Obama: Mr. Incredible

During the healthcare debate, President Obama and his operatives assured congressional Democrats and the media that once Obama-Care passed, all would be well. The president himself said the GOP focus on process would be forgotten quickly by a public far more interested in “policy than process.”

However, the public has made it clear it likes neither the product (about which more is being learned by the day) nor the process that led to passage. Many of the deals needed to piece together majorities in the House and Senate received enough publicity at the time to outrage many, but as time goes on revelations about additional concessions made to woo votes are justifying what were dismissed as simple partisan attacks during the debate.

Moreover, the possible consequences of the bill are making many wake up and take note.

When critics of the legislation alleged during the debate that the enforcement of its many provisions would vastly increase the power of the IRS and empower tax collectors to go where they had never gone before, administration spokesmen reacted in outrage. The president’s critics, they charged, were not just wrong, but lying to scare people.

It turns out that the critics were dead right and that if there was any lying going on, they weren’t the guilty ones. In the days since passage, we have learned that the IRS will have to hire literally thousands of new agents, auditors and analysts to make sure everyone required to buy into the program does so and to catch those who violate its many provisions as well as to collect the data that will be required of small businesses to help the government collect new taxes to pay for the scheme.

The result is that small-business owners who were promised they would benefit from the new law are up in arms as they discover that they will in fact be targets of an IRS planning to impose even more regulations on the way they operate. The absolute ludicrousness of the new requirements is that business owners will apparently now be required to file forms reporting on aggregate annual payments of as little as $600 to “vendors” like Staples or the office coffee supplier.

Meanwhile, it turns out that while some members of Congress were being promised one thing in return for their votes, others were being assured that such promises would never be kept. Thus, while members concerned about whether benefits would be extended to illegal immigrants were assured that this would not be the case, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the House were being told that they shouldn’t worry about any restrictions in the healthcare bill because they would be removed later … in the administration’s promised immigration reform bill.

Recent news reports that Democratic leaders promised Hispanic Caucus members that provisions inserted in the healthcare to win the votes of others would be removed later suggest that South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R) charge that President Obama’s denial that the healthcare bill would cover illegal aliens was a lie was dead on.

The healthcare bill as passed and signed into law prohibits illegals from buying into the so-called healthcare exchanges that will be established under the law and denies even temporary legal immigrants access to Medicaid unless they’ve been here for five years. Hispanic Caucus leaders are now charging that the administration specifically promised to eliminate these and other restrictions and are vowing to hold the president and congressional Democratic leaders to that promise.

Under the Obama plan, of course, Medicaid has been expanded and something like half of all illegals in the country would qualify if the restrictions written into the law are removed, increasing the costs of a program that is already expected to exceed the estimates publicized by the administration before its passage by tens of billions of dollars.

The monetary cost of delivering on this promise would be enormous, but the political cost could be even higher. President Obama gives pretty good speeches, but fewer and fewer Americans are paying much attention to what he says. Some are beginning to ignore him for lack of follow-through or because he’s overexposed, but increasing numbers of those who were initially shocked by Wilson’s outburst are becoming convinced that he was right.  

A president’s credibility is key to his success. When those he deals with in Washington or those on whose votes he relies for reelection conclude that his word isn’t worth much, his ability to lead vanishes.

Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental consulting firm.