The President and his “Improvisational Government”

December 20th, 2013

Some of the more striking comments during the President’s news conference focused on the manner in which his administration is changing policies, and reacting to problems.

Chuck Todd posed an important question.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. And merry Christmas, and happy new year. You’ve talked about the issues with health care and the website rollout, but there have been other issues, the misinformation about people keeping their policies, the extended deadlines, some postponements. We have a new waiver that HHS announced last night. How do you expect Americans to have confidence and certainty in this law if you keep changing it? This one here, this new waiver last night — could argue you might as well have just delayed the mandate.

By constantly delaying deadlines, and exempting people at random, you undercut confidence in the rule of law. As I noted earlier, no one will pay the mandate now. Why would you, if there’s a good chance HHS will issue a blog post and announce, like the business mandate, no one is liable to pay for it.

The President’s answers are telling. After repeating the standard lines about how kids can stay on their parents’ plan till the age of 26, etc., he offered some useful insights into his philosophy on governance.

You’re making a broader point that — that I think is fair.

And that is that in a big project like this, that what we are constantly doing is looking — is this working the way it’s supposed to, and if there are adjustments that can be made to smooth out the transition, we should make them.

Now, in putting something like this together, there are going to be all kinds of problems that crop up, some of which may have been unanticipated. And what we’ve been trying to do is just respond to them in a common-sense way, and we’re going to continue to try to do that.

There’s nothing wrong with government making “adjustments” to problems in a “common sense” way. But the manner in which his government is doing so is frankly scary. All of the problems we have encountered so far should have been foreseen well in advance–especially by agencies that were warned of these problems. But, due to nothing more than political expendiency, fixes have been glommed on at the last minute, without any notice.

People at HHS knew that the web site would not be ready months in advance. Delay it? Of course not. Tell the President? No need. Launch it when it is woefully unable to work! Sure!

The government knew people would have their policies cancelled. Tell them about? No, that would harm the passage of the law? Warn them after it was passed? Nah, people need to get covered. Lie about it and tell them they can keep their policies? Sure!

The government realizes that people who had their policies were cancelled were upset in November. Allow them an exemption from the mandate? No, that would make the law crumble. “Urge” the insurance companies to renew cancelled policies, with almost no notice? Sure–that way it’s the insurance companies fault if they don’t get signed up.

When the previous “adjustment” doesn’t work, and the government realized they would never get enough people to sign up by Dec. 23, and it would be politically unpopular to penalize them? Delay Obamacare a year in October? Nah, that’s what Crazy Cruz wanted. Offer people exemptions in November? Nah, don’t want to ruin Thanksgiving! Write a blog post on December 19, a few days before Christmas, asking people who had their policies cancelled to mail a form to London, Kentucky requesting a hardship exemption? Sure!

A new crisis will emerge when not enough people sign up, and the risk pools are not diversified enough. So, I’m sure, at the last minute, maybe in a Tweet from @Sebelius, the President will announce that *no one* is subject to the mandate this year.

And what is even more stunning, is that the President said the “adjustments” he has made do not “go to the core of the law.”

But they don’t go to the core of the law. First of all, the core of the law is, is that for 85 percent of the population, all they’ve been getting is free preventive care, better consumer protections, the ability to keep their kids on their insurance plan till they’re 26, thousand-dollar or $500 discounts on prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare. So 85 percent of the population, whether they know it or not, over the last three years have benefited from a whole set of the provisions of the law.


That is sophistry.  The mandate, literally, is the “core” of the law. Your Solicitor General told that to the Supreme Court. Without the mandate, the entire law crumbles. Is there any kind of executive estoppel here? The only reason why the ACA offers these “free benefits” is that uninsured people pay the mandate penalty, or pay insurance, and contribute to the risk pool. He has to know better than this.

Government doesn’t work by making adjustments on the fly. This is literally “improvisational government.”

As Todd’s question ended, he inquired about the mandate.

Q: But the mandate will be enforced — (off mic) —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely, yeah.

Mandate? What Mandate?

These aren’t forms of idle speculation. Lawless governance, and changing things up on the fly, erodes the public trust. See this question from Julie Pace:

Q: But sir, it’s not just your legislative agenda. When you look at — (off mic) — you talk to Americans, they seem to have lost confidence in you, trust in you. Your credibility have taken a hit. Obviously, the health care law was a big part of that. So do you understand that those — that the public has changed, in some way, their view of you over this year?

The President’s answers focused on polling, which missed the point. You can’t trust, and rely on a government that changes on a whim. Why would anyone be dumb enough to buy insurance if they expect to be exempted from the mandate in a few months?

On a selfish note, the President’s recklessness has done a major disservice to progressivism. Let’s see any other President urge that a big government program will fix societal problems. He has eroded serious trust in the progressive experiment. I queried whether liberalism can survive Obama. Certainly, but it will be much, much weaker.

Perhaps the President’s “Mission Accomplished” line will be this:

The basic structure of that law is working, despite all the problems.

This reminds me of John McCain’s, “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” line in 2008.