Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, diplomatic espionage and Pope Francis. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
Ramesh: As we write, Margaret, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Her testimony so far has already made the administration’s job a lot harder: She said that the Obamacare website has never crashed, even as it remains down during the hearings. But I don’t think any of the administration’s defenders have had anything helpful to say. Senator Mary Landrieu, who said while arguing for the passage of Obamacare that anyone who liked their insurance would be able to keep it, changed to say that she was only talking about “good” insurance. Now, she wants to change the law. That can’t be comforting for the millions of people who are getting cancellation notices and aren’t sure they’ll be able to buy insurance through Obamacare -- and who have just been told this morning by Sebelius that she wants to keep the fines for people who aren't insured.
Margaret: I love to argue with you, Ramesh -- in fact, I do it for a living. But I'm having a hard time with Obamacare. Postpone the fines! They aren't traffic cops giving out tickets to increase revenue. People hate the government enough already. Here's one thing: In the end it will be better for the people we don't know, the ones who don't work at Bloomberg, the National Review or in Congress. The anecdotes we hear about are the same problems the private insurance market has always had. There, turnover is sky high, the cancellations are enormous and the invasions of privacy are massive -- they can be sure to turn you down for a plan if you have ever had a cold. In the United States of Amnesia, we now love Aflac in the private market as opposed to Obamacare's Aflac. Everything we hated about insurance is now Obama's responsibility.
Ramesh: Well, you've given me something to argue with, Margaret. Yes, people have always disliked aspects of the health-insurance system (as have I), but the vast majority of people with insurance have also reported satisfaction with their plans. That's why the Democrats took such pains to say, when they were trying to pass Obamacare, that people would be able to keep their plans if they wanted them. And that's why the fact that it is causing people to lose their plans makes them look dishonest -- at the same time, the website problems make them look incompetent. And the latest intelligence revelations reinforce both impressions. If the president really wasn't aware of the spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it's an indictment of his leadership of his own administration. But it's pretty hard to believe him. I actually sympathize with him, because there's no good way to respond to the unauthorized leaks, but the timing for him is bad given the continuing Obamacare troubles.
Margaret: There should be hardship pay for the analyst who has to listen to Angela Merkel's phone calls -- she who flinches when someone touches her, although I do find it peculiar that both former President George W. Bush and Obama have both tried. How do you deal with denying something everyone does? Senator Susan Collins said yesterday: "Friends don't spy on friends." What universe does she live in? The challenge for all world leaders is to maintain credibility while denying something that is widely done.
Back to Obamacare, Republicans are moving from the website to the whole law. The White House gave them an opening as wide as the error message on the website. I feel so sick about it. I hope I still have the insurance Obama promised I could keep.
Ramesh: Obamacare did get one piece of good news -- Ohio's Republican governor, John Kasich, has agreed to expand Medicaid. It's the godly thing to do, he says -- God apparently being a fan of crummy health insurance and bypassing the state legislature to expand it. It isn't a shocker that a governor would like taking "free" federal money, but must he be so sanctimonious about it?
Margaret: It used to be called "compassionate conservatism," but that is so over in your party. And since when does your party not mention God? The maids, cab drivers and waiters work like dogs and can barely get ahead. So, the 1 percent shouldn't mind sharing. The country works best when everyone has a chance to get ahead. Speaking of God, what a pope my God has installed. He was probably going to be Time's Man of the Year, but he locked it in when he suffered unto him the little children. Was that a security guy or a cardinal roughing up the kid? Putting him in the big chair was another stroke of humanity. Governor Kasich showed some, too. You may think Medicaid is crummy, but in the land of the doctorless, what a relief to be able to get health care without having to wait in the emergency room with gunshot wounds to see a doctor.