively disingenuous.
About every five years or so, we also see a farm bill that must delude a public that is skeptical about paying out billions of dollars to wealthy farmers and expanding food stamps to include those who are not impoverished.
In 1996 it was informally called the Freedom to Farm Act (officially the “Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996”) — on the promise that the bill would downsize and then eliminate federal farm subsidies in seven years. It did not.
Instead, after 9/11, Congress rushed in an even more generous replacement bill under the guise of “security.” Apparently, we were supposed to believe that “The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002” would make us safer from al-Qaeda.
After gas prices soared, next came the 2008 “Food, Conservation and Energy Act” — as if high-priced ethanol would solve our energy needs or had much to do with crop subsidy payments and food stamps.
Then, to piggyback on worries over high unemployment, there was the 2013 “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act” that is still being debated. If the past is any guide, this bill will not lead to reform, more food or more jobs. It will continue to give profitable farmers more federal money when commodity prices are high and government insolvent. And it will subsidize groceries to a record number of recipients at a time when epidemic obesity, not malnutrition, threatens the health of millions of lower-income Americans. Food choice, not scarcity, is our national challenge.
Beware of Congress bearing the gifts of beautifully misnamed laws.
(Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of “The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern” You can reach him by e-mailing: [email protected].)
Victor Davis Hanson