Obamacare Follies: Lessons For Israel

An administration which so easily lies to its own citizens to achieve domestic political ends cannot be trusted to act faithfully towards the citizens of other countries.

This column was originally published in the Times of Israel

Israelis may be forgiven for paying scant attention to America’s Obamacare debacle and political fallout.  Surely, this is one issue which is an entirely domestic matter for the United States.   But Israel and other American allies would do well to pay closer attention.  There are lessons to be learned pertaining to American foreign policy from this still-unfolding episode.

The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, was the cornerstone of President Obama’s domestic policy agenda.  Motivated by some 30 million Americans without health insurance, Obama aimed for the impossible: to transform and regulate health coverage for the entire country by mandating additional benefits for everyone, extending coverage to those 30 million, plus requiring insurers to cover even the highest-risk, most expensive customers—all while cutting the cost of insurance premiums, and not increasing the deficit.

Not one to be bound by mere laws of supply and demand, President Obama successfully sold his immensely complicated plan with bold, straightforward promises: “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.  If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan, period.”  “We will start by lowering the average premium by $2,500 per year.”  He repeated those promises dozens of times.

Well. Obamacare rolled out in October.  Immediately, millions of Americans who had previously been adequately insured discovered their policies cancelled for not covering a rich new assortment of Obama-mandated benefits they didn’t need, such as maternity care even for men or those beyond childbearing years.  For each new Obamacare enrollee, over 100 people had their existing insurance cancelled.  Premiums exploded, up an average of 50% for most individuals—for new policies limiting customer access to their preferred hospitals and doctors.  Plus, it now turns out, the administration had already anticipated as far back as 2010 that 90 million Americans would ultimately have their policies cancelled and be forced into government exchanges.  So much for those Obama promises.

Obama’s bogus pledge to the public–“If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan”– has become a late-night TV punchline, akin to President Nixon’s “I am not a crook” and President Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”  Obama’s poll numbers are tanking, and his own party, panicky about 2014 Congressional elections, seems on the verge of open revolt.

So, what does any of this have to do with Israel?

Plenty.  Israel finds itself at odds with the Obama administration in terms of pressure for greater concessions to the Palestinians—concessions Israel deems dangerous.  In addition, the administration is pushing Israel to stop trying to scuttle a proposed deal with Iran that leaves the mullahs with both significant sanctions relief and nuclear capability.   Having verbally committed to preventing the Islamic Republic from going nuclear and to “having Israel’s back”, the administration’s message to Israel is: Trust us.

Israel’s message to the administration should be: No thanks.   Nowhere more than in the realm of foreign policy is credibility necessary for success.  Whether in threatening adversaries or persuading allies to bend to America’s wishes, American commitments are only as meaningful as they are credible.

Obama’s credibility is in tatters.  Polls show Americans trust him less than ever, with over half saying the President knew he was lying when making his Obamacare promises.  Even his usually reliable media cheering section is featuring articles asking flat out whether the President has any credibility left.

The Obama administration’s credibility problem extends beyond just domestic policy.  An administration which so easily lies to its own citizens to achieve domestic political ends cannot be trusted to act faithfully towards the citizens of other countries.  The world has already witnessed the President fold when challenged on one “red line”—that of Syrian use of chemical weapons.  No longer is the administration entitled to any benefit of the doubt.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry briefed Congress on the Iranian nuclear negotiations, specifically telling lawmakers to ignore Israeli concerns urgently transmitted to Capitol Hill.  Not only was the administration’s dovish approach rejected, it was mocked by Senators echoing Israel’s assessment that Obama’s approach amounts to $40 billion of sanctions relief in exchange for a 24-day delay in Iran’s nuclear program.  The Congressional reaction made clear that Israel has a lot more credibility than the Obama administration in this matter.

Every so often, we re-learn a political lesson: character matters. In a President, character and credibility arguably count more than any single policy. Leadership, both domestic and international, is impossible without integrity and credibility because it is impossible without public trust.  Once that public trust is gone, we’re left with nothing more than say-anything cheap political expediency.

Presidential credibility, once damaged, is resistant to restoration.  It becomes increasingly difficult to persuade the public on any policy once people stop believing you.  Or listening altogether.

And that is where we find ourselves.  Whatever Israel’s and other American allies’ suspicions about Obama’s credibility before, they should only be deepened by the Obamacare saga.

Abe Katsman is an American lawyer and political commentator living in Israel.  More of his work can be found at abekatsman.com.

This column was originally published in the Times of Israel.


3 thoughts on “Obamacare Follies: Lessons For Israel

  1. abe – the link does not work!

    back from alaska to the mundane – no northern lights here in LA


    On Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 7:45 AM, Another country heard from: Abe Katsman weighs

  2. Well, when I click on the link to read this, I get a notice “oops, this page can’t be found.” That could be a good thing as I probably wouldn’t agree with what you’ve written, although I would certainly read it.

    The whole health care thing has been a debacle, but not solely because it was flawed beyond repair or certainly not because it wasn’t needed. In Oct. I attended the quarterly meeting of the UW Retirees Assoc., devoted entirely to the health care law and the roll-out. There were 2 principal speakers, one a dr. in the medical school and a second who was a lecturer in health policy at UW. The first addressed the issue of the roll-out problems. He pointed out that nothing could be done re a roll-out or rules or procedures until legal challenges had been addressed. This started with law suits by Republican attorneys-general and first went through the lower courts, then the Supreme Court. that decision didn’t come too soon. And, when it did, it was not conclusive: states had the right to opt out of the medicaid expansion as well as the duty to set up a state health exchange. And about half the states, mostly those, again, under the control of Republicans, did exactly that. That meant that the federal govt. had to take over the job of setting up health exchanges in those states. It also meant dealing with the complexities of the health-care fules of individual states since they are far from uniform across the country. Once that was supposedly done, the governors or legislatures of those same states that were so opposed to the law forbade personnel under their authority (and sometimes not under their authority) to do anythiing to help folks trying to get coverage.

    Some states are still deciding about whether to implement the medicaid expansion. these are generally states with large numbers of indigent whose health is probably awful. It is in part awful because the current safety net for the poor is not effective. Believe me, I know from my work with St. Vincent de Paul. One woman we help who is a single mother (I’m not excusing that!) has her food stamps cut to $3. Is it even worth it to process the check? She told me she could buy 3 loaves of Safeway’s cheapest bread with that amount. Our little chapter’s worth in early Oct. was about $4000. As of early Nov. it was down to $600 as we had so many calls for food, rent assistance, clothing, even used furniture. I took all calls for assistance in Sept. and heard some horrific stories; it was a relief to have the permanent secretary back in early Oct. as the weight of so much misery was affecting me. We had 23 calls for help that Sept. Last week, when I had to tell a woman she couldn’t have a $40 card for groceries to Safeway until Nov. 24 when we distribute all sorts of fresh food as well as a food card, she started to cry. She is 6 weeks younger than I am and is still looking after children, grandchildren and even a great-grandchild. She has made very stupid mistakes in her life but seeing her just break down was unbearable. I don’t see how we can consider ourselves a great nation if we don’t provide basic health care and a basic safety net to people like her, much as I disapprove of what she did earlier in her life. She’s sure paying for it now–and so are all of us who contribute to whatever care she does get.

    BTW I might well have voted for–now I can’t remember his name–our state attorney general who ran against Jay Inslee save for his challenge to the ACA.

    This is not an attempt to excuse faulty design or any lies Obama may have told about keeping one’s old (maybe worthless) policy, but it should explain why the roll-out was so difficult. Now many Republican legislators are crying crocodile tears about people without insurance, etc. And what exactly are they proposing? Exactly nothing, with no intention of proposing anything–indeed J. Boehner has said publically the House’s job is to stop legislation. they are doing a very good job at that.

    the whole ACA is flawed because it is a Rube Goldberg attempt to please various factions in and out of govt. It is not an efficient system. But, it is something for at least 30 million people. I know there are horror stories of people having their premiums increased dramatically, and I do believe that is happening. Is there a way to fix that and still insure that people have coverage that means something? I don’t know, but I do know that Republicans have no intention of trying to solve those issues.

    What happened today in the US Senate to end the fillibuster is a very sad but entirely explicable thing. the country is coming apart and there is no sign of any healing anywhere in sight. I am very sorry to say I think it’s about time, if there is any way to do it without bloodshed, that the country should split into several different entities under perhaps some loose idea of federation.

    As to Obama lying about health care, I’m not quite so sure that means he would lie to anyone and everyone about other matters. We probably disagree about any agreement with Iran. I don’t think the Iranians are very trustworthy and should be subject to the toughest scrutiny and penalties, but I don’t agree to a perpetual state of hostility, either. Nothing will be gained by that. They will be more and more adamant that they are in danger and more agressive in their support of Hamas and Hezbollah. Maybe I’m naive in thinking that, but people who are afraid tend to be more dangerous if they have the means.

    I certaiinly didn’t meant to write this much. I will try again to read your post another time, if the link works.

    • Now thatis a comment! (And I agree with about 60% of what you wrote.) Try the link again and let me know if it works. Not sure why there was trouble with it, but I reposted it.


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