Victory at Oberlin
By David Henderson
After my debate on Obamacare at Oberlin College on Wednesday, dozens of cheering students came running to the stage, lifted me up and carried me away because of my total victory over my opponent, Ted Marmor.
OK, well that’s not exactly the way it happened, but I do title this post “Victory at Oberlin” because of what did happen. The debate went very well.
How do you judge that at a place like Oberlin, where the dominant ideology is left-wing? One low bar is that you don’t get booed. Unlike Karl Rove (he visited in 2010), I didn’t. Another bar that’s higher while still being realistic is that you sense that people are thinking about what you say. Judging that is subjective, of course, but one way to tell is to check people’s body language and faces. Another way is by the tone of the questions: I would say that most of the questions in Q&A were critical in some degree of my opposition to Obamacare but the tone of most of the questions and of all of the questions asked by students was neutral to friendly. Another way to judge is by how much actual information I got across that seemed to be understood.
So judging by all those criteria, my time at Oberlin was successful. This is not a full trip report, but I do want to share one story.
The moderator was philosophy professor Tim Hall, whom I had never met or corresponded with but whom I hope to see again because he is an all-around good guy. He gave us some questions in advance. I received mine 6 days late because he had the wrong e-mail address for me, but I still had time to prepare answers. He did a great job of moderating and keeping us within our 3-minute time limits that I had asked for and that Ted, he, and I had agreed on in advance.
One of the questions he asked was this:
The important provisions of the Affordable Care Act include an individual mandate in health insurance, an employer mandate, price controls for insurance premiums, a Medicaid expansion, the establishment of insurance “exchanges”, and mandatory acceptance of private insurance customers. The Act is aimed at making health care affordable for all, or nearly all, Americans; reducing overall health care costs, and improving medical outcomes. Speaking first about affordability to individuals and mandatory acceptance, is it realistic to suppose that health insurance premiums will be affordable given the requirement for mandatory acceptance of customers? If not, what improvements or changes would you suggest?
I answered that if I had my druthers, I would repeal the Affordable Care Act. I was about to go on to give my second part of the answer, which was what I would do if I had to work within the Obamacare framework. But before I did, Ted Marmor interrupted and, waving his hand, said, “Notice, David, that no one is applauding.” I found that kind of amusing because it was as if Ted thought I had kidded myself that that line, at Oberlin of all places, would be an applause line. So I simply ignored him and went on to give the second part of my answer. That part was that I would let the ratio of premiums for the oldest to the youngest go as high as 7 to 1 instead of the current 3 to 1, because that would substantially reduce the redistribution from young to old and, therefore, would entice more younger people to buy insurance. I added that if the government insisted on mandating insurance, it should mandate “honest-to-goodness” catastrophic insurance without bells and whistles such as its current requirements that men buy insurance against pregnancy and that families without children buy pediatric dental. That was one of those places where I had the sense that people were listening and saying to themselves “I didn’t know that.” Then I said, “You’ve probably heard that Republicans in Congress have voted to repeal Obamacare over 40 times.” I saw one of the two leaders of the Democratic club on campus [I had met him at the dinner preceding the event] nodding his head and grinning, because, of course, he had heard that and weren’t those Republicans silly.
What you probably have not heard is that some of those votes to repeal Obamacare were successful. They passed both houses of Congress with substantial majorities and were signed by the President. Of course, the votes that were successful weren’t for total repeal. But let me tell you about one part that was repealed. There was a requirement that if you paid someone $600 or more in a calendar year for anything, you have to send that person a 1099 tax form. I pay a gardener $80 a month or $960 a year. I would have had to file a tax form with the IRS. Congress voted to repeal that part of Obamacare and Obama signed it.
I looked at the Democratic student and the look of surprise on his face was precious. I continued:
Also, President Obama himself has temporarily repealed part of Obamacare by simply deciding on his own to delay the employer mandate. He has no authority to do that but he did it anyway. Then, shortly after he did it, the House of Representatives passed a bill that made what he did legal. And what did Obama do? He threatened to veto a law that legalized what he did. How crazy is that?
My take was that the audience was surprised because few of them had heard that.