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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Why Would Anyone Think Republican Opposition to Obamacare Is Based on Ideology as Opposed to Just Money

Why Would Anyone Think Republican Opposition to Obamacare Is Based on Ideology as Opposed to Just Money

Wednesday, 23 July 2014 07:19

It's understandable that conservatives would like to say that their arguments are based on deeply held convictions, as opposed to crass self interest, but it's difficult to understand why liberals feel the need to help them make this argument. Jonathan Cohn is the guilty party today. In his Q.E.D. section in the New Republic, a segment discussing the appellate court ruling on Obamacare tells readers:

"But the motives of Republican leaders, like the motives of the individuals who thought up these lawsuits, are no mystery. As I noted yesterday , they simply don’t believe in universal health care. They don’t believe it’s the job of government to make sure every person can pay for medical care without going bankrupt."

Let's try an alternative. Suppose they don't have deep convictions about universal health care insurance, but do have deep convictions about money leaving the pockets of rich people. Of course taxes were raised on the rich to cover part of the cost of subsidies in the exchanges.

Suppose also they like a cheap docile labor force. The type that fears unemployment and also needs a full-time job just to get health care insurance. (This makes it easier to get good help.)

In this respect it is worth noting that the number of people working part-time by choice has increased by 800,000 over the last year. This is consistent with a story where people who don't need to work full-time to get health care insurance will work less. This is great news for workers and bad news for "it's hard to get good help" crowd.

If my suppositions are true then the Republican leaders would hate Obamacare even if they never gave a thought to universal health care and the government's obligations to individuals. It's a question of taking money from rich people, end of story.

Okay, neither Jonathan nor I know the inner motives of Republican leaders which is probably why it's best to avoid making assertions about them, but I see no reason to believe that his explanation is more plausible than mine.

Comments (24)Add Comment
Can a woman be president?
written by Robert Salzberg, July 23, 2014 7:50
Even a strict constructionist follows clear Congressional intent and the intent here is clearly that subsidies would be based on income not whether a beneficiary got their insurance through the state or federal exchange.

If only the words of the law matter in judicial interpretation of the law, then only men can become president.

(Justice Scalia has noted that he doesn't think women have equal rights under the constitution. When pressed, he did concede a woman could be president.)
written by Robert Sadin, July 23, 2014 7:58
Dear Dean Baker,
You are a voice in the wilderness....and a great one. I wish you would take a moment to turn your attention to your colleague Paul Krugman who is in very subtle ways a great offender in the "looking everywhere but the money for motivation" parade.
How many dozens of times has he strained to explain the positions of "pundits," saying that they "want to appear serious" or other such motivations. He finds all sorts of weird explanations for why economists persist in promoting policies which he finds have been proven to be wrong. ("they live in an echo chamber", they can't admit mistakes...etc).
The idea that Obama aspires to great wealth when he leaves office, in the model of Clinton never seems to occur to him. (look at his astonishing avoidance of TPP and what it means.)

He is better than many. But his theme that the Republicans are the problem is potentially very destructive.

Exactly right!
written by Brad Bennett, July 23, 2014 8:05
Dean, you have hit the nail on the head. I don't really believe that conservatives have a coherent ideology any longer other than protecting the wealthy from their responsibilities to this once-great nation.
And that has been the case now for over 30 years, so I really can't fathom why everyone does not understand the truth of this simple premise.

Conservative "ideology"? Don't make me laugh.

Deep throat had it right...Follow the money!
Why Does a Dog Bite?
written by Larry Signor, July 23, 2014 8:13
Wealthy Republican leaders are sitting on top of the pile and any change in the status quo will disturb their positions. Oh, why does a dog bite? Just like Republican leaders, he bites because he is scared.
written by JSeydl, July 23, 2014 8:25
It's a bit more complicated, Robert Sadin. When Krugman psychoanalyzes the "they can't admit mistakes" crowd, he's mostly speaking to academics - people like John Cochrane or John Taylor who refuse to acknowledge the evidence that's we've been living in a very Keynesian world since 2007. The politicians Dean is talking about probably do have inner motivations to simply keep the money flowing to the rich; but I have to assume (or at least hope) that the academic/self-reflecting types are motivated by different reasons. Sure, many conservative economists get their funding from the very wealthy, so on its face it seems like Dean's explanation may apply to them too. But I also think there is a general truth-seeking intention that we shouldn't just reduce away in our quest to identify the upward redistributionists.
Private Pork Has More Family Value Than Public Pork
written by Last Mover, July 23, 2014 8:59

This is a long established tradition still advanced today as a "deeply held conviction".

Robert Samuelson did it again in his last column, invoking public pork as the root of all economic evil that breeds excess unsustainable debt. Those sorry politicians on both sides of the aisle just can't control themselves enough to pay for what they spend.

Jonathan Cohn adds little to this by narrowing it down to Republicans against subsidies funded by debt, as if in the case of health care it's just more government pork dished up for consumption by freeloaders. (Actually Democrats just require that the same pork be shared more broadly.)

Never mind the obvious opportunity cost of preventing this "public pork" - private pork so much higher acquired through market failure, so bad it creates negative value, not added value.

Thus the utterly shallow and absurd common framing of "deeply held convictions" to justify what is point blank a major component of mass income redistribution on a very large scale from the 99% to the 1%. Achieved simply by assuming away "private pork" altogether.

Imagine that. Republicans aren't in it for the money after all the same way Democrats are. In fact they're so dedicated to their principles they're willing to forego every pound of public pork and replace it with two pounds of private pork.

As long as they don't have to pay for it of course. It's still worth it to those duped consumers who hold deep convictions of family values and end up paying for it. Convictions so strong they can stand tall free of big government and pay twice the price in pure monopoly profit.

Follow the money. Follow the pork. This will lead to the trail of deeply held convictions.
written by skeptonomist, July 23, 2014 9:20
There are other likely reasons for opposition to Obamacare - or actually ways that the issue can be exploited by Republicans. It provides subsidies for people with incomes up to 400% of poverty level. This typically is just above median income and less than average income. Assuming that Obamacare does not cause huge increases to deficits, the subsidies will be paid for by those with incomes above this limit - by increased taxes and probably increased premiums on all types of insurance. There is a real, major transfer from the upper 53% to the lower 47% (using Romney's breakdown). With current tax structure (essentially no progressivity above median income) the major federal revenue burden (outside SS) is borne mostly by people not far above median income, not so much by the very rich.

Insurance companies and health-care industries are actually doing quite well from Obamacare - their business is increased. People in the upper 1% are not themselves affected much - the small increase in their taxes is not a big burden. But there are lots of non-rich people in that upper half who are not benefiting from Obamacare, but bearing the burden of the extra cost. Of course there is a strong racial element in opposition to income transfer. Republicans will probably concentrate on this transfer in the future instead of the predicted "catastrophe" or "death spiral".

True universal health care would not fundamentally change the situation, but it would certainly look different - everyone pays through taxes and everyone gets health care. Obamacare almost seems deliberately designed to accentuate the income division that Republicans already exploit.
written by Seth B, July 23, 2014 10:21
Dean is right in advising not to impute motives, so I'm going to do so anyway: What if it's purely about power rather than ideology or wealth distribution? If the program is popular, it gives the party promoting it a huge electoral advantage. It took Republicans generations to gain congressional majorities in the wake of Social Security and Medicare. Many of them came to see popular programs as a way to buy votes rather than a way to improve the lot of all Americans. It was the only way they could explain their own lack of support.
Republican leaders are skilled liars
written by Dave, July 23, 2014 10:22
And their followers have Stockholm Syndrome.

The followers believe the stance of their leaders is based in strong convictions and ideology. Their leaders have the gall to use religious leaders to make the case.

The whole thing is sick, sick, sick.
written by Larry Signor, July 23, 2014 10:33
"True universal health care would not fundamentally change the situation...".

Is this what you really meant to say? The ACA is what was politically possible, not the most efficient possibility. Taxes and premiums have always driven our health care system. One of the goals of the ACA is to reduce the cost of health care delivery while increasing access. Even with the ACA in place, universal healthcare would be a significant game (Gini?) changer.
Now would be a good time to take a shot at Gene Sperling
written by Dave, July 23, 2014 10:40
He thinks the answer to poor people retiring is better 401ks. Clinton tried to privatize Social Security.

Sperling is a Republican. Get him out of the party. Obama was an idiot for putting him on his staff.
written by djb, July 23, 2014 11:09
Dean Bakers thoughts are clearly correct

written by Widgetmaker, July 23, 2014 12:26
Nailed it.
written by Steve Lightner, July 23, 2014 1:29
There is another interpretation: Money is an effect, not a cause. Money is the root to power and studies show that conservatives are more fearful people and hang on to the status quo and their power. So maybe it is not the money per se, but the underlying psychology of conservatives that drives the money thing.
Judge them by what they do.
written by ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©, July 23, 2014 2:30
Okay, neither Jonathan nor I know the inner motives of Republican leaders which is probably why it's best to avoid making assertions about them...

They're vicious, greedy hypocrites without empathy or other redeeming features.
written by Robert Sadin, July 23, 2014 6:10
JSeydi, Thanks for the thoughtful response. I disagree. Krugman many times has spoken about pundit, TV personalities etc who "want to appear serious." He has stated that Obama has taken pro austerity positions because he wants the approval of the Washington Post. He endlessly talks about economists supporting "failed policies" but only very recently and timidly does he reflect on how great the .01 have been doing. He is even timid about attributing greed to the Kochs etc. H

He never reflects on the fact that the opinions are expected from the columnists. He acts as if they have their positions by some unexplained process and then choose poor policies to support.

Note that in all these years, he has never written about the failure to prosecute the bankers, he never writes about The Citibank dominations of all posts in Obama's admin, he never takes on TTP (His column on that was embarrassing.)

He has never written about NSA, never written about the military expansion, he is incapable of truly taking on Obama.

Dean is a far superior force. But you don't get that media presence and pop fame by calling these guys out.

Thanks again for the response.
The ACA helps some, hurts many
written by Rachel, July 23, 2014 6:54

Right now, hospitals are responding to the ACA by buying up medical practices on a large scale, which will naturally lead to higher prices and fewer services. Without the ACA there might have been pressures against this. But no more. Thus for many, the ACA will be yet another ugly cause of income inequality.

Of course the media has failed badly in the matter of what causes our health care to be overpriced. But in the matter of growing medical monopoly powers, there is some degree of honesty. This is bad news, and a lot of people will be hurt. But many commentators are too loyal,or too insulated, to catch on?
The 99% can be such a nuisance
written by John Parks, July 23, 2014 7:39
It is pretty hard to see the humor in anything related to the congressional critters but more than three quarters of a century ago Will Rogers recommended what can only be considered to be a thinning of the herd to improve the species. Today he would be on a terrorist watch list.

Aside from advocating that we set aside one day a year for open season on our lawmakers he could have been speaking about healthcare and our current congress when he penned:

"Tax relief, farm relief, flood relief, dam relief—none of these have been settled, but they are getting them in shape for consideration at the next session of Congress
with the hope that those needing relief will perhaps have conveniently died in the meantime."
written by dave, July 23, 2014 9:23
As Abe Simpson once said: a little from column A, a little from column B.
written by heinleiners, July 24, 2014 12:09
This article agrees about the GOP $ motivation for killing Obamacare. Apparently it's the loss of exemption from the Medicare portion of FICA that burns the passive income rich.
No need to speculate
written by John, July 24, 2014 3:48
Republican mouthpiece O'Reilly lays it out explicitly.

written by Nick Batzdorf, July 24, 2014 2:26
My explanation is even more: these people have no soul.

How else do you explain someone working hard to go back to a system in which tens of thousands of people died every year because they made it to the emergency room too late?

Viewed that way, isn't this close to manslaughter?
written by Nick Batzdorf, July 24, 2014 2:35
Left out that word: my explanation is even more basic.
millions of adults and children in the third world entirely lack access to emergency rooms...
written by Blissex, July 26, 2014 3:13
«these people have no soul. How else do you explain someone working hard to go back to a system in which tens of thousands of people died every year because they made it to the emergency room too late?»

"Moral" arguments for things like state-organized healthcare insurance usually disgust me with their rancid hypocrisy.

There are literally millions or dozens of millions of adults and children who die every year because they do not have any access at all to emergency rooms in places like Afghanistan or Sudan, because their fellow human beings in the USA do not pay for the health care insurance that they cannot afford.

If only people with "no soul" let their fellow human beings die because of no access to an emergency room, then anybody who does not given all their income above subsistence level to pay for emergency room in Afghanistan, Sudan and similar places is also soulless.

Policies like the ACA exclude anybody who is not a USA citizen (or resident?) and they are a business arrangement among USA voters. They are agreement of interests, not the fulfilment of moral imperatives.

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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.