Hold­ing Se­nate Democrats ac­count­able for Oba­macare’s fall­out

Feigned sur­prise over mil­lions of can­celed poli­cies should fool no one

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Scott Erick­son By Joseph C. Goulden

With Pres­i­dent Obama’s ap­proval rat­ing sink­ing be­low 40 per­cent, it has be­come clear that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans have con­cluded that he did in­deed lie about his sig­na­ture health care leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing in­di­vid­u­als to “keep their in­sur­ance plans” if they de­sired.

While the pres­i­dent de­serves much of the scorn be­ing heaped upon him for hav­ing mis­led the pub­lic about Oba­macare, an­other group within Wash­ing­ton equally de­serves to be held ac­count­able for the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans cur­rently los­ing their ex­ist­ing health care cov­er­age; namely, Se­nate Democrats.

Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu of Louisiana re­cently took to the floor of the Se­nate to pro­claim her anger and con­cern over Oba­macare caus­ing so many Amer­i­cans to lose their ex­ist­ing cov­er­age. Her in­credulity may have been more be­liev­able had she not been part of the rea­son it hap­pened in the first place.

“The prom­ise was made, and it should be kept,” Ms. Lan­drieu stated. “And it was our un­der­stand­ing when we voted for that, that peo­ple when they have in­sur­ance, could keep what they had.”

Ex­press­ing sim­i­lar con­cerns, Sen. Kay R. Ha­gan of North Carolina stated, “Ob­vi­ously, it’s not go­ing the way it should, and I’m dis­ap­pointed, and I’m frus­trated, and it’s to­tally un­ac­cept­able be­cause the Amer­i­can peo­ple de­serve bet­ter, and the way I look at it, North Carolini­ans de­serve bet­ter.”

Her col­league, Sen. Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas also ex­pressed frus­tra­tion over Oba­macare’s dis­jointed roll­out. His re­cent tone, how­ever, is a stark de­par­ture from the pan­e­gyric press re­lease he is­sued upon Se­nate pas­sage of the Af­ford­able Care Act in 2009.

“El­e­ments of this pack­age will drive down costs for fam­i­lies, small busi­nesses, and govern­ment; pro­tect and ex­pand an in­di­vid­ual’s choice of doc­tors and in­sur­ance plans without any govern­ment in­ter­fer­ence; and as­sure af­ford­able, re­li­able health care for ev­ery Arkansan,” Mr. Pryor stated nearly four years ago.

The anx­i­ety caused by mil­lions of Amer­i­cans los­ing their health care cov­er­age in the wake of Oba­macare has caused many of its pre­vi­ous sup­port­ers to run for cover.

Se­nate Democrats, many of whom find them­selves mired in fierce re-elec­tion cam­paigns in 2014, took their anx­i­eties over Oba­macare di­rectly to the White House when they met with Pres­i­dent Obama last Wed­nes­day.

One of those in at­ten­dance, Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, im­me­di­ately is­sued a press re­lease upon con­clu­sion of the meet­ing. In it, Mr. Begich said, “It’s ab­so­lutely un­ac­cept­able in this day and age that the ad­min­is­tra­tion can’t de­liver on the prom­ises it made to all Amer­i­cans be­cause of tech­ni­cal prob­lems with a web­site.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Se­nate Democrats now en­raged over the fall­out from Oba­macare, they are the very peo­ple that sys­tem­at­i­cally voted against as­sur­ances de­signed to pre­vent mil­lions of Amer­i­cans from los­ing their cov­er­age in the first place.

In 2010, Se­nate Democrats voted unan­i­mously to shut down a Repub­li­can res­o­lu­tion that would have blocked Oba­macare’s so-called “grand­fa­ther” clause. Repub­li­cans cor­rectly ar­gued at the time that the grand­fa­ther clause would ac­tu­ally cause mil­lions of Amer­i­cans to lose their ex­ist­ing health in­sur­ance cov­er­age. Buried in Sec­tion 1251 of the Af­ford­able Care Act, the grand­fa­ther clause was os­ten­si­bly meant to en­sure that Amer­i­cans who ob­tained cov­er­age prior to the law be­ing signed on March 23, 2010, could keep their ex­ist­ing plans, just like the pres­i­dent re­peat­edly promised.

Un­for­tu­nately, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sub­se­quent in­ter­pre­ta­tion of reg­u­la­tions sur­round­ing the grand­fa­ther clause were so con­strained that mil­lions of Amer­i­cans los­ing their pre­ferred cov­er­age be­came a fait ac­com­pli.

Even the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion it­self con­ceded such when it wrote in the June 2010 is­sue of the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter that “a rea­son­able range for the per­cent­age of in­di­vid­ual poli­cies that would ter­mi­nate, and there­fore re­lin­quish their grand­fa­ther sta­tus, is 40 per­cent to 67 per­cent.”

When Repub­li­can Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wy­oming of­fered Se­nate Joint Res­o­lu­tion 39 to en­sure that no Oba­macare reg­u­la­tion would be in­ter­preted to deny peo­ple ac­cess to their ex­ist­ing health care poli­cies, Democrats voted it down. Unan­i­mously.

On a mo­tion to pro­ceed, the res­o­lu­tion was de­feated on a 59-40 vote. Ev­ery sin­gle Se­nate Demo­crat voted the res­o­lu­tion down, and in so do­ing, vir­tu­ally en­sured that the health care choices of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans would be fall un­der the highly re­stric­tive man­dates of Oba­macare.

They may be try­ing to dis­avow Oba­macare today, but Se­nate Democrats are as com­plicit for the fall­out of the health care de­ba­cle as the pres­i­dent him­self.

It’s time to hold Se­nate Democrats ac­count­able. No amount of feigned in­credulity today should ab­solve elected of­fi­cials of poor decisions made yes­ter­day.

Dou­ble­day, $28.95, 577 pages

For po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists, and es­pe­cially aca­demics, in­tel­li­gence is the dark an­gel of for­eign af­fairs, ea­ger to top­ple gov­ern­ments and be­tray other per­sons — in­clud­ing al­lies — through stealth and lies. Oh, per­haps. The chron­i­cles of spook­dom cer­tainly brim with case his­to­ries of chi­canery. But in terms of fla­grant in­ter­na­tional treach­ery, few episodes in diplo­matic his­tory sur­pass the sor­did record of the al­lied pow­ers — in­clud­ing the United States — in their deal­ings with Mid­dle East na­tions dur­ing World War I, 1914-1918.

Much of what the av­er­age reader knows about in­trigue dur­ing the pe­riod re­volves around the Bri­tish an­thro­pol­o­gist­turned-in­tel­li­gence-op­er­a­tive T.E. Lawrence, a covert agent for the Crown who strove to in­spire the so-called “Re­volt in the Desert,” an at­tempt to stir an Ara­bic up­ris­ing against Ger­many. Lawrence’s im­age ben­e­fited from his own books and from an ador­ing “bi­og­ra­phy” by Low­ell Thomas, the famed ra­dio com­men­ta­tor.

But Lawrence was far from be­ing the only in­tel­li­gence agent in the game. The United States, Ger­many, France, even state­less Is­raelis try­ing to form their own na­tion, vied for in­flu­ence among the dis­parate tribes that oc­cu­pied Ara­bia. The goal was to wean away Turk­ish sup­port for Ger­many dur­ing the first years of the war so as to pro­tect Bri­tain’s routes to In­dia.

Scott An­der­son re­lates the story with vivid writ­ing sup­ported by a stag­ger­ing amount of re­search — one of the more fas­ci­nat­ing reads I have en­coun­tered in years. His cast of char­ac­ters alone sat­is­fies one’s ap­petite for how es­pi­onage re­ally works in the field.

Con­sider the United States. A late­comer to in­ter­na­tional in­tel­li­gence, Wash­ing­ton, had no oper­a­tives in the area, so it sought the help of Stan­dard Oil Co. of New York (So­cony), one of 34 units into which the Rock­e­feller Stan­dard Oil mo­nop­oly had been splin­tered in a 1911 an­titrust ac­tion. Stan­dard con­tin­ued to har­bor in­ter­na­tional am­bi­tions, run­ning a “for­eign-ser­vice school” for men it dis­patched abroad to mon­i­tor its in­ter­ests.

Its re­crui for the Mid­dle East was a 20-ish chap named Wil­liam Yale, scion of a prom­i­nent fam­ily that had fallen onto hard times. An Ivy League grad­u­ate, he joined Stan­dard as an oil-field worker in Ok­la­homa. But his pedi­gree qual­i­fied him for grander things. Soon he was in Ara­bia, un­der cover with a group of wealthy “swells” mak­ing a grand tour.

Then he got down to busi­ness, buy­ing oil rights for broad swaths of the crum­bling Ot­toman Em­pire. As the only ma­jor oil com­pany still ac­tive in the area, So­cony ac­quired rights for 500,000 acres at knock-off prices. Turkey des­per­ately needed oil for its war ef­fort. Tough: Stan­dard fur­nished not a drop for the du­ra­tion; its eyes fo­cused on fu­ture riches. So­cony sold to bel­liger­ents on both sides, re­flag­ging tankers in neu­tral coun­tries, the man re­spon­si­ble ex­plain­ing to Yale that “busi­ness was busi­ness, and that if he didn’t ‘sell to the en­emy, his com­peti­tors surely would.’” (Yale even­tu­ally went on the U.S. pay­roll, but con­tin­ued un­der So­cony cover.)

Mr. An­der­son cov­ers a wide range of spy trade­craft. An Is­raeli agent, an agron­o­mist named Aaron Aaron­stein, used his sup­posed field work in trac­ing lo­cust in­fes­ta­tion to es­tab­lish an ex­ten­sive net­work of prospec­tive Jewish spies across Pales­tine.

The Ger­many spy, Curt Prufer, held a shad­owy post in his em­bassy known as the “drago­man,” a flunky in the gray area be­tween diplo­matic and con­sular du­ties, giv­ing him con­sid­er­able op­er­a­tion free­dom.

The hy­per­sex­ual Prufer re­lied heav­ily on fe­males. “They will … try to get friendly with peo­ple who might be able to sup­ply … in­for­ma­tion.” He left no doubt what he meant by “friendly,” pro­claim­ing, “Above all, the women agents — who must be young and not without charms — should try to get into re­la­tion­ships with in­flu­en­tial peo­ple who may, in a mo­ment of weak­ness born of in­ti­macy, let es­cape in­for­ma­tion that could be use­ful to us.”

The main chi­canery, how­ever, came from the Brits, in an episode that tells why it was known as “per­fid­i­ous Al­bion” for decades. The Arabs wanted recog­ni­tion of an in­de­pen­dent na­tion en­com­pass­ing vir­tu­ally their en­tire world, from Iraq in the east to Syria in the west and ex­tend­ing to the tip of the Ara­bian Penin­sula. De­tails would come later, but an “ab­so­lute pre­con­di­tion was that the French were not to have a con­trol­ling pres­ence any­where.” If that was agree­able, the Bri­tish “could have their rev­o­lu­tion in the heart of the Ot­toman world.” The Brits signed onto the deal.

Need it be said that White­hall lied? A se­cret covenant as­sured France a con­tin­ued role in Syria, a pres­ence it main­tained for decades. Apol­o­gists for years dis­missed the episode as a “misunderstanding” in the govern­ment. Mr. An­der­son rightly snorts that such an ex­cuse is “squalid, akin to ar­gu­ing that a prom­ise isn’t a prom­ise be­cause one’s fin­gers were crossed. To the de­gree that the Bri­tish right hand did not know what the left was do­ing, it was be­cause a se­lect group of men at the high­est reaches of govern­ment went to great lengths to en­dure it.” He speaks of “a labyrinth of in­for­ma­tion fire­walls — de­cep­tions, in a less char­i­ta­ble assess­ment.”

I gen­er­ally con­sider it a waste of time to ad­dress “what if?” sce­nar­ios, be­cause his­tory tends to veer in non­lin­eal di­rec­tions. But in this in­stance, I can­not re­sist won­der­ing “what if” the great pow­ers had played it straight in a time of cri­sis in the Mid­dle East? We shall never know.


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