Wednesday, March 02, 2011

States’ Rights: Obamacare’s Unintended Impact

We have talked about how Obamacare is intended to complete the New Deal, and enshrine Obama in the pantheon of great liberal heroes. Given the man’s self-absorption, Democrats’ strong sense of historical destiny, and the party’s genuine belief that people will benefit from government-run health care, we have reasons enough to explain the 2009-10 obsession with passing Obamacare even as unemployment numbers kept growing.

Let me return to another blog reference to health care, one that even more fundamentally explains Democrats’ urgency in the face of strong popular opposition. In 1976, liberal Stanford economist Victor Fuchs candidly discussed how national health insurance is “one of the most effective ways of increasing allegiance to the state.” And don’t liberals in fact deeply believe that once national health insurance is in place, they will have secured America’s destiny as a European-style welfare state?

No wonder the fight is so intense. But it’s generating a strong reaction that could significantly reduce Washington’s command of the nation, not exactly what Fuchs and liberals had in mind.

First, the people continue to resist Obamacare.

Jeffrey H. Anderson of the Weekly Standard reports that the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows by a 59% to 32% margin, seniors have an “unfavorable” opinion of Obamacare. And Kaiser says Americans as a whole, by 48% to 43%, don’t like the new law.

It’s worth noting Kaiser's negative results on Obamacare come from a poll biased in favor of Democrats: the sample was 36% Democrats 24% Republicans, a 3-to-2 ratio of Democrats over Republicans. Anderson asserts this sample “isn’t even remotely representative of current party allegiance,” since 2010 exit polling showed Republicans and Democrats even at 35%.

Second, Obamacare is separating state governments from Washington (recall the 28 states suing to block enforcement of Obamacare's individual mandate). George Melloan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, noted that
For decades, the federal government has presumed increasingly to make policy in health, education, welfare, business regulation, law enforcement and other areas beyond the powers enumerated in the Constitution. Up until recently, the courts have largely viewed this intrusion benignly, partly because the states have acquiesced, bargaining their sovereignty away in return for federal aid. This once-happy marriage is on the rocks. [Obamacare] off-loaded massive costs on the states.
Yesterday, nearly a month after Melloan, Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald F. Seib made the same point using similar language, but with additional evidence:
For decades, the implicit deal between Washington and state capitals has been that the feds would offer chunks of cash, and in return would get commensurate influence over the states' social policies. Now [the] flow of federal goodies has begun what figures to be a long-term decline, as the money Washington has available to pass around to the states is squeezed. . . A loss of federal largess means a loss of influence in state capitals. . .

the federal government is slipping in its standing with voters. . . Citizens show more confidence in state governments. In a survey by the Pew Research Center in February, a majority of Americans—53%—said they had a favorable opinion of their state government, while just 38% offered a favorable opinion of the federal government.
Obamacare may well survive in some form. But the revolution against Big Government is also becoming one against Big Washington, one that looks increasingly likely to shift power to the states.

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