Category Archives: Noonan

ObamaCare Disaster Recovery

The tide is turning…
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Updated Nov. 15, 2013 6:55 p.m. ET

Congress right now has a historic chance—really, it could wind up in the history books next to the stopping of FDR’s court-packing scheme in 1937—to hold back ObamaCare. Congress can delay it, or pass a law mandating or allowing insurance companies to continue insuring everyone they just threw off coverage. Heck, they could try to vote now, under new conditions and with the American people behind them, to repeal the whole thing.

And who knows, they just might.

A great deal is possible because the people are coming around to the Republican point of view on the program: They do not like it, do not trust it, do not believe it will make things better. The president got caught—and it’s amazing he did it, because he must have known he’d be caught when the program debuted—dissembling, for three years, as he sold and attempted to popularize his program. In fact if your insurance isn’t provided by an employer or the government, chances are pretty good you will soon lose your policy, your doctor, your premium price.

The White House is getting timorous. They’re losing their usual braggadocio, their burly confidence that they can weather any storm. By now they’ve seen a lot of Titanic cartoons. By now they’re wondering if that music they’re hearing isn’t “Nearer My God to Thee.” The polls show less faith in the president, less trust.

What a fall, and how richly deserved. The administration didn’t care enough to make sure the people of their country were protected. In the middle of a second Age of Anxiety they decided to make Americans more anxious. The next few weeks and months they’ll continue to see the people’s mighty wrath.

The mainstream press is already beginning to peel off. Bill Clinton gave them permission for that. Big Dawg was right: The president has to honor his own word and protect those who trusted him and have been thrown off their plans. The press, and congressional Democrats, are no longer disloyal if they say the same thing. Democrats in the House seem near to snapping, and you never know what the House will do. They’re elected every two years. They’re always in an election cycle, and are thus more reactive to and sensitive to shifts in public thinking.

It would make history if congressional Democrats proved to be serious, equal to the moment, if they pushed back against the White House and came through for the American people by moving, in a real move, not a cosmetic gesture—too late for that, that’s what they should have been doing a month ago!—against ObamaCare. And you get the impression they just might.

It would be practical. People back home don’t like ObamaCare now, and soon—as the Nov. 30 website deadline is blown, as public clamor spreads about canceled policies, higher costs, doctors no longer on the network—they’ll like it even less.  Weeks ago they were talking of the possibility of a death spiral, but ObamaCare is in a death spiral.

So the Democrats’ moving against it would be realistic, practical. Successful politicians are by definition survivors. They’ve been loyal to Mr. Obama for a long time, but most of them don’t really know him. They don’t owe him much. And he is tanking their brand. Democrats can claim a special reason for reversing their earlier support—they believed the president when he said you could keep your coverage. But now, having seen the anxiety the people back home are feeling, they’re bravely standing up to the administration to protect the constituents they love. “We need national health-care relief. The system has long been broken, but let’s face it, this program isn’t working and won’t work. It’s time to start over again and get things right.” That’s the way to go for Democrats, “Get things right.” They shouldn’t give up on the issue—the trauma of the past few weeks will likely, and ironically, leave Americans more open to a simple single-payer approach—but they should give up on ObamaCare. And they should always call it that, to distance their own future programs from it.

Or they can hunker down and lose in 2014. They can take the advice of Democratic National Committee chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Run on ObamaCare, go home and explain how great it is. Which is another way of saying stand by the limp and tattered flag, draw all the fire and die on the field.

More and more it seems obvious that the vast majority of the politicians who pushed the bill in the House and Senate never read it. They didn’t know what was in it. They had no idea. They don’t understand insurance—they’re in politics, a branch of showbiz.

Some of them would have tried to read it, but it was 2,000 pages of impenetrable paragraphs—real word-clots, word-slabs—accompanied by long lines of swimming numbers. Comprehensive bills are never comprehensible ones—they are meant to lack clarity. Administrations get bills passed and then let administration regulators interpret them. That’s why Nancy Pelosi said: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” It was literally true!

After failing to read or understand the bill, members of Congress relied on briefings from some guy from the White House, some kid from the speaker’s office, and whichever Ezekiel knockoff was available as an expert. Lawmakers listened. They took notes.

The briefers thought—hoped—they themselves understood what they were saying. But they were never sure either! You can sort of think you know what you’re saying when you say things like, “When each local exchange module launches it will reflect a national weighting of ‘invincibles’ and ‘ancients’ that will stabilize prevailing market realities while providing broader access not only to the poor but to those who currently have non-grandfathered or insufficient plans. So in the end it’s win-win for everyone.” Would they have known what any of that would mean in terms of real-world application?  The congressmen tried, in their distracted way, to understand. And gave up. And went on “Hardball” saying, “It’s win-win—broader and better coverage for all!”

Most of them had no idea what they were voting for. They’re as surprised as anybody at what’s happened. And it’s not only because so many of them are idiots. They believed what they were told and, more important, they wanted to believe it. And, I suspect, they had a magical and almost touching belief in the ability of the U.S. government to do anything. It’s done anything in the past, why wouldn’t it now? (Because in the past it wasn’t asked to construct huge, sprawling, incoherent Rube Goldberg machines? And because government hasn’t always executed brilliantly, but often just well enough not to make everybody cry?)

One thing about the progressives of Congress: They really drank the Kool-Aid. They really did think government could do anything. They were sincere! They really thought there were no limits. I wonder if this will sober them up.

People are wondering if we are seeing the end of liberalism. We are not. Liberalism, a great and storied American political tradition, will survive this. But progressivism—liberalism without blood—has been badly, deeply damaged. We are seeing the end of its first major emanation, ObamaCare.

ObamaCare Disaster Recovery – WSJ.com.

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Peggy Noonan’s Opinion Blog

Are Republicans anywhere listening????
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Obama’s Catastrophic Victory

Years ago John McPhee wrote a great book about Bill Bradley called “A Sense of Where You Are.” I keep thinking about that title. You have to know where you are in time and space, you have to know who you are and what you’re doing, you have to be able to locate the moment and reorient yourself within it.

Politically where are we right now, at this moment?

We have a huge piece of U.S. economic and social change that debuted a month ago as a program. The program dealt with something personal, even intimate: your health, the care of your body, the medicines you choose to take or procedures you get. It was hugely controversial from day one. It took all the political oxygen from the room. It failed to garner even one vote from the opposition when it was passed. It gave rise to a significant opposition movement, the town hall uprisings, which later produced the tea party. It caused unrest. In fact, it seemed not to answer a problem but cause it. I called ObamaCare, at the time of its passage, a catastrophic victory—one won at too great cost, with too much political bloodshed, and at the end what would you get? Barren terrain. A thing not worth fighting for.

So the program debuts and it’s a resounding, famous, fantastical flop. The first weeks of the news coverage are about how the websites don’t work, can you believe we paid for this, do you believe they had more than three years and produced this public joke of a program, this embarrassment?

But now it’s much more serious. No one’s thinking about the websites. They wish you were thinking about the websites! I bet America hopes the websites never work so they never have to enroll.

The problem now is not the delivery system of the program, it’s the program itself. Not the computer screen but what’s inside the program. This is something you can’t get the IT guy in to fix.

They said if you liked your insurance you could keep your insurance—but that’s not true. It was never true! They said if you liked your doctor you could keep your doctor—but that’s not true. It was never true! They said they would cover everyone who needed it, and instead people who had coverage are losing it—millions of them! They said they would make insurance less expensive—but it’s more expensive! Premium shock, deductible shock. They said don’t worry, your health information will be secure, but instead the whole setup looks like a hacker’s holiday. Bad guys are apparently already going for your private information.

Look at the simple, factual eloquence of Edie Littlefield Sundby, from Monday’s Journal. It is a story that tells you everything you need to know about ObamaCare. It is the single most persuasive and informative piece written since the whole program began.

And now there are reports the insurance companies are taking advantage of the chaos of the program, and its many dislocations, to hike premiums. Meaning the law was written in such a way that insurance companies profit on it.

And—I am limiting things to just today’s news – the New York Times reports that while millions may qualify for enough federal subsidies to pay the entire monthly cost of some health-insurance plans, the zero premiums come with some “serious trade-offs.” What serious trade-offs? Most of these plans, called the bronze policies, “require people to pay the most in out-of-pocket costs, for doctor visit and other benefits like hospital stays.” Huh? I thought the purpose of the law was to help with the cost of doctor visits and hospital stays!
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Back to a sense of where we are. You know where we are? It’s as if it’s 1964 and the administration has just passed landmark civil rights legislation and the bill goes into effect, and everyone looks—only immediately it is apparent that it makes everyone’s life worse! It doesn’t help minority groups – it makes their lives harder and less free! And it does real, present and intimate damage to the majority.

It’s as if it’s 1937 and they launched Social Security, only rich coupon-clippers on Park Avenue immediately started getting small monthly checks, and 67-year-old dust bowlers in tarpaper shacks started getting monthly bills.

It’s the biggest governmental enterprise that hasn’t worked since the earliest beginnings of the U.S. rocket program, when they kept trying to send rockets into space and they kept falling, defeated and groaning, into the ground. Only the rockets were still unmanned, so those failures never hurt anybody!
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ObamaCare is a practical, policy and political disaster, a parlay of poisonous P’s.

And it is unbelievable – simply unbelievable – that the administration is so proud, so childish, so ideological, so ignorant and so uncaring about the bill’s victims that they refuse to stop, delay, go back, redraw and ease the trauma.

Two closing notes. In my lifetime the good word liberal was discarded by the Democratic Party. Over the decades they’d run it into the ground and changed it from a plus to a minus. Liberal came to suggest a whole world of bad ideas—soft on crime, eager for gun confiscation, big taxing. So the past 20 years Democrats tried to change their label, and in the Obama era it was finally definitively changed. They were now progressives.

Well, the biggest piece of progressive legislation in our lifetimes—not just costly but intrusive, abusive, and marked by a command-and-control mentality—is ObamaCare.

Remember, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”? They’re gonna need another name.

Second point: I don’t know, maybe the Republican Party could focus on where we are and help those Americans who are beside themselves with anxiety? A friend had a suggestion today. Maybe instead of having oversight hearings on the stupid website, they could be hauling in some insurance executives to see if they’re capitalizing on this bad law and trying to profit on its dislocations? You know, like they’re listening not to K Street lobbyists but the people?

Maybe they could even call in some people from the White House and Congress, the ones who helped write and interpret this famous law that you had to pass before you could know what was in it, and ask: “Did you ever meet a normal human? Did you understand what you were doing when you produced this thing?”

Maybe they could even ask the president: “In your entire life, from community organizer to lawyer to politician, did you ever buy an insurance policy? Were you always on your wife’s plan, or immediately put on a plush government plan? Did you ever have to do anything like what you’re telling the people of your country to do?”

Peggy Noonan’s Opinion Blog.

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A Bombshell in the IRS Scandal

Noonan ‘making it hurt’ again. I wish some in Congress would be equally focused.
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The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office—that had been established—but to the office of the chief counsel.

That is a bombshell—such a big one that it managed to emerge in spite of an unfocused, frequently off-point congressional hearing in which some members seemed to have accidentally woken up in the middle of a committee room, some seemed unaware of the implications of what their investigators had uncovered, one pretended that the investigation should end if IRS workers couldn’t say the president had personally called and told them to harass his foes, and one seemed to be holding a filibuster on Pakistan.

Still, what landed was a bombshell. And Democrats know it. Which is why they are so desperate to make the investigation go away. They know, as Republicans do, that the chief counsel of the IRS is one of only two Obama political appointees in the entire agency.

To quickly review why the new information, which came most succinctly in a nine-page congressional letter to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, is big news:

When the scandal broke two months ago, in May, IRS leadership in Washington claimed the harassment of tea-party and other conservative groups requesting tax-exempt status was confined to the Cincinnati office, where a few rogue workers bungled the application process. Lois Lerner, then the head of the exempt organizations unit in Washington, said “line people in Cincinnati” did work that was “not so fine.” They asked questions that “weren’t really necessary,” she claimed, and operated without “the appropriate level of sensitivity.” But the targeting was “not intentional.” Ousted acting commissioner Steven Miller also put it off on “people in Cincinnati.” They provided “horrible customer service.”

House investigators soon talked to workers in the Cincinnati office, who said everything they did came from Washington. Elizabeth Hofacre, in charge of processing tea-party applications in Cincinnati, told investigators that her work was overseen and directed by a lawyer in the IRS Washington office named Carter Hull.

Now comes Mr. Hull’s testimony. And like Ms. Hofacre, he pointed his finger upward. Mr. Hull—a 48-year IRS veteran and an expert on tax exemption law—told investigators that tea-party applications under his review were sent upstairs within the Washington office, at the direction of Lois Lerner.

In April 2010, Hull was assigned to scrutinize certain tea-party applications. He requested more information from the groups. After he received responses, he felt he knew enough to determine whether the applications should be approved or denied.

But his recommendations were not carried out.

Michael Seto, head of Mr. Hull’s unit, also spoke to investigators. He told them Lois Lerner made an unusual decision: Tea-party applications would undergo additional scrutiny—a multilayered review.

Mr. Hull told House investigators that at some point in the winter of 2010-11, Ms. Lerner’s senior adviser, whose name is withheld in the publicly released partial interview transcript, told him the applications would require further review:

Q: “Did [the senior adviser to Ms. Lerner] indicate to you whether she agreed with your recommendations?”

A: “She did not say whether she agreed or not. She said it should go to chief counsel.”

Q: “The IRS chief counsel?”

A: “The IRS chief counsel.”

The IRS chief counsel is named William Wilkins. And again, he is one of only two Obama political appointees in the IRS.

What was the chief counsel’s office looking for? The letter to Mr. Werfel says Mr. Hull’s supervisor, Ronald Shoemaker, provided insight: The counsel’s office wanted, in the words of the congressional committees, “information about the applicants’ political activities leading up to the 2010 election.” Mr. Shoemaker told investigators he didn’t find that kind of question unreasonable, but he found the counsel’s office to be “not very forthcoming”: “We discussed it to some extent and they indicated that they wanted more development of possible political activity or political intervention right before the election period.”

It’s almost as if—my words—the conservative organizations in question were, during two major election cycles, deliberately held in a holding pattern.

So: What the IRS originally claimed was a rogue operation now reaches up not only to the Washington office, but into the office of the IRS chief counsel himself.

At the generally lacking House Oversight Committee Hearings on Thursday, some big things still got said.

Ms. Hofacre of the Cincinnati office testified that when she was given tea-party applications, she had to kick them upstairs. When she was given non-tea-party applications, they were sent on for normal treatment. Was she told to send liberal or progressive groups for special scrutiny? No, she did not scrutinize the applications of liberal or progressive groups. “I would send those to general inventory.” Who got extra scrutiny? “They were all tea-party and patriot cases.” She became “very frustrated” by the “micromanagement” from Washington. “It was like working in lost luggage.” She applied to be transferred.

For his part, Mr. Hull backed up what he’d told House investigators. He described what was, essentially, a big, lengthy runaround in the Washington office in which no one was clear as to their reasons but everything was delayed. The multitiered scrutiny of the targeted groups was, he said, “unusual.”

It was Maryland’s Rep. Elijah Cummings, the panel’s ranking Democrat, who, absurdly, asked Ms. Hofacre if the White House called the Cincinnati office to tell them what to do and whether she has knowledge of the president of the United States digging through the tax returns of citizens. Ms. Hofacre looked surprised. No, she replied.

It wasn’t hard to imagine her thought bubble: Do congressmen think presidents call people like me and say, “Don’t forget to harass my enemies”? Are congressmen that stupid?

Mr. Cummings is not, and his seeming desperation is telling. Recent congressional information leads to Washington—and now to very high up at the IRS. Meaning this is the point at which a scandal goes nowhere or, maybe, everywhere.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, finally woke the proceedings up with what he called “the evolution of the defense” since the scandal began. First, Ms. Lerner planted a question at a conference. Then she said the Cincinnati office did it—a narrative that was advanced by the president’s spokesman, Jay Carney. Then came the suggestion the IRS was too badly managed to pull off a sophisticated conspiracy. Then the charge that liberal groups were targeted too—”we did it against both ends of the political spectrum.” When the inspector general of the IRS said no, it was conservative groups that were targeted, he came under attack. Now the defense is that the White House wasn’t involved, so case closed.

This is one Republican who is right about evolution.

Those trying to get to the bottom of the scandal have to dig in, pay attention. The administration’s defenders, and their friends in the press, have made some progress in confusing the issue through misdirection and misstatement.

This is the moment things go forward or stall. Republicans need to find out how high the scandal went and why, exactly, it went there. To do that they’ll have to up their game.

A Bombshell in the IRS Scandal – WSJ.com.

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Noonan: Privacy Isn’t All We’re Losing

Always a good read.
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The U.S. surveillance state as outlined and explained by Edward Snowden is not worth the price. Its size, scope and intrusiveness, its ability to target and monitor American citizens, its essential unaccountability—all these things are extreme.

The purpose of the surveillance is enhanced security, a necessary goal to say the least. The price is a now formal and agreed-upon acceptance of the end of the last vestiges of Americans’ sense of individual distance and privacy from the government. The price too is a knowledge, based on human experience and held by all but fools and children, that the gleanings of the surveillance state will eventually be used by the mischievous, the malicious and the ignorant in ways the creators of the system did not intend.

For all we know that’s already happened. But of course we don’t know: It’s secret. Only the intelligence officials know, and they say everything’s A-OK. The end of human confidence in a zone of individual privacy from the government, plus the very real presence of a system that can harm, harass or invade the everyday liberties of Americans. This is a recipe for democratic disaster.

If—again, if—what Mr. Snowden says is substantially true, the surveillance state will in time encourage an air of subtle oppression, and encourage too a sense of paranoia that may in time—not next week, but in time, as the years unfold—loosen and disrupt the ties the people of America feel to our country. “They spy on you here and will abuse the information they get from spying on you here. I don’t like ‘here.’ ”

Trust in government, historically, ebbs and flows, and currently, because of the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, Benghazi, etc.—and the growing evidence that the executive agencies have been reduced to mere political tools—is at an ebb that may not be fully reversible anytime soon. It is a great irony, and history will marvel at it, that the president most committed to expanding the centrality, power, prerogatives and controls of the federal government is also the president who, through lack of care, arrogance, and an absence of any sense of prudential political boundaries, has done the most in our time to damage trust in government.

But again, you can always, or every four years, hire a new president. The ties you feel to your country are altogether more consequential, more crucial. And this is something we have to watch out for, and it has to do with the word “extreme,” more on which in a moment.

How did we get here? You know. In the days after 9/11 all the clamor was for safety. Improve intelligence, find the bad guys, heighten surveillance. The government went to work. It is important to remember that 9/11 coincided almost exactly with the Internet revolution. They happened at pretty much the same time.

In the past 10 years technology sped up, could do more and more—big data, metadata. Capabilities became massive, and menacing.

Our government is not totalitarian. Our leaders, even the worst of them, are not totalitarian. But our technology is totalitarian, or rather it is there and can be used and abused by those whose impulses tend, even unconsciously or unthinkingly, in that direction.

So what’s needed? We must realize this is a crucial moment: We either go forward with these programs now or we stop, and think. Some call for a conversation, but what we really need is a debate—a real argument. It will require a new candor from the government as to what the National Security Agency does and doesn’t do. We need a new rigor in the areas of oversight and accountability—including explicit limits on what can and should be allowed, accompanied by explicit and even harsh penalties for violations. This debate will also require information that is reliable—that is, true—from the government about what past terrorist attempts have been slowed or stopped by the surveillance state.

Closing thoughts.
The NSA is only one of many recent revelations and events that have the ability to damage the ties Americans feel toward their country. It’s not only big stories like the IRS, but stories that have flown mostly below the media’s interest. Here is one: There was a doctor in Philadelphia who routinely killed full-term babies for years, and no one wanted to stop him for years. It got out of hand—he was collecting body parts in jars—and he was finally arrested, tried, sent to prison. People who are not extreme—people, forgive me, who are normal—who followed the story watched in a horrified, traumatized wonder. “They have places where they kill kids in America now, and it’s kind of accepted.” Those who watch closely say there are more such clinics, still up and operating. There’s a bill in Congress now to limit abortions after the fifth month, the age at which hospitals can keep babies alive. It’s not an extreme proposal, not in the least, but it’s probably going nowhere. It’s been called anti-woman.

I feel that almost everyone who talks about America for a living—politicians and journalists and even historians—is missing a huge and essential story: that too many things are happening that are making a lot of Americans feel a new distance from, a frayed affiliation with, the country they have loved for half a century and more, the country they loved without every having to think about it, so natural was it.

This isn’t the kind of thing that can be quantified in polls—it’s barely the kind of thing people admit to themselves. But talk to older Americans—they feel they barely know this country anymore. In governance its crucial to stay within parameters, it’s important not to strain ties, push too far, be extreme. And if you think this does not carry implications for down the road, for our healthy continuance as a nation, you are mistaken. Love keeps great nations going.

Some of the reaction to the NSA story is said to be generational. The young are said not to fear losing privacy, because they never knew it. The middle-aged, who grew up in peace and have families, want safety first, whatever it takes, even excess. Lately for wisdom I’ve been looking to the old. Go to somebody who’s 75 and ask, “So if it turns out the U.S. government is really spying on American citizens and tracking everything they do, is that OK with you?” They’ll likely say no, that’s not what we do in America.

The other day on Fox News Channel I saw 79-year-old Eugene Cernan, an Apollo astronaut. Mr. Cernan’s indignation about the state of things was so sincere, so there. China had just blasted into space, bringing its pride and sense of nationhood with it. America doesn’t do that anymore, said Mr. Cernan, we’re not achieving big things. Now we go nowhere.

The interviewer, Neil Cavuto, threw in a question about the spying.

Yes, we’re under attack, said Mr. Cernan, but “we can handle it,” we can go after “the bad guys” without hurting “the good guys,” you can’t give up your own liberty and your own freedom.

Exactly how a lot of us feel about it, rocket man.

A version of this article appeared June 15, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Privacy Isn’t All We’re Losing.

Noonan: Privacy Isn’t All We’re Losing – WSJ.com.

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