The Iran-Obamacare connection

Israel Hayom | The Iran-Obamacare connection.

Richard Baehr

Israel is currently caught in the middle of a dynamic in which policy that impacts Israel seems to be determined by the problems experienced by the Obama administration on other fronts in the United States.

Most directly, the policy issue that seems to be weighing over all others for the Obama administration is the colossal failure of the rollout of its health care reform bill, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

This bill, often characterized as the signature achievement of the president’s first term, was never popular — from the time it was working its way through House and Senate Committees in 2009, to when a final version of the bill was voted on in early 2010, and right through to the date when the website to allow online enrollment on the new exchanges occurred on Oct. 1. Things have now fallen apart for the administration in two significant ways over the last six weeks.

The first disaster was that the website, despite three and a half years to get it ready to go live, was unable to function and handle sign-ups. In the same three-and-a-half-year time span, the U.S. went from the wipeout of its fleet at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to winning the wars in Europe and the Pacific against the Nazis and the Japanese, as well as becoming the world’s strongest military power.

The website debacle was a calamity for those who believe government does things competently, and needs to be bigger so it can do more good (meaning take from some to give to others). There is no bigger believer in this ideology and mythology than President Barack Obama.

The most sophisticated software companies in the world are in the U.S., but a Canadian company, a proven failure in other activities (the Vermont state website among them), was selected to direct the project. The stench of cronyism was all over the selection of CGI Federal (a close friend and college classmate of Michelle Obama’s was a senior executive at the company selected).

Obama’s uninterest in getting involved in the planning and execution of the website, other than to tell audiences it would be as smooth as accessing amazon.com, proved only that he is happier playing golf (Round 151 on Sunday) than attending to the management of the bureaucracy he created.

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The second disaster was even more self-inflicted. To get the bill passed, and after passage, to win political support, the president assured Americans that they could keep their current insurance plans if they liked them, and they could also keep their doctors if they wanted to. In other words, there were only winners under Obamacare, and no losers (other than the higher taxes assessed on upper income Americans to pay for the new entitlement). These “rich folks” (the word “folks” was used 27 times by Obama in his recent press conference on Obamacare) never counted for this administration except when they were out collecting campaign cash.

It is now evident to everyone, except maybe the New York Times editorial page, that the president lied repeatedly with his assurances that there would be no change for those happy with their insurance policies. So did other members of his party, who also knew that millions of people would lose their health insurance policies once Obamacare exchanges opened. Now these people — as many as 10 million in the individual market (with tens of millions more to come when employer provided polices are judged to be non-compliant with Obamacare in 2015) — need to find new coverage in a matter of weeks. Of course, they also have to find them on a non-functioning website, and if they are lucky enough to be able to access the site, will find that new policies in many cases will cost them far more than they did this year, with higher out-of-pocket expenses, and with narrower lists of acceptable physicians and hospitals.

Why does this matter to Israel? Over the last six weeks, the president’s approval ratings have plummeted to the lowest levels since he took office in 2009. They are now approaching the approval scores of George W. Bush after his perceived mishandling of Hurricane Katrina. For a president who is all about politics, and revels in the worship and glorification he was used to for years, the sinking sensation creates a desperate situation.

The president is hoping new IT fixers can get his website running. He has tried to shift blame for those dropped by their insurance carriers onto the insurance companies themselves. So far, there is little evidence that this latest jiu jitsu maneuver has helped right the ship.

In the words of Mark Steyn: “So, if I follow correctly, the smartest president ever is not smart enough to ensure that his website works; he’s not smart enough to inquire of others as to whether his website works; he’s not smart enough to check that his website works before he goes out and tells people what a great website experience they’re in for. But he is smart enough to know that he’s not stupid enough to go around bragging about how well it works if he’d already been informed that it doesn’t work. So he’s smart enough to know that if he’d known what he didn’t know he’d know enough not to let it be known that he knew nothing. The country’s in the very best of hands.”

The one area other than health care where the administration now seems engaged is a sudden zeal to reach a deal with Iran over its nuclear program. For 34 years since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized control of Iran and Americans in the U.S. embassy were taken hostage, relations between the two countries have been poor. A deal on Iran’s nuclear program would be paraded by the president as evidence of his ability to successfully wage diplomacy, far better than the former president waged war. The inevitable parade of events to showcase an agreement, would change the subject for a period of time from Obama’s dishonesty and incompetence with Obamacare.

After great public Israeli discomfort with the potential deal with Iran emerged last week, it seemed to motivate France to raise a few obstacles in its path. But the American desire to get a deal sealed this week at the next negotiating session seems to only have become more intense. Secretary of State John Kerry met with members of Congress last week, fresh from rebuking Israel over its settlements policy, which the secretary argued were illegal, would prevent peace, would lead to a third intifada and to stronger BDS pressure on Israel from Europe, NGOs and international organizations. The only thing he left out was that the new settlement activity would likely end life on the planet as we know it.

Kerry told the Senators and House members to ignore what it was hearing from Israel in terms of concerns over the emerging outlines of the Iran deal. The Americans knew what was on the table, not Israel. And oh, by the way, the details were not available for the assembled members of the two legislative bodies to study and consider.

The upshot of Kerry’s caustic commentary on Israeli settlements and Israel’s unhelpful “meddling” on Iran was that the U.S. knew better than Israel what was good for Israel. This of course is nothing new in the U.S., where the likes of Tom Friedman, David Ignatius and other journalists “in the know” have been telling Israel what is good for them for decades, and now seem to be serving as mouthpieces for Obama’s move to separate the U.S. from Israel on both the Israeli-Palestinian track, and more provocatively, on the Iranian nuclear deal.

Longtime observers of U.S.-Israeli relations have noted that the current problems in the relationship between the two countries are more serious than in recent periods and arguably, over more serious issues.

There is of course, the possibility that the breakup of the multiparty talks in Geneva without an agreement, were nothing more than a sideshow to at least initially portray the six powers as interested only in negotiating a tough deal (little sanctions relief, major concessions by Iran) and would not settle for a weak one (significantly relaxing sanctions, with few Iranian concessions). France got to play the spoiler in the last session, though Kerry, the ultimate emperor with no clothes, insisted the P5+1 nations were united, and it was Iran that walked away from a deal that was too tough. After Kerry strutted into Geneva from Tel Aviv, to accept his acclaim for the deal seemingly ready to be signed, the French may have saved him from appearing overeager (at least for a week or two).

However, the good tidings coming from the State Department that a deal with Iran can likely be struck this week, is the only signal one needs to know that it is a deal that is most important for Kerry and Obama and not the specifics of such an agreement. Obama’s approval level has slipped further in the last 10 days. A deal with Iran has therefore become even more important.

The administration is betting that Americans will be happy if there is a deal with Iran and are uninterested in the details. After all, it would be the promise of peace with a former foe.

This was the same strategy the administration used successfully in selling Obamacare. Congress needed to first pass the 2000-plus page bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued, in order to know what was in it.

Israel seems more interested in the details of an agreement, before an Obamacare-like deal is reached with Iran. And given the American players, well it should.

 

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