By the fifth season of the “Happy Days” TV show, writers were so desperate for ideas that they had the once-edgy “Fonzie” character leap over a great white while on water skis. Thus was born the phrase “jumping the shark,” the point at which something is seen to have lost all credibility.
In the past week, Obamacare – never very credible to begin with – has jumped a shark infinitely bigger than the one the terrorized Amity Island in Steven Spielberg's “Jaws.”
The analogy, ironically enough, was encouraged by President Obama himself when he told French President Francois Hollande that “the good thing as president, I can do whatever I want” – a sentiment eerily similar to the “I'm the chief of police, I can do anything I want” line uttered by Amity top cop Martin Brody just before he cuts open a shark in search of victims.
Obama's quip might be dismissed as the jest it was intended to be, as the slightly inebriated Brody's clearly was, if not for the undeniable fact that, when it comes to the so-called Affordable Care Act, the president does indeed govern as though he believes in his own omnipotence.
That a would-be monarch would so obviously be driven by politics is as strange as it is undeniable. With the economy still struggling to create jobs, the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office told lawmakers earlier this week that Obamacare creates a “disincentive for people to work:” because some people would choose to minimize their income in order to qualify for health-care subsidies. The CBO predicts a decline in full-time workers of 2 million in 2017, rising to 2.5 million by 2024 because people will choose to drop out of the work force or reduce the hours they spend on the job.
Why? Because it might make perfect economic sense.
As the Weekly Standard has pointed out, a couple earning $62,040 would pay $211 per month for the cheapest Obamacare plan. But if they earn just $1 more their monthly premium would be $1,342, or $13,572 more per year. And even if people do not work less, some – including a barber I know – will limit their personal income in other ways to qualify for subsidies, such as by incorporating themselves.
Forced to defend the indefensible, the administration's allies devised some ingenious responses, many similar to that offered by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Min. Obamacare, he explained, represents a “great opportunity . . . to look at our work/life balance. If you look at international comparisons . . . Americans work way more than that of average industrialized countries.”
In other words, it's a good thing Americans won't have to work so hard – not exactly a good message to send in an election year in which Republicans are already claiming that the expansion of the welfare state has made unemployment too comfortable. So the president has once again unilaterally decided to ignore the explicit language of the law he once championed, and which then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested need not be scrutinized until after its passage.
Under the law as passed in 2010, employers with the equivalent of at least 50 full-time workers were required to offer coverage or pay a penalty starting in 2014. Last year the administration delayed that requirement until 2015 and this month said employers with between 50 and 99 workers won't have to comply until 2016. Companies with more workers could avoid penalties next year if at least 70 percent of workers are covered.
As policy, the changes are welcome (although families and individuals should receive similar waivers, as Republicans suggest). As politics, however, it was a decision of the most transparently cynical kind, clearly intended to minimize sticker shock in an election year.
Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer likened the president's decision to the kind of governance seen in banana republics, but that was too charitable. With the IRS poised to punish firms that lay off workers to move employment beneath Obamacare thresholds, this has moved into Orwellian totalitarianism: Not only does the law encourage people not work, it will encourage companies to lie. Those are not the kind of incentives any country should encourage, or can survive.
So move over, Fonzie. Next to the president, the shark you jumped was a minnow.