As Obamacare careens into its second month of implementation, the one conclusion I am coming to is that we may have lost the ability to govern ourselves. My faith in government is eroding like a sand castle on a Lake Michigan dune.
In surveying the eroded leadership, partisan grandstanding, polarization and policy sclerosis, U.S. Sen. Dan Coats told me last week he is concerned by this loss of faith. Pew Research found only 19 percent trust the federal government, near an all-time low.
"That's a dangerous thing for democracy when you lose the opinion of people and institutions who sent you,” Coats observed. “That is a very dangerous thing."
In the decade leading up to the Affordable Care Act, I was personally confronted with my station on the "death spiral," an insurance industry connotation for someone with a pre-existing condition they did not want to serve. We watched as businesses and local governments — large and small — grappled with escalating health costs.
As a journalist, I've covered four separate chapters in health care reform.
The first was Doc Bowen's 1988 catastrophic health plan, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law, and then as public opinion collapsed, Congress repealed.
Five years later came first lady Hillary Clinton's complicated initiative that couldn't muster support in Congress.
It is fascinating that in its opposition to HillaryCare, the conservative Heritage Foundation created another option, and after gathering dust on the shelf for almost a decade, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney implemented what we now call "RomneyCare," generally deemed a success. That became the template for Obamacare, which Heritage opposes with historic vitriol.
Between the collapse of HillaryCare and the election of Barack Obama in 2008, little happened nationally to contain the escalating medical costs, or the inclusion of tens of millions of hard-working Americans — be they business owners or individuals — who could not access the system.
In this time span — for six years between 2001 and 2007 — Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. All that was accomplished in this era was the greatest entitlement expansion since the Great Society — Medicare Prescription Plan D — essentially a component of President George W. Bush's re-election campaign. After a fiasco rollout, it has since been deemed a success.
Obama and congressional Democrats controlling both chambers eventually filled this policy void in 2010, ramming through the Affordable Care Act on straight party line votes.
What we have seen since has been the polarization of American politics and, now, the chaotic rollout of Obamacare.
Obama's administration has not only botched the initial implementation of this sprawling reform with a dysfunctional website, but the president misled Americans into believing they could stay on existing plans, though many of these plans are rip-offs.
And we have watched Republican public servants — from our congressional delegation to Gov. Mike Pence (who could have championed market-based health care reform as a member of Congress from 2001 to 2012) — use their offices to undermine the reforms. Pence opted to put Hoosiers into the federal health exchange, instead of creating one of our own.
A year ago, candidate Pence was saying, "I’ll fight for the right of every Hoosier to run our schools, buy our health care and build our roads the Hoosier way. ... To make Indiana the state that works, we must have a governor who’s willing to say yes to Indiana and no to Washington.”
On virtually every other issue, Pence has been critical of federal government involvement. This time, it was a strategy to kill off the reforms. His Department of Insurance became a fount of propaganda, inflating the potential costs of coming plans in a distorted and widely panned analysis.
Congress refused to confirm an Obama appointee to direct the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services, which play a huge role in implementation. Indiana University Professor Aaron Carroll, who heads its Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, wrote in a column for CNN: "When (HHS Secretary) Sebelius tried to shift money from other areas to help do what needed to be done, she was attacked by Senate Republicans. At every step, Republicans fought measures to get money to put toward implementation."
Having passed on bringing a Republican-based solution to the health care dilemma the country faced, Bush, Pence and his colleagues did virtually nothing. And since the passage of the ACA into law, they have used their offices to obstruct. Appearing before the Associated Press Managing Editors this past week, Pence urged journalists to join conservatives in suspending the law.
Instead of separating the widely accepted successful portions of the law — covering people with pre-existing conditions, ending policy terminations for the sick — and correcting the flaws, such as what constitutes full-time employment and coverage, and allowing insurers to sell across state lines, the partisans on both sides dug in.
There is an abject, widespread collapse of leadership here. The U.S. Capitol has become nothing more than an oozing white pustule of festering and corrosive partisanship.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll revealed 63 percent are willing to replace their own member of Congress. Little wonder voters are saying, “a pox on both your houses.”