RALEIGH – With budget deficits, lingering recession, and both chambers of the General Assembly up for grabs this fall, North Carolina voters have a lot to think about. But right now, it looks like the single-biggest factor shaping North Carolina politics will be the U.S. House vote to nationalize health care.
Most North Carolinians didn’t want it. Most North Carolinians would have preferred that Congress and the Obama administration focus on measures to enhance economic growth, rather than socking the economy in the jaw. Most North Carolinians motivated to come to the polls in November will want to hear how their elected officials will repeal ObamaCare and replace it with real health care reform that respects America’s traditions of federalism, individual liberty, and competitive markets.
They aren’t going to like what they hear from Democratic candidates. Liberals in other states and in safe seats may feel good about what happened in Washington last weekend. But many Democratic politicians in North Carolina feel a sense of dread. They’re not dumb.
Never before has Washington been so out of step with the country on a domestic policy matter of such import. Never before has Congress driven itself to such depths of public disapproval for the sake of indulging left-wing fanaticism.
But once before, a Democratic president did seek to nationalize health care through a complex array of new federal taxes and regulations. Bill Clinton failed. His effort led to a Republican takeover of Congress, and of the North Carolina House. But at least he failed, which meant that he had room to change the subject and pivot to the center to save his presidency in 1996. Barack Obama “succeeded,” and won’t be able to shed the issue in time for his reelection campaign.
As I wrote for National Review right after Sunday’s vote, my anger at the House’s decision to destroy consumer-driven health care – including my own health plan, which federal bureaucrats will now deem illegal — has been alternating with a different feeling, the one you get when watching a slow-motion film of a car crash, or maybe an episode of Cops. You want to yell, “Look out, you’re about to drive into a tree!” or “Dude, don’t bother telling the cop the weed isn’t yours, he’s not buying it!” But you know that it won’t make any difference. So you watch, open-mouthed and, somewhat guiltily, entertained.
Congressional leaders think that by shoving this idiotic, unpopular bill down our throats, they’ve finished the job. They keep thinking the massive tree in front of them is a mirage, or that the skeptical cop will buy their nonsensical version of events. They’re deluded. It’s sad but fascinating to watch.
It’s become trite to say that this vote is only the beginning of the health-care debate, not the end. But observations often are trite because they are so obviously true. Since major portions of Obamacare don’t come into effect for several years, there’s plenty of time for repeal legislation — and any future Republican Congress and president should feel entirely justified ignoring filibusters and other procedural roadblocks to repeal, given the way Democrats have handled the legislation.
Congressional repeal won’t be the only way for lovers of liberty to challenge ObamaCare. Several state attorneys general are preparing a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the new federal mandate that all Americans do business with politically favored health insurers. As legal scholar Randy Barnett proposed in The Washington Post, state legislatures can also take a stand by authorizing a constitutional amendment to clarify that Congress has no power to intrude on the private health care arrangements of American citizens.
Until ObamaCare is repealed, every time a health insurer raises premiums or denies a claim, the Democrats will be blamed. As with the stimulus issue, the Democrats will claim that things would have been worse without their bill, but few will believe them. Ceteris paribus claims are hard enough to argue when they’re true. Theirs won’t be.
Tired of hearing about health care? Sorry, but it will be a dominant political issue for years to come, much to the Democrats’ regret – especially those running for competitive legislative seats in North Carolina. They didn’t pass ObamaCare. But now they’re in the way of an angry electorate.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation