Barackrobatics: Just Lyin'

Betsy McCaughey in the WSJ:

Last September Sen. Barack Obama promised that under his health-care proposal "you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves." On Monday, President Obama repeated that promise in a speech to the American Medical Association. It's not true.

The president is barnstorming the nation, urging swift approval of legislation that is taking shape in Congress. This legislation -- the Affordable Health Choices Act that's being drafted by Sen. Edward Kennedy's staff and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee -- will push Americans into stingy insurance plans with tight, HMO-style controls. It specifically exempts members of Congress (along with federal employees; the exemptions are in section 3116).

It would be nice if Congress and the President subjected themselves and other Federal employees to the same "benefits" it proposes to shower on the rest of us peons.

In fact, it would seem that this would be a useful thing for the rest of us peons to demand.

The bill that McCaughey is discussing is available as a 615-page PDF here. You can read along and decide for yourself if she's on target.

For fairness, you might also want to check out Brendan Nyhan for the "responsible liberal" reaction to McCaughey; he remembers bitterly McCaughey's New Republic articles that (allegedly) did a lot to doom Hillarycare in 1993.

Nyhan's substantive criticism this time around is aimed at this allegation:

It is reasonable to require that people who accept a government subsidy for health insurance tolerate cost controls to protect taxpayers. But according to the terms of the Kennedy bill, you must enroll in a "qualified" plan or face a fine, even if you and your employer are paying the entire cost of the plan you already have (section 161).

The president has promised that if you like your plan you can keep it. Mr. Kennedy's bill says that too. It's doubletalk, as the consequences of nonenrollment make clear. How big a fine will you face? The bill doesn't specify or set a limit. It says the fine will be enough to "accomplish the goal of enhancing participation in qualifying coverage" (section 161).

In response, Nyhan points to this language in the bill:
No individual shall be compelled to enroll in a qualified health plan or to participate in a Gateway.
And indeed that language is there, on page 43 or so of the PDF linked above.

But then what does Section 161 do? Again, read it yourself and see. It (as McCaughey claims) requires the IRS to impose additional tax liability on filers who lack "qualifying coverage". And (as McCaughey claims) the amount of that liability is to be filled in later to "accomplish the goal of enhancing participation in qualifying coverage."

I may be missing something (that's not unlikely, because reading legislation is tricky for us amateurs) but it seems that Nyhan is relying on the theoretical distinction between being "compelled" and "getting seriously nicked by the IRS if you aren't in compliance".

I'm not impressed by that distinction. I would guess McCaughey isn't either.

(I've left a comment to this effect over at Nyhan's blog; I'll correct myself here if necessary.)