The federal government is shut down, except for most of the federal government that isn’t. Most people are not non-essential federal employees who won’t get a paycheck, and so are not panicked. Most of what the federal government does, hand out money, is not affected. Social Security deposits still show up on bank statements and the doctor will still see you. I did get an email press release saying the Agricultural Research Service seminar on “bee disease resistance and colony health” in Davis, Calif., has been cancelled. Serious stuff for apiarians, but the rest of us should be OK.
What is troubling is not the current state of government services, but the tactics of politicians, who resort to extortion to stop the government from paying for more health care, when the government already pays for most of it. Extortion is a tactic using disaster and calamity for leverage. It requires a threat, that terrible, horrible, agonizing consequences will ensue if you do not follow instructions. Extortionists don’t succeed when they are bluffing. They have to be willing to follow through, lest future threats not be taken seriously. So when House Republicans in effect say, “This is nice little country you have here. Be a shame if anything happened to it,” it is time to worry. The Republicans make a demand difficult to impossible for their opponents to meet — defund Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Their first threat, that they would shut down the government, was no bluff. The second, that unless we cooperate the debt ceiling will not be raised and the United States will default and financial markets around the world will be wrecked, is vastly more serious. That happens in three weeks.
Why? Is Obamacare so horrible, so bad, such a threat that it justifies this risk? The explanations vary. It’s the unintended consequences, they say, the disruption in the private health insurance equilibrium, the new taxes, the lost jobs, and the expense. “The law will cause government spending and deficits to balloon,” writes Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, in a recent op-ed. “Over the next 10 years, federal spending will increase by $2.6 trillion.” And, not least among the motives, polls show their constituents really hate the whole idea.
Hypocrisy creeps in. “There is more than a little hypocrisy in the self-righteous assault on the Affordable Care Act, which, compared to Social Security and Medicare — is a sideshow in shaping the government’s future size and role,” wrote Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson, who has spent a career trying to get our attention on this point.
Obamacare may be bad, and it may be expensive, but remember, the government is already subsidizing the health care of most of the people complaining about it. We’ll rack up nearly $600 billion in Medicare expense this year alone, the Congressional Budget Office says. In 10 years it will be over $1 trillion a year. There’s Medicaid, state and federal. There is health care for veterans and government employees, and more. Add it up, and nearly half of all health care spending comes from a government source. But there’s more. If you get your health insurance through your employer, as most of us do, the government gives you a tax credit to help. The income paid to you as health insurance is not taxed. For all government that comes to a tax subsidy of $350 billion every year, according to the American Enterprise Institute. Add that to the pot and government pays for more than 60 percent of health care. “There is no functional difference between the federal government sending someone a check for $1,000 to pay for their health insurance or giving them a $1,000 tax credit to achieve the same purpose,” wrote Christopher J. Conover.
Congressional extortionists are not talking about this. Shut down the government and ruin the credit of the United States, why? Because we might subsidize someone’s health care? Please.
Tracy Warner’s column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 665-1163.