On the night of September 9, 2009, a still highly popular President Barack Obama spoke spiritedly to a joint session of Congress. He had summoned the members of both parties to introduce his plan to transform American health care.
The promises he made that night were many and, to most in the television audience, at least, sounded fresh. “Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have,” said the president. “Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.”
Simmering throughout this litany of disinformation was an obscure five-term South Carolina congressman named Joe Wilson. When Obama denounced as false the claim that this proposed health care system “would insure legal immigrants,” Wilson could hold his tongue no longer. “You lie!” he yelled.
Widely chastised at the time, Wilson had to feel vindicated this week when a report surfaced that 42 percent of new Medicaid sign-ups were immigrants, legal and otherwise. This added weight to the recent revelation that most of those newly insured for Obamacare had been insured through Medicaid.
It has been a good few weeks for Wilson. On November 4, he handily won re-election to Congress from South Carolina’s 2nd congressional district with nearly two thirds of the vote. A week later, the remarks made by MIT professor and self-styled Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber at a 2013 academic conference sobered up those who preferred to think Obama’s broken health care promises were unfortunate but unforeseen.
Gruber gave away the Obamacare game plan. “This [Affordable Care Act] was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” said the smug Gruber. “If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.” Gruber was just warming up.
“In terms of risk-rated subsidies,” he continued, “if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in – you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”
As he explained, Gruber and his allies had to construct a dishonest bill because of “the stupidity of the American voter.” Citizens were apparently not smart enough to understand that the bill was in their own best interest. Gruber wished he could have made the law “transparent,” but for him and his cohorts, the end justified the means. “I’d rather have this law than not,” he said.
In this rare honest moment, Gruber put a lie not only to the basics of Obamacare, but also to the very foundation of the Obama presidency. “Let me say it as simply as I can,” Obama had told his assembled staff on his first full day in office. “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” This was pure smokescreen. Obama would package and sell his plan on more lies than Bernie Madoff sold his – and with more disastrous consequences.
Obama started lying early on. In his second debate with John McCain, Obama repeated the canard he had used to outfox Hillary Clinton and John Edwards during the primary campaign – namely, that “there’s no mandate involved.” This was, of course, just one deception out of many.
Beginning in November 2007, and on no fewer than seven occasions thereafter, Obama promised not only to make health care negotiations public, but also to air them on the public policy cable channel C-SPAN. Had C-SPAN actually televised the squalid negotiations needed to get the bill passed, Netflix could have halted production on House of Cards and shown the Obamacare highlight reel. President Underwood had nothing on President Obama or Senate Majority Leader Reid when it came to dirty dealing.
The president saved his dirtiest dealing for the tiny pro-life faction of his own party. “Under our plan,” said Obama in his September 2009 speech, “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.” In March 2010, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) controlled the pro-life votes needed to pass Obamacare into law, but he was balking. The bill that the Senate sent to the House included no language to prevent the funding of abortion or to protect the conscience of believers.
As a solution, Obama proposed an executive order. Stupak bit at the apple. In January 2012, however, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) introduced the “HHS Mandate,” and Stupak realized he had been as much a fool to trust the president as Adam had been to trust the serpent.
This executive fiat required virtually all private health insurance plans to include coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices, surgical sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs. “Not only does the HHS mandate violate the executive order,” said a bitter Stupak, “but it also violates statutory law.” With the votes long since counted, no one was listening.
If past presidents could boast of signature achievements, Obama could boast of a signature lie. On at least forty occasions, he promised, in one form or another, that “no matter how we reform health care,” no one would take anyone’s existing health plan away, “no matter what.” Obama would build his presidency on this promise. He would pass the Affordable Care Act on this promise. He would get re-elected on this promise. It would prove to be the most consequential lie in domestic political history.
The millions who lost their coverage should not have been surprised. During a debate with McCain in 2008, Obama falsely claimed that because of a “pre-existing condition” Cigna refused to cover his mother’s cancer treatment. Even after this trumpery was exposed in the New York Times, he repeated it in a 2012 campaign ad. A man who was willing to lie about the death of his mother surely would have no trouble lying to voters about their health care plans. But then again, given their “stupidity,” there was no other way to get the bill passed.
Bart Stupak should have seen it coming. Joe Wilson did.