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Stop amending, defending Obamacare

The following originally appeared in the Orange County Register on February 23, 2014.

There are few tasks more difficult than convincing those who believe they are doing something generous and compassionate that they are, in reality, inflicting harm and injustice. The debate over the Affordable Care Act is a prime example of this struggle. We are all sympathetic to the plight of those who are unable to obtain adequate medical care. It’s difficult to imagine a class of people more in need of our sympathy and support. These were the individuals we were told Obamacare would benefit. For many, this was sufficient justification to create a massive government run health insurance system regardless of the actual content of the law or the political means employed to guarantee its passage. In fact, our elected representatives responsible for Obamacare’s passage admittedly never read it and clearly had little understanding of what was in it. Health insurance reform was more about passing this seemingly compassionate law than knowing what it was going to accomplish or how. The result was a truly terrible piece of legislation that is incomprehensively complex making it impossible to implement as written and requiring repeated amendments by questionable executive fiat. Its provisions were deceptively timed and have been repeatedly delayed so that it’s most burdensome provisions would have the least negative political impact on the party that passed it. While intended to help the American people, Obamacare is proving to be more damaging than helpful with its only remaining defense being that things should improve sometime in the future; a promise made with its most onerous and questionable provisions yet to take effect. For months, businesses have been warning that Obamacare is discouraging full-time employment and economic growth by materially increasing the cost of employees who work more than 30 hours per week. Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office revealed the other side of that coin. In a report to Congress, the CBO projected that, over the next 10 years, Obamacare will cause our economy to lose the equivalent of 2.5 million full time jobs as people will voluntarily lower their incomes or stop working altogether so as to be eligible for increased government health insurance subsidies. Testifying to the House Budget Committee, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf stated that “by providing heavily subsidized health insurance to people with very low income and then withdrawing those subsidies as income rises, the act creates a disincentive for people to work – relative to what would have been the case in the absence of [Obamacare].” The individuals Obamacare is disincentivizing are not the helpless and underprivileged individuals whose plight the Democrats used in their effort to sell health insurance reform. These are people with both jobs and health insurance who will choose to reduce their hours or leave their jobs so they can retire or pursue other interests, such as their hobbies or, as House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi stated, they can become a “photographer,” a “writer,” a “musician” – or “whatever.” Arguing that people should be freed from the obligation to have a job ignores as much about economics as it does about human nature. First, to the extent some will be better off without having to work, there will be those working to support their families who would prefer to keep what they earn as opposed to subsidizing those who can work but choose not to. We’re going to lose income and payroll tax revenue equivalent to what 2.5 million employed individuals would have paid over a 10-year period; tax revenue we could have used to cover the expense of providing health insurance for those who are actually unable to get it. In addition, we’re going to provide these formerly insured individuals with government subsidized health insurance, increasing the tax burden on those who continue working in our now depleted labor force. This burden will inevitably fall on the middle class that Obamacare’s supporters so vigorously claim to be protecting. There is real injustice in requiring that people with jobs subsidize those who choose to be unemployed. Perhaps more importantly, while those who Obamacare encourages not to work are arguably better off in terms of what they pay for health insurance, are they truly better off without the independence, dignity and self-respect that comes with a job? Is it better to take from them the opportunity to succeed, raise their incomes and join the middle class? Is it better to put them in a position where they can only improve their lives by voting for those who will continue to increase their government benefits funded by the efforts of others? I’ve watched young men and women enter the labor force in our restaurants. I’ve seen the pride and determination that leads to success in both their careers and their lives. Some stay, moving up to managerial positions. Others move on to other jobs and challenges, equipped with the experience you can only get from a paying job. There is a hunger for these opportunities that is dying as fewer and fewer full or part-time jobs are available. It is impossible to create jobs when the government discourages businesses from hiring and incentives people not to work. As is clear to anyone paying attention, this is exactly what Obamacare is doing. It’s time to stop defending and lawlessly amending this poorly structured law and come up with a bipartisan solution that might actually work. More broadly, as Americans we need to decide what kind of country we want – one that incentivizes work and initiative or one that doesn’t.

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