Monday, March 29, 2010

Unhealthy Debate?

If you listen to the shrill whistle coming from Democrats about the tide of anger pouring out from citizens outraged by the ObamaCare legislation, you'd think that we were about to experience a recrudescence of racist Klan violence. Among those leading the hypercharge is one Colby King of the Washington Post who saw glimpses of the racist south in the Tea Part protests: "The angry faces at Tea Party rallies are eerily familiar. They resemble faces of protesters lining the street at the University of Alabama in 1956 as Autherine Lucy, the school's first black student, bravely tried to walk to class. Those same jeering faces could be seen gathered around the Arkansas National Guard troopers who blocked nine black children from entering Little Rock's Central High School in 1957."

The hyperventilation threatens to become a pandemic in liberal media elite circles, with Rich and Krugman, the predictable Heckle and Jeckle pair of columnists at the NY Times, picking up the theme. Rich's fulminations deserve to be highlighted, since he sees Colby King's racism meme and raises him a Nazi allusion: "How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far."

Yikes. The white folks are coming, the white folks are coming! All of this is rather silly, if not predictable. In the aftermath of the passage of a large government expansion measure that was deemed, "historic" by its partisans, you'd think that the victory laps would center around all the good and great things in store for the American people-and not the shrill demonizing of the righteous anger of a good percentage of this country's citizens. Why not just let this piece of history speak for itself-its goodness being self evident and all.

Inconvenient amidst all of this faux panic attack, is the immediate reaction of some of this country's biggest corporations, companies who have taken risk avoidance actions in anticipation of the huge additional burdens they're facing with this health legislation. Lay offs and higher health insurance costs appear to be inevitable, and companies need to anticipate them in their SEC reporting.

As the Wall Street Journal writes: "It's been a banner week for Democrats: ObamaCare passed Congress in its final form on Thursday night, and the returns are already rolling in. Yesterday AT&T announced that it will be forced to make a $1 billion writedown due solely to the health bill, in what has become a wave of such corporate losses. This wholesale destruction of wealth and capital came with more than ample warning. Turning over every couch cushion to make their new entitlement look affordable under Beltway accounting rules, Democrats decided to raise taxes on companies that do the public service of offering prescription drug benefits to their retirees instead of dumping them into Medicare. We and others warned this would lead to AT&T-like results, but like so many other ObamaCare objections Democrats waved them off as self-serving or "political."

So, how does the congress respond? "Meanwhile, Henry Waxman and House Democrats announced yesterday that they will haul these companies in for an April 21 hearing because their judgment "appears to conflict with independent analyses, which show that the new law will expand coverage and bring down costs." Hey Taxman, their just trying to make you all look bad, so give 'um hell.

And the White House joins the kill the messenger bandwagon: "Perhaps that explains why the Administration is now so touchy. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke took to the White House blog to write that while ObamaCare is great for business, "In the last few days, though, we have seen a couple of companies imply that reform will raise costs for them." In a Thursday interview on CNBC, Mr. Locke said "for them to come out, I think is premature and irresponsible."

Rhetoric, meet reality-a reality that many have predicted; and the fear behind the uprising of populist voices, of which the Tea Party is but one manifestation, is not something manufactured out of whole cloth, or from the manipulative ranting of radio commentators. That focus is purely misdirection-and devolves from the progressive strain of thought that likes to label any popular movement or thought that diverges from their own questionable canon as, "false consciousness."

Errol Louis picks up on this theme in the NY Daily News yesterday: "The die was cast for Republicans when they crawled into bed with right-wing media hucksters hurling slurs like "Socialist," "Fascist," "death panel" and the like at President Obama and
congressional Democrats week after week."

Well, that's not really what happened-and Louis' effort to portray the health care bill as part of the, "sensible center," is quite droll considering that Democrats are heralding the bill as a testimony to the legacy of Teddy Kennedy. Center indeed.

No, the Republican unanimity devolves from the popular disdain for the bill itself-and to depict that anger as undistilled ignorance exposes the critic to a dose of his own accusation. Memo to King, Rich and Louis: there is a genuine grass roots movement in the works that sees the overwhelming expansion of government as a dire threat to the country's basic liberties. But instead of critiquing the assumptions, we get jejune character assassination.

This bill will fundamentally alter the relations between the American government and its citizens-and it will cost us plenty of money that we don't have as well. We in New York have even more to fear, as the distributionist assumptions of the legislation will hurt our cohort of high earners the most.

As Kyle Smith opines in yesterday's NY Post: "How does Obama plan to pay for it? With a few pennies from tanning-booth taxes? No, by shaking down “the rich” and taking a bite from the fruits of capital. But New Yorkers, and the tri-state area in general, have lots of high earners who aren’t necessarily rich. We also derive more of our income from dividends, interest and other so-called “unearned income” (as if you got this money from playing the slots). New Yorkers will be out $5 billion paying for the new payroll and investment taxes, plus another $1.5 billion in “Cadillac taxes” on those with the best insurance."

And the definition of who is rich is definitely a relative concept: "About 10% of the country lives in the tri-state area and we earn about 14% of the national income — so naturally it’s completely fair to stick us with 20% of these new taxes by 2016. (These numbers are from a preliminary estimate by the Manhattan Institute.) Obama has vowed to target his tax hikes at “rich” individuals making over $200,000 a year (and couples making $250,000 a year). That’s rich in Manhattan, Kansas. Here a couple earning $250K is middle class. Eleven of the 50 most expensive ZIP codes for real estate are in Manhattan and nine others are in the
suburbs.Moreover, if you run a small business you technically have a lot of income (if not a lot of profit). Many such business people file as individuals — yet are taxed as though they were Goldman Sachs veeps."

And we haven't even touched the regulatory burdens: "As for ObamaCare’s impact on employers, the Business Council of New York State notes that the law does nothing to control costs, places employers at risk for new taxes and fines and adds costs “by requiring much more reporting to the federal government on the value of their benefits to each employee and revising benefit plans to avoid both fines and excise taxes.” Obama to Mom-and-Pop Bodega Owners: Drop Dead."

In expanding the federal government to control the health economy there will be a myriad of unintended consequences that will tamp down economic incentive-and the corporate writedowns are really only the tip of the iceberg. The Tea Party folks are the least this country has to worry about. But their anger is not based on the manufactured hysteria of radio ranters. To believe that it is will, in our view, prove to be one helluva an example of whistling past the graveyard.