Don’t look now, but as Obamacare’s critics are focusing incessantly on the abortive rollout of the law’s health-care exchanges, the Left is moving the goalposts in the broader debate — and rather spectacularly, too.
Obamacare, recall, was sold with a specific set of political promises: The new regime, advocates insisted, would reduce the deficit, cover the needy, and reduce total health spending — all while lowering the premiums of those who were already insured. Back in 2007, when Obama was running for the Democratic nomination, he introduced what was then an embryonic proposal with the quixotic assurance that, “if you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is the amount of money you will spend on premiums.” Then he adumbrated what would happen to the “amount of money” that Americans would “spend on premiums.” “That will be less,” Obama told anybody who would listen.
As a candidate, Obama also made this promise: “I will sign a universal health-care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.” Again, this is not a “right-wing talking point,” nor is it a slur cooked up by an intransigent conservative movement intent upon destroying the president at all costs. It is a verbatim pledge that the candidate made to the American people on camera over and over and over and over again — so often, in fact, that the New York Times ran an entire feature on the “audacious promise” that was submitted in “speech after speech.”
After he was elected president, Obama continued to make definite commitments. On June 15, 2009, in the midst of the legislative fight, the president told the American Medical Association’s annual meeting: “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”
These declarations cannot merely be dismissed as heat-of-the-moment talking points rendered moot by changes made during the deliberative process. Instead, they are claims that were — and that remain — central to the public case for the law. As recently as July 2012, Nancy Pelosi informed the viewers of Meet the Press that, under Obamacare, “everybody will have lower rates, better quality care, and better access.” One month later, the president took to the Rose Garden lawn to issue another guarantee: “For people with insurance, the only impact of the health-care law is that their insurance is stronger, better, and more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.”
To recap, then: Before, during, and after passage, Americans were promised that Obamacare was going to lower premiums for “everyone” (the goal of merely maintaining premiums being too modest); it was not going to interfere with anybody’s health care or health insurance if they already had it; and it was not going change anybody’s patient-doctor relationship. The message was unmistakable: All the government wanted to do was extend health insurance to people who didn’t have it. This wouldn’t affect you. No need to worry. Period. Move along.
What was not claimed was that Obamacare was necessary because health care is a “right,” as the president has recently taken to arguing; that redistribution was critical for “fairness”; or that some would win and some would lose but that, overall, it would be a solid compromise. Instead, unmistakable promises, easy enough to check in the age of the Internet, were repeatedly made by the architects and cheerleaders of reform.