How the Cadillac Tax Could Drive Obamacare Over a Political Cliff

In its economic forecast last week, the Congressional Budget Office revealed a quandary about Obamacare’s “Cadillac tax”: To make the underlying law fiscally sustainable, the tax may end up increasing at a rate that becomes politically unsustainable.

The nugget about the tax, formally known as a high-premium excise tax and set to take effect in 2018, came in CBO’s updated estimates for the law as a whole, which noted:

CBO and [the Joint Committee on Taxation] expect that premiums for health insurance will tend to increase more rapidly than the threshold for determining liability for the high-premium excise tax, so the tax will affect an increasing share of coverage offered through employers and thus generate rising revenues. In response, many employers are expected to avoid the tax by holding premiums below the threshold, but the resulting shift in compensation from nontaxable insurance benefits to taxable wages and salaries would subject an increasing share of employees’ compensation to taxes. Those trends in exchange subsidies and in revenues related to the high-premium excise tax will continue beyond 2025, CBO and JCT anticipate, causing the net costs of the ACA’s coverage provisions to decline in subsequent years.

In other words, under current projections the tax will grow so quickly that it will exceed the annual rising costs of the law’s new entitlements, causing net spending on Obamacare actually to decline.

The Cadillac tax has always caused the administration political heartburn. In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama broadcast the most-aired political ad in a decade, attacking Sen. John McCain for wanting to tax health benefits. The Cadillac tax technically targets insurers, not individuals, but videos of remarks by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who advised the administration when the health-care law was being developed, show Mr. Gruber saying that Democrats engaged in semantics about the tax and even “mislabeling” to provide political cover for the president to change his position.

When Obamacare was passed, Mr. Gruber wrote articles—promoted at the time by the administration—saying that the Cadillac tax wasn’t a tax. He argued that, in response to the law’s pressures, firms would reduce their health benefits but increase taxable wages—and that paying taxes on these higher wages amounted to a net plus for individuals rather than a tax increase. But in the face of pressure from labor unions, which remain opposed to the tax, Democrats ultimately decided to delay its implementation until 2018, after President Obama leaves office.

In its analysis last week, CBO made clear that the Cadillac tax, coupled with provisions slowing the growth of insurance exchange subsidies (provisions that some liberal groups want to overturn) is central to making the law fiscally sustainable. The question is whether the effects of the Cadillac tax would be any more politically sustainable in 2018 and beyond than they were in 2009—and what supporters of the law will do if they aren’t.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal Think Tank blog.

Gov. Jindal Op-Ed: The “Stupid Party,” Revisited

Nearly two years ago, after Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign went down to defeat, I gave some ideas in these pages on CNN about how Republicans can win future elections. On that list was an instruction that Republicans need to stop being the “stupid party.”

While it is true that we as Republicans need to do a better job articulating our principles and being the party of bold new ideas, the Democrats have a far worse problem. Democrats need to stop being the party that thinks Americans themselves are stupid.

To take one example: At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing in April, members asked Treasury official Mark Iwry if the Obama administration believed it could delay Obamacare’s individual mandate, much as the Treasury delayed the employer mandate.

Iwry’s response was stunning: “If we believe it is fair to individuals to keep that (individual mandate) in place because it protects them…then we don’t reach the question (of) whether we have legal authority.”

The level of sheer arrogance in that response boggles the mind. A Treasury spokesman later publicly disclosed the Obama administration’s official position: The federal government, namely the IRS, is requiring all individuals to purchase insurance to “protect” the American people from themselves.

Lest anyone think this attitude comes from anywhere other than the very top of the Obama administration, take the President’s own comments last October. In a speech in Boston at the peak of the controversy surrounding insurance cancellations, the President repeatedly derided canceled plans as “substandard…cut-rate plans that don’t offer real financial protection.” And he didn’t just insult the plans themselves, he insulted the people who purchased them: “A lot of people thought they were buying coverage, and it turned out to be not so good.”

In other words, if you like your current plan, you’re delusional—or a dimwit.

The President soon backtracked, and unilaterally waived portions of the bill he signed into law, allowing some individuals to keep their plans, temporarily. But while the President expressed regret for having engaged in what Politifact dubbed the “Lie of the Year,” he has not once apologized for the arrogant and patronizing attitude underpinning the entire controversy—one in which the President believes that he and his bureaucrats know better than everyday Americans.

Sadly, this attitude does not just pervade Washington liberals; it’s also right at home in my state of Louisiana.

In 2012, the executive director of a state teachers’ union claimed that school scholarship programs wouldn’t work, because low-income parents could not make decisions about their children’s education, saying they “have no clue.”

These comments perfectly illustrate the left’s double standards. Both President Barack Obama and Eric Holder—the attorney general who filed suit to impede our scholarship program but lied to Congress about it last month—choose to educate their children at elite Washington schools costing more than $35,000 per year.

But if Americans of more modest financial means—whose annual income may be dwarfed by the tuition fees President Obama easily pays for his daughters—want their children to escape failing schools, or buy the health plan they want, the left exclaims: “Oh no, we can’t let you do that.”

That’s exactly how The Nation magazine reacted to the health care alternative I recently endorsed. Responding to the plan’s new incentives giving individuals more choices and insurance options, its analysts claimed that “most people are not informed well enough (sic) to make the right choices about which plan to buy, what it covers, what it will cost them, and especially how to decide what care to seek.” That’s what The Nation considers an “epic fail:” allowing the “ignorant” American people to pick their own health care options.

I will readily admit that we do need to improve the transparency of health care cost and quality information. And of course in an emergency no patient in cardiac arrest will be able to “comparison shop” for treatment options.

But if The Nation, President Obama, or anyone else on the left thinks the American people are too dumb to pick a school or health plan, they should say so publicly—and in so many words.

Ronald Reagan famously quipped that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

I believe the best way to help is to empower citizens, trusting them to make good choices, not creating nanny states to “protect” individuals from themselves. As a matter of policy, giving Americans choice in schools and health care is simply the right thing to do.

And as a matter of politics, insulting voters’ intelligence is just plain stupid.

This post was originally published at CNN. 

Sen. DeMint Op-Ed: A Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

As the temporary slowdown in government operations enters its second week, I write to explain why conservatives have insisted on making the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act the prime source of contention. Speaking for our organization, I can tell you we’re in this fight because of the harm the law is inflicting on Americans across the country.

We are fighting for people like Michael Cerpok, a leukemia patient in Arizona, who recently learned he will lose his current health insurance due to this misguided law. He notes that “my $4,500 out-of-pocket [expense] is going to turn into a minimum of $26,000 out-of-pocket to see the doctor that I’ve been seeing the last seven years,” and he worries that he and his wife might need to take second jobs to stay afloat.

We are fighting for people like California resident Tom Waschura, who voted for you twice, yet was shocked by the higher premium bill he recently received in the mail. Tom’s insurance rates will go up by almost $10,000 for him and his family. He fears that these higher premiums will harm his family, and jobs in his area: “When you take $10,000 out of my family’s pocket each year, that’s otherwise disposable income or retirement savings that will not be going into our local economy.”

We are fighting for people like Rod Coons and Florence Peace, a retired Indiana couple satisfied with their current coverage. “I’d prefer to stay with our current plan because it meets our needs,” says Rod. But their plan isn’t government-approved under Obamacare’s new rules, so Rod and Florence are losing their health insurance plan at the end of this year.

You have claimed that Obamacare has nothing to do with the budget. But over the next decade, this widely unpopular program will add nearly $1.8 trillion in new federal spending—and will cost taxpayers trillions more beyond that, making it nearly impossible to balance the federal budget. What’s more, for millions of struggling Americans, the law will crush their family budgets due to fewer work hours, lost jobs, and higher premiums. With the economy still mired in a scattered and sluggish recovery, these people deserve relief from Obamacare—and they deserve it now.

Your Administration has already granted numerous waivers and exemptions during the three years since the law was passed. Millions of union members received temporary waivers from the law’s costly benefit requirements. Big businesses have received a one-year delay from the onerous employer mandate—a delay your Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, struggled to defend in an interview earlier this week. And Members of Congress have obtained special treatment for themselves and their staffs—illegally—that allows them to continue to receive taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies.

At a time when so many Americans are suffering because of the rollout of this new law, I remain puzzled by your failure to acknowledge the faults caused by this unfair, unworkable, and unpopular measure. We believe the law should be fully repealed, but at minimum, both sides should agree not to fund the law for one year—a “time-out” that would halt the law’s most harmful effects before they start.

Even though Democrats have thus far refused to negotiate on anything related to the current government slowdown, millions of citizens need relief from this law. I encourage you and your Administration to work with Congress on ways to stop Obamacare from harming the American people and the American economy.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: Will Unions Want to Repeal Obamacare?

In a typical Friday afternoon “news dump,” the Treasury Department announced it could not grant unions’ request for another special Obamacare break.

This time, unions had lobbied the Administration to let union-run, multi-employer plans receive taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies on the new exchanges. These subsidies would be in addition to the tax break that multi-employer plans, like health plans offered by all employers, already receive.

Union leaders wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in July asking for the Obamacare “fix,” stating that their progressive “vision has come back to haunt us”:

When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat. Right now, unless you and the Obama Administration enact an equitable fix, the ACA will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.

However, despite comments by Reid that unions would get another special break, the Administration actually found one part of the law it wants to uphold—after all the waivers, delays, and illegal modifications made to other parts of Obamacare.

The question for unions is, what will they do now? Terry O’Sullivan, President of the Laborers International Union of North America, said on Wednesday that his union wants Obamacare “fixed, fixed, fixed….But if the [law] isn’t fixed…then I believe it needs to be repealed.”

O’Sullivan got his answer two days later—the Administration claims the law can’t be fixed. So will his union now call for Obamacare’s repeal?

As the old saying goes, “Better late than never.” Here’s hoping the Laborers Union, and other unions—having finally discovered that Obamacare could cost them both their jobs and their health insurance—ask Congress to stop the law now.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: Ten Ways Obamacare Isn’t Working

Obamacare is an unworkable law.

It’s obvious because the Administration keeps trying to “fix” it—to no avail. It has delayed parts of the law, ignored others, and carved out exemptions for its political allies.

1. WAIVERS: The Administration established a legally questionable program of temporary waivers when firms announced they were considering dropping coverage rather than comply with the law’s costly requirements. Even though more than half of the recipients of these waivers were members of union plans, many union leaders are still not satisfied—they want another waiver, to receive taxpayer-funded subsidies for their employer-provided coverage.

2. ILLEGAL TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES FOR CONGRESS: Last month, following heavy lobbying from leaders in both parties—and an intervention from President Obama himself—the Administration issued a rule regarding coverage for Members of Congress and their staffs, who will retain their taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies in the exchanges. Unfortunately, as previous research has documented, the Administration had no legal basis on which to make this ruling.

3. EMPLOYER MANDATE: In July, the Administration announced it would not enforce Obamacare’s employer mandate until 2015, effectively granting big business a one-year delay. This action came despite language in Section 1514(d) of the law requiring employers to act “beginning after December 31, 2013,” and despite the fact that hard-working Americans are not getting a delay from the other harmful effects of Obamacare.

4. PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: Immediately after Obamacare was signed, Democratic staffers admitted that under the law as written, insurers “still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem.” The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took it upon itself to issue regulations prohibiting plans from turning down such applicants three years earlier than the law required. As a result, insurers stopped offering child-only plans in 17 states, fearing that only parents of sick children would apply for insurance coverage.

5. OUT-OF-POCKET CAPS: Section 1302(c)(1) of the law includes caps on out-of-pocket expenses and explicitly states they are to take effect “beginning in 2014.” But earlier this year, the Administration delayed these new caps from taking effect as scheduled. What’s more, as The New York Times reported, the Administration made this unilateral change not by issuing rules subject to public comment, but by posting a series of questions and answers on an obscure website.

6. BASIC HEALTH PLAN: This government-run health plan for people above the Medicaid income level was created in Section 1331 of Obamacare as a way to promote “state flexibility,” but the Administration unilaterally delayed it for one year. One Democratic Senator criticized the Administration for this move, saying it does not “live up” to the law as written.

7. TAX DISCLOSURES: Section 9002 of Obamacare requires employers to report the value of workers’ health insurance on W-2 filings, effective for all “taxable years after December 31, 2010.” But the Administration unilaterally delayed this requirement, and employers did not have to report these data until after the 2012 presidential election.

8. HONOR SYSTEM: In July, the Administration announced it was placing most Americans on the “honor system” when it came to verifying their income and access to employer-provided health coverage. As prior research has documented, this move, coupled with loopholes written into the law, gives many Americans a strong incentive to “game the system” and obtain more in taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies than they should actually receive.

9. PRIVACY: Former HHS General Counsel Michael Astrue, when serving as Commissioner of Social Security earlier this year, complained strongly within the Administration about the security risks posed by Obamacare’s new data hub. However, the Administration overrode his objections, using what Astrue called “an absurdly broad interpretation of the Privacy Act’s ‘routine use’ exemption.”

10. TOBACCO PENALTIES: Section 1201 of the law allows insurance companies to charge smokers up to 50 percent more in premiums. But due to a “computer glitch,” those penalties will be limited for “at least a year”—meaning non-smokers may have to pay more as a result.

In the end, Nancy Pelosi was wrong. Congress passed the bill, but we still don’t know what’s in it—because the Obama Administration keeps changing rules and ignoring the law. That’s why Congress should use its power of the purse and stop a single dime from being spent on this unworkable, unfair, and unpopular measure.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Former Obama Administration Staffers Now Making Money Off Obamacare

After examining the harmful impacts of Obamacare on so many segments of the population—seniors, doctors, and future generations—we’ve finally found one constituency for whom the unpopular law has proved an unmitigated boon: high-priced lobbyists.

The Hill reports on how dozens of former staffers who wrote and implemented the law are now “cashing in,” trading their expertise for big bucks:

ObamaCare has become big business for an elite network of Washington lobbyists and consultants who helped shape the law from the inside. More than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers who worked on the healthcare law have set up shop on K Street since 2010….

“When [Vice President] Biden leaned over [during healthcare signing] and said to [President] Obama, ‘This is a big f’n deal,’” said Ivan Adler, a headhunter at the McCormick Group, “he was right.”

As the article notes, these high-priced lobbying firms and their clients are searching for “expert help,” both to understand the law—we did have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it, remember—and to lobby bureaucrats into making regulatory changes. Hence “widespread complaints from businesses and their lobbyists” led to a delay in the employer mandate.

And it’s not just big businesses and their K Street lobbyists receiving special treatment under Obamacare. Unions received their waivers—although they’re now lobbying for yet another exemption from the law. Congress recently got in on the act, lobbying behind closed doors for its own illegal relief, to keep taxpayer-funded health insurance subsidies going to Members of Congress and their staffs.

This is the type of behavior—shady backroom deals like the “Louisiana Purchase” and the “Cornhusker Kickback”—that helped make Obamacare so unpopular when Congress rammed it through more than three years ago.

There’s one easy way to put a stop to this unfair, unworkable, and unpopular law: Congress should embrace the opportunity to defund Obamacare now.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: Even Unions Are Turning on Obamacare

It’s not every day that union bosses sound like conservative policy experts. But the beginning of the Obamacare letter from the heads of three major unions—the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and UNITE-HERE—to Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is eerily similar to our experts’ writings.

The unions, of course, were heavy supporters of Obamacare, but even they can’t deny its effects now.

“When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act, you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them,” they wrote. “Sadly, that promise is under threat.”

It gets worse:

The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe. Perverse incentives are already creating nightmare scenarios: First, the law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week. Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly. The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.

We couldn’t agree more. In fact, not only did Heritage experts predict these outcomes, but the non-partisan Medicare actuary also concluded the law would raise health costs by hundreds of billions of dollars. The Congressional Budget Office noted that Obamacare’s employer mandate “will probably cause some employers to respond by hiring fewer low-wage workers.”

Naturally, it’s on the question of solutions that we diverge from the unions.

The union leaders’ “solution” to these problems involves yet more government spending. They want to make union-run health plans eligible for Obamacare’s subsidies—subsidies that were supposed to go to people with no health coverage. In other words, increase taxpayer spending even more because of the consequences of bigger government.

If ever there were an argument to defund Obamacare in its entirety—to do away with both the spending and the costly regulations—it’s this one. The union letter accuses Obamacare of “shattering” hard-earned benefits and destroying the foundation of the middle class. In short, “We have a problem.”

The many ways liberal leaders keep marching forward, insisting nothing’s wrong, are becoming laughable. Appearing on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that “Obamacare has been wonderful for America.” And despite the Obama Administration’s multiple implementation failures, the Health and Human Services Department just released a video yesterday proclaiming that Obamacare is “on schedule.”

Even the law’s strongest supporters aren’t buying it any more.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.