Time For A Check-up: Four Years of Obamacare

This past month marked the four-year anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law. It’s been a bumpy ride for both parties, with Republicans struggling to devise convincing alternatives and Democrats dealing with delayed deadlines and faulty websites. Both sides have their respective success and horror stories, and have carefully selected the data that serves them best for the upcoming midterm elections.

Amongst all this kerfuffle and brouhaha, rarely do we take the time to step back and look at the last four years with perspective. Perhaps a more comprehensive look at the landscape of Obamacare will help gain a more meaningful understanding of its effects.

The whole idea behind a nationalized healthcare revolution was that consumers were frustrated with the market approach as it stood. Issues like pre-existing conditions, required emergency room care, Medicare and Medicaid emerged as the hot-button issues that the government saw as problems only they could fix. But therein lies one of the major problems.

Nationalized healthcare was a response to the need for healthcare  insurance, not primarily a need for increased healthcare quality. This seems to have created a sense of cognitive dissonance in the minds of many Americans, as the concept of government-run healthcare does not and cannot mean better service. Sure some individual premiums may go down, but the kind of quality healthcare that consumers are looking for will inevitably be found wanting.

As to the overall success of the law to date, Democrats have boasted an approximated 6 million sign ups ever since the administration learned how to create a website. 6 million? Sounds like a big number. However, an overwhelming minority are first-time holders, according to reports by McKinsey & Co. When this is combined with the number of enrollees who have yet to actually pay for their plan and those who just signed up for Medicaid, 6 million becomes very insignificant very quickly.

In addition, according to a recent study by Pew Research, Obamacare’s approval rating is below 50% in the vast majority of demographic categories. And it still hasn’t even taken full effect! With how much difficulty the administration has had just getting the law off the ground amongst multiple delays and technical difficulties, the thought of implementation is nothing short of frightening. And over half of the country seems to agree.

So how has the ACA fared in its pediatric checkup?

  • The compromises for cheap service are detrimental.
  • Initial traction is fractional.
  • Overall approval is dismal.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than a Platinum Plan to cover this system. Four years out, we’re learning the hard way that insurance coverage is not the same thing as health care.

And for fun, check out The Heritage Foundation’s spoof on the Obamacare ad campaign to get covered:

The War (For) Poverty

Photo from nypost.com

Photo from nypost.com

Looking back over the last five years under liberal rule, Americans have come to understand a very simple truth at both the state and national level: liberal leadership is an oxymoron. From the Governor’s mansion to the White House, the shortcomings of the liberal agenda have become a spectacle for the nation to witness; but the problem runs deeper than just the people in charge.

For example, New Yorkers have become all too familiar with this concept. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has virtually waged his own war for poverty by targeting and shutting down charter schools for underprivileged students. No matter that these schools have astonishingly higher test scores in almost every category compared to their public school counterparts. Rather than finding ways to capitalize on the tremendous work of these schools to educate students, de Blasio has blocked efforts with no clear alternative. But here’s the catch: this same platform was what got him 73 percent of the vote in his mayoral election.  How is this possible?

Similarly, the President has seen his approval rating drop to the low 40s as the “deadline” for healthcare enrollment approaches next week. He claimed the American people could keep their own insurance if they liked, but apparently that was just a nice thought. He said you could keep your doctor too, which has also been rescinded. Apparently this is what happens when you have to pass a bill to see what is in it. The administration has chosen to adopt executive orders and partisan strong arming as its standard operating procedures. However, as with de Blasio, this same agenda is what won the President both elections.

The answer for why voters experience such a disconnect with their lefty representatives is the vicious cycle perpetuated by the core beliefs of liberalism. Their most basic maxim is the more government the better. The only way to expand government power is to have elected officials create legislation to do so. And the only way to ensure those officials are elected is to make voters dependent on that legislation.

As a result, the stereotypes of liberals being the party of social justice and equality and conservatives as the enemy of the poor are ideologically reversed. In reality, liberals have no voter base if their constituency weans themselves off their government programs. In contrast, conservatives believe in the ownership of wealth, fighting for policy that creates opportunity for individuals rather than creating a state of dependency (i.e. welfare).

Because of this fundamental difference, liberals have no choice but to lambast and ridicule comments like those made by Paul Ryan about poverty’s roots in culture rather than allegedly oppressive conservative policy.

For if those left of center conceded that issues like poverty are rooted more deeply than dollars and cents, they put themselves in jeopardy of losing the vast majority of their voter base in exchange for more opportunity for those who need it most. God forbid.

If you would like to find out what innovative ideas are coming out of the states to address issues like these, check out spn.org/directory for a list of state think tanks.

Pay No Attention to the (Old) Man Behind The Curtain

Image from savvysugar.com

Image from savvysugar.com

During the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama and his minions revolutionized the campaign landscape with their methods targeted at young voters. Millennials were bombarded with messages around every corner. From memorable memes to hip hashtags, the strategy of the left made the right’s look older than, well, John McCain. They even roped in some of the year’s hottest celebrities to promote catchy slogans like “Vote or Die,” because who wouldn’t want to take serious political advice like that from the well-informed likes of Paris Hilton?

Paris Hilton

Needless to say, the effort paid off, with young voters making a significant contribution to Obama’s landslide margins. However, in the years since that groundbreaking election, the administration’s image of your friend’s cool parents who have iPads and watch Breaking Bad is finally showing its true wrinkles, due in large part to the very competitive advantage that got it into the White House in the first place: technology.

The most obvious example is health care. If liberals really had an administration of hipsters, the one thing they should be able to pull off is a website, while smoking a pipe and wearing kitschy prescription-less glasses, of course. But alas, the very person in charge of the project, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has had zero answers for the ongoing bugs that have plagued the process. Not to mention Nancy Pelosi’s interview on the Daily Show, where she blatantly said she didn’t know why the government couldn’t just contract out the website’s construction. Interesting thought for a liberal news show to suggest the government use the market for help with policy implementation. Imagine that.

Moreover, America has also learned that one man has the power to bring national security to its knees with a few clicks of a mouse. Just Google Edward Snowden for more details. Examples like these reveal the true nature of big government and a disappointing reality for its former millennial supporters.

The generation that bought into the Hope and Change movement is seeing a gap between what the free market has done to improve their daily lives and the jungle of government bureaucracy. When consumers get the latest smart phone, tablet, or laptop, they expect things to work as they should. You open the box, press the button, and go. If a product line malfunctions, the company would be destined for bankruptcy. Thanks to the magic of competition in the free market, we as consumers are simply used to things working like they should.

As the liberal agenda unravels at its seams, Gen Yers are becoming increasingly disillusioned to the mixed messages of big government. No matter how many college basketball brackets or Lil Wayne references the President makes, they are matched by the Vice President’s comments of not being a “technology geek” and manufactured smile. Thanks to the past five years, we have seen the consequences of gross government overreach and the unveiling of remarkably sub-standard products.

So how can government usher itself into the twenty-first century? Come out from behind the curtain, and let those who have set the standard of excellence in this country do what they do best.

Fueling Peace and Security in Ukraine

 As the world’s attention shifts from Sochi to Kiev and Crimea, inevitable discussions of what the U.S.’s involvement overseas should be is in full swing. While the President’s sanctions may send a message, they are seem to be nothing more than face-saving, powerless threats. We’re slapping the wrist of the bully for not playing by the rules when he has no intention of following the rules in the first place.

So then, what is our nation’s appropriate response? After ten years in the Middle East, another war over a little piece of land that most American’s could not locate on a map would not be a popular solution. This may be a rare instance of bipartisan agreement. On the other end of spectrum, perhaps it is time we mind our own business. What’s a conflict on the other side of the world over EU and Russian allegiance have to do with us? We have our own problems to worry about, right?

Unfortunately, Ukraine is a key piece to the puzzle in Putin’s dream of reuniting the old Soviet Republic. The good news is that a possible solution to America’s involvement may not be so binary, but may come in the form of liquid natural gas (LNG).

According to an article from realclearmarkets.com, exporting the U.S.’s quickly expanding capacity for LNG overseas to the Western-European market would have both financial and geopolitical benefits. The article asserts that over half of Ukraine’s natural gas and 30% of Europe’s is provided by Russia. Since Russia’s main source of revenue is oil and gas, inserting our own supply at cheaper prices would have a crippling effect on Russia’s grip in these areas.

If this is such a great idea, why then isn’t it already being done? Nothing more than some good,  old-fashioned government red tape.

Here’s just a swath of some of these regulations as mentioned by RealClearMarkets:

First, getting a project approved to sell to one of the government’s 20 (yes, only 20) approved countries can take years. And since 2011, a whopping 6 projects have been approved. But that is only if you get past the initial step of drilling, which is no small task. Between 2006 and 2011, approved drilling permits decreased by almost 8,000, and the number of days to acquire a permit has doubled. As a result, this disincentive has caused permits applications to decrease by 50% from 2007-2012.

Not only are these regulations hindering our ability to tap into our natural resources for domestic consumption, but also hamstringing our ability to leverage our energy production abroad. Deregulating our LNG markets could provide a creative, safe, and effective solution to the conflict in Ukraine by taking the power out of the hands of the oppressive few and enabling those vying for freedom and democracy in their country to flourish.

Energy fuels our economy, and economic strength and energy independence allow us to be a force for peace and security in the world.

Minimum Wage, Maximum Consequences

Good news teenagers, you may be earning a few more dollars on the hour if you’re planning on working for minimum wage at your next summer job. Unfortunately, here’s the bad news: good luck finding one.

According to USA Today, over 30 states are set to consider legislation on minimum wage increases with 22 bills having already been introduced in 15 states. While the chances for a federal increase are slim, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota look to be the most likely candidates to raise the wage. Illinois workers may (or may not) be the most fortunate of the bunch, as they have seen their bottom line raised from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $8.25 which now has the potential to be re-raised to $10.10. While those like the President and Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke claim that this increase will improve the lives of impoverished families and decrease youth employment, states like Illinois prove just the opposite.

As the Illinois State Policy Institute observes, the Land of Lincoln boasts the fourth-highest minimum wage in the nation along with the country’s fourth-worst unemployment rate. Obviously then, there seems to be more to the equation.

History has taught us that money alone does not solve the issue of poverty, i.e. LBJ’s War on Poverty in the mid 60s. The same is true in the case of minimum wage. Think about it for a second. Sure, unskilled and young employees may get some extra cash, but the ripple effect is much larger. Employers must produce this extra cash by cutting expenses from somewhere else, or finding a way to increase revenues without the benefit of netting more profits due to payroll increases. The simplest way to avoid these extra costs is to not hire people. As a result, an increase may only benefit those who are earning minimum wage currently and avoid being let go by their employer, as well as those whose received above the previous minimum wage and receive a proportional raise. The latter poses yet another financial obstacle for employers, cause the ripple effect to spread even farther.

So you may be asking yourself, “Is raising the minimum wage ever ok?” According to his analysis in the Wall Street Journal,  economist Joseph Sabia says there is never a “good” time, but especially not in the midst of economic instability. Of course, wages should roughly adjust to inflation, but the reality is that these increases have real consequences and have the potential to do more harm than good. With small business already strapped for cash in a slowly recovering economy, forcing employers to increase payrolls could be retroactive for both employers as well as job hunters. Watch this video by the Foundation for Economic Freedom for a real-world explanation.

If you would like to find out more about the minimum wage discussion, use the Directory tool on spn.org to find what your state’s think tank has to say about it.

Post-SOTU Hunger Pangs

Image from Politico

Image from Politico

If you watched the State of the Union address last Tuesday evening, you probably had an experience that can be compared to eating a nice, big bowl of lettuce leaves for dinner. It sounds good at the time, and you may have even enjoyed the meal, only to lay in bed starving a few hours later wondering how you got to this point. Finally, over the roaring grumbles in your stomach, you realize one very important detail. You didn’t actually eat anything. Perhaps this sensation was no more poignant than after the President’s discussion of the new healthcare roll out.

Using his signature smooth rhetoric, the President (obviously) stuck to the positives. He cited statistics like the three million people who got coverage under their parents’ plan, or the nine million under “private” insurance or Medicaid. He put a personal touch to these numbers by telling the story of Amanda Shelley, who had a pre-existing condition, got insured, had to have emergency surgery soon thereafter, and was spared high costs. However, he conveniently failed to mention the 700,000 people in Florida and California who lost their coverage, or the circus show surrounding online registration, or the story of Emilie Lamb who suffers from lupus. Her premiums jumped $300 due to Obamacare, and she now works two jobs just to afford medication. Like Amanda, Emilie was also in attendance for the President’s address.

What do these statistical and personal contradictions mean? On the surface, they do nothing more than prolong the political merry-go-round of Washington in-fighting and stretch the already gaping chasm between parties. However, the larger picture shows that regardless of the issue, government interference always results in the picking of winners and losers. Just as in the case of most federal subsidies and “incentives,” government involvement in these areas puts the power in the hands of the removed few, rather than the people who are directly affected. The problem then expands from merely the shortcomings of a liberal health care agenda to a larger issue of government hubris, perhaps the only issue that is truly bipartisan.

So if you found yourself laying in bed unsatisfied by the political lettuce cloaked in your favorite dressing of choice on Tuesday, the reason is that there was nothing to consume. It’s time for the next course.

SOTU: Real Solutions for Income Inequality

NSCWTweetUp

We can expect President Obama to come out swinging on the issues of income inequality and economic mobility in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

In an email to supporters Saturday, senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer wrote that Obama ‘will lay out a set of real, concrete, practical proposals to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and empower all who hope to join it.’

While it’s coincidental that the SOTU falls during National School Choice Week, the president should take heed of the national campaign to bring educational opportunity to all students. If the goal is to truly set out concrete proposals to help the middle class and empower people to rise out of poverty, then we should look for solutions that get to the root of the problem.

Study after study on poverty in America demonstrate that graduating high school is correlated to staying out of poverty for life. It’s not fair that kids in some zip codes start off with better teachers and learning environments that provide better odds of success, while others are given no options and stuck in failing schools.

So, rather than addressing the gaping wound of poverty with band-aids like a mandated minimum wage or redistribution of wealth through entitlements, shouldn’t we start with giving all Americans equal opportunity to succeed early in life?

If educational opportunity is an issue you are interested in, then take action and join the national movement for educational opportunity this week. There are many ways to bring more opportunity to students, whether through reforming traditional public schools and public magnet schools or through public charter schools, voucher programs, education savings accounts, private and faith-based schools, online learning, or homeschooling.

School Choice Tweet Up

School Choice Week Is Now In Session

Times have changed. Gone are the days of the government’s monopoly on education.

As society adjusts to the incredible advances in technology and communication, our educational system has evolved with the changing landscape of culture. Despite government policies designed to corral these efforts, i.e. Common Core, states like Oklahoma are taking action to inform the public about their citizens’ options for education as well as their firm resolution to improve the quality of education for students.

Citizens from all over the country are bringing attention to the actions that states are taking to promote educational opportunity for all during  National School Choice Week, taking place Jan. 26 – Feb. 1, 2014.

Senior Vice President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) backs the initiative in the below video explaining that a good public education system means simply providing the public with the best education possible, however that end may be achieved.

There is no doubt that the public school system in America falls gravely short of worldwide averages. In the same way that most Americans could agree that our healthcare system was in dire need of reform around the 2008 election, education improvements are of paramount importance. However, just as federal reform measures have become the laughing stock of the healthcare industry, the public cannot rely on government alone to fix the issues in education.

As a result, organizations like the OCPA are partnering with OK Governor Mary Fallin to get the word out about the many options parents and students have for quality education. And that’s what National School Choice Week is all about. From public school to virtual school, our current system offers many alternatives that people may not be aware of or never thought could be viable options.

One-size fits all solutions from Washington aren’t working, but the good news is that some state can choose to opt-out of national programs and set up systems of opportunity and choice .

Stay informed about all of next week’s activities and get involved by signing up at schoolchoiceweek.com.

Lincoln’s Logs Part III: America’s Past Time

Photo from http://www.constitutionstore.org/prod-64-3-563/.htm

Some things never change. Less than six years after its inception, the Republican party found itself in the midst of an identity crisis. By February of 1860, they had yet to establish themselves as a unified body with a common goal. Recording less Presidential victories than runs scored in this year’s Congressional baseball game, a new election approaching in November, and no clear “All-Star” for the May nominee deadline, members could not even agree decisively on the biggest issue of the century, slavery.

Thankfully, Abraham Lincoln was batting clean-up.

The ideological impasse that Republicans faced was rather simple. The wool had finally started to be lifted from the eyes of some politicians, and the blatant injustice of slavery was becoming more apparent. However, many party proponents struggled to find a Constitutional justification for uprooting a virtual cornerstone of American culture and economics during this time. Many people, both Republican and Democrat, looked on with great skepticism about the ramifications of allowing such an extensive and broad-reaching policy, the magnitude of which had no precedent.

With his team trailing in the bottom ninth with two outs, Abraham Lincoln stepped into the batter’s box on a cold February day in 1860 and prepared to address a crowd gathered at Cooper Union, New York. His speech would be one of the longest of his career and some say cemented his spot as not only the Republican nominee, but the first Republican President in history.

The speech presented a logical, lawyer-esque case for why the “framers of our Government” would have supported a decision to abolish slavery at the Federal level, an approach tailor made for Lincoln’s successful legal history. Proving this would make for a much easier task of persuading the people that Government prohibiting the practice of slavery across the nation was, indeed, in line with conservative ideas.

Consider that proposal for a moment. From a strictly political standpoint, to argue that the Government had the power to strip you of your “property” (as some considered their slaves) and disrupt the firmly established social order of the day would be a seemingly impossible task even today, especially in proportion to an issue of this magnitude. Not to mention claiming that such an idea aligned with our founders’ vision and ultimately furthered the conservative agenda. Talk about a curveball.

But accomplishing daunting tasks like these seem to have been a specialty of Lincoln’s. He created an impressive argument filled with historical facts and connections about the founders’ personal voting backgrounds and policy initiatives without a single Google search or Facebook inquiry. Using this information, he managed to sway his listeners that the founders would have, in fact, supported a federal move to end slavery across the board, and since good conservatives are committed to the ideas of those who built this country, they should be in favor of the notion as well. Talk about a homerun.

So what is the impact of Lincoln’s words at Cooper Union today? Obviously the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment did nothing but good for the longevity of America. However, a larger lesson can be learned here. The most glorious ideal of Lincoln’s legacy is that he did not let the political pressures of his day dictate his morals. Sure, he may have leaned further to the right than to the left, but even when confronted with dissent from his own party and peers, he knew with confidence and conviction that his stance was correct. He knew the role of Government is to protect the rights of its people first and foremost, even if seemingly drastic action must be taken.

Perhaps the lessons from Cooper Union could be applied all the way from Capitol Hill rallies to legislative chambers. Do not be confined to the boundaries of rules and norms established by any particular political agenda. Morals should guide policy, not the other way around.

So lay conformity to the side, and step up to the plate. Choose your words carefully, and wait for your pitch. Then take your stand, and swing for the fences.

Reuniting Capitalism and Democracy

Portrait_of_Milton_Friedman

Conventional wisdom today has capitalism out and democracy in.

The financial crash supposedly proved markets don’t work, at least not for most of the people. Democracy, on the other hand, is all the rage. From Egypt to Oakland, protesters and pundits insist they are “the 99%,” and that every political and economic policy must be judged by whether it is more or less democratic.

This idea of democracy is obviously about more than just election processes. But while a few ideologues really desire raw majority rule, more Americans seem to favor what is often called a “democratic society,” where individuals are empowered to live their own lives without being manipulated or controlled by others.

Milton Friedman pointed out in many writings and talks that the economic system that best approaches this standard of democracy is capitalism. Every other system involves—in fact, is defined by—allowing one group to control everyone else.

This week, on what would have been the Nobel laureate’s 101st birthday, it is a fitting time to begin knitting the ideas of capitalism and democracy back together.

The very foundations of American law and prosperity rest on this understanding of capitalism and democracy. To put it another way, before there was Milton Friedman, there was James Madison.

Madison wrote eloquently in Federalist No. 10 about where property rights come from, why they must be protected, and why government power must be limited and checked to prevent groups of people from harnessing that power to interfere with the property rights of others. (All emphases in the quotes is my own.)

Madison explains that “the rights of property originate [from] the diversity in the faculties of men.”

The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

What Madison is interested in is justice and liberty, which are made possible by the rule of law. His argument is that groups of people (“factions”) will try to use government power to their advantage at the expense of other people and of justice.

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. … the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

Madison points out the conflict between the idea of democracy as simply majority rule versus the idea of a democratic society: a government that allows a majority of voters to plunder the few is simply lawless. (This is the version of democracy described as “two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner.”)

Finally, Madison sketches an argument against reliance on central planning, good intentions, and what Friedrich Hayek will later call “the fatal conceit.”

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole.

Our constitutional system was designed to protect property rights, first from other individuals and then from government. It was designed to do this not in order to create prosperity—that was a side effect and not well understood until 20th Century economists like Milton Friedman. Rather it was based on the understanding of the connection between democracy and capitalism.

Check out our series of essays and study guides to re-explain to Americans the democracy inherent in free markets.

This was originally posted at the Freedom Foundation of Washington state’s website.

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