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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Charles Lane Is Badly Confused About Obamacare

Charles Lane Is Badly Confused About Obamacare

Thursday, 24 July 2014 09:14

Washington Post columnist Charles Lane must have been off the planet or at least out of the country in 2009. In a column on the recent appellate court ruling banning subsidies in the federal exchanges, he tells readers that the Republican obstruction was to be expected given the extreme Democratic positions on the stimulus, cap and trade legislation and the Affordable Care Act:

"Everything might have been different if Democrats and Republicans had operated in a spirit of compromise, the Framers’ hoped-for political solvent."

If he had been following the debates at the time he would know that Obama asked for an $800 billion stimulus even though his top economic aides told him that he would need at least $1.2 trillion to get the economy back on its feet. He then allowed the Republicans to bargain this down so that the actual stimulus was just over $700 billion (sorry folks, the Alternative Minimum Tax fix doesn't count as stimulus), with much of that sum going to tax cuts that had less impact than spending increases.

The cap and trade system is a market-based proposal for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions that was supported by many conservatives in academia. It was an alternative to a carbon tax that likely would have a higher cost to corporate emitters. This is also a conservative measure in the sense that it is charging polluters for the damage they cause to others. Our Framers would never have imagined a country in which some people got to freely dump their garbage and sewage on their neighbors' lawns.

Finally, Obamacare was based on a proposal that came out of the Heritage Foundation. In its fundamental structure it is identical to the proposal signed into law by the Republican governor of Massachusetts and 2012 Republican presidential nominee. Furthermore, Obama worked very hard to pull Republicans on board, agreeing to dozens of amendments put forward by Republican members of Congress and allowing the bill to be tied up for months in the Senate Finance Committee as its chair Max Baucus sought a compromise that would win support from at least some of the Republican members.

In short, on all three of these issues Obama took the path of compromise urged by Lane. With virtual unanimity, the Republicans rejected every effort. As Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell said shortly after President Obama's election in 2008, his job was to make sure that Obama was a one-term president. For some reason Lane is apparently ignorant of this history. 

Comments (9)Add Comment
Can the press get away with anything?
written by Dave, July 24, 2014 9:47
There was much vitriol over whether Obama should have bargained with himself before bargaining with the Republicans. Certainly if the compromises had been carried out in public rather than a priori, it would have been a bit harder to get away with what Lane is doing here. This is why many of us believed Obama should have played a smart negotiator, as in make sky-high demands and then come back to a middle that you can live with.

It isn't clear, however, if that would have been enough to stop this kind of rewriting of history by Lane. Readers don't seem to be able to tell the difference. I really don't know if it would have helped to bargain better in public. The Lanes would probably still pull this stuff, my only question is whether people would have been able to see through it a bit better. Obviously Fox news viewers are not on the table here, they are dumb as dirt, but there is a smart, independent center, however small, that might have been able to see it.
Lane Confused about Framer's Values in terms of Compromise and Polution
written by Robert Salzberg, July 24, 2014 9:58
Two things Lane gets utterly wrong about the Framers. Political parties were anathema to the founders. Our constitution established a government that requires consensus to govern. Compromise, not so much.

Our constitution was also based on the writings of Adam Smith, particularly Wealth of Nations, which has a passage deriding those who would litter our roads with garbage and promoting sanitation as one of the many basic services government should provide.

Cap and Trade
written by Juan Valdez, July 24, 2014 10:08
You are correct. Harmful gas emissions (climate change) is a major economic issue not an environmental problem. C02, CH4 and other pollutants are being dumped on our neighbor. Unfortunately, the GOP don't get it.

Creating laws that benefit the emitters, which the GOP like, does not solve anything.
Shattered Glass
written by Aaron, July 24, 2014 10:09
I had more sympathy for Charles Lane when he looked like Peter Sarsgaard. When I read the columns by the guy who writes for the Post, I'm somehow left unsurprised that he was taken in by Stephen Glass.
written by Ryan, July 24, 2014 10:15
He forgot to cite Leadership (TM) and Simpson-Bowles. Must have run out of space or something
written by djb, July 24, 2014 10:21
getting rich by whoring for the rich

written by medgeek, July 24, 2014 12:40
Lane is bad enough. Have you guys & gals read some of the comments about his piece? I'm struggling for a word to describe some of them. Vitriolic comes to mind, but I don't think it's strong enough.
Who Knew? The Constitution Protects the 1% From the Tyranny of the 99%
written by Last Mover, July 24, 2014 1:08
Why did the Framers create a federal government of limited and enumerated powers — leaving everything else to the states and “the people”? Why did they provide for so many veto points and counter-majoritarian institutions — frequent House elections, the Senate, federal courts?

Amazing how Republicans use this to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority according to Charles Lane.

Take the Patriot Act for example that set the stage for today's NSA. Republicans used every legal means to defeat it didn't they, despite having never read it and accidentally voting for it unanimously.

Take Citizens United vs FEC. What a boost for free-speech-as-money from the little guy going against the grain of the majority, eh?

It's all about persons isn't it, who have every right to stand up against the tyranny of the majority don't they.

To be clear, we're talking about persons as corporations within the tiny 1% who have had enough of progressives in the 99% running roughshod over their Constitutional rights with government backed stimulus, cap and trade, and health care.

Indeed Charles Lane, that's how the framers designed it didn't they, to make it very hard for the majority to use the federal government to violate enumerated freedoms of the minority.

And Republicans are hopping mad that it's not working so they fought back and nullified Obamacare didn't they. On behalf of the states and "the people" including all persons as corportaions.

Thanks for the reminder on who the 99% majority and the 1% minority really are. Who would have ever known?
Thanks, but I don't need another excellent reason to not read the WaPo ...
written by John Puma, July 25, 2014 4:08
My question is this: given that "Mitch McConnell said shortly after President Obama's election in 2008, his job was to make sure that Obama was a one-term president," why, then did Obama start his tenure with his strategy of pathological bipartisanship?

Was he "off the planet or at least out of the country" after his election in 2008?

It lead directly to the wipe out in the 2010 mid term elections as former supporters stayed away from the polls, alienated and underwhelmed by an alleged Democrat, if not acting like a Republican, certainly planting a few too many wet kisses on ample GOP behinds.

That census year fiasco, of course, will have effects for a full ten years. Had Obama chosen yet another Republican as czar of the Office of Remedial Civics?

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.