Getting two things off my chest: President Obama edition

Here’s a standard debate trick I’ve encountered. I point out some bit of illogical reasoning or falsehood by an Obamacare opponent. Then someone chimes in with, “Well Obama said, ‘If you like your plan you can keep it‘ and ‘The typical family’s premium will fall by $2,500.‘ What foolishness!” The implication here is that because some Obamacare supporter — Obama himself! — said something foolish, that “balances out” foolishness on the other side.

It’s a cheap trick. And it doesn’t work, logically.

The problem is that the situation isn’t Obama debating some fool, it’s me pointing out one foolish thing someone said. Doing so doesn’t negate the foolishness on the other side. Nor does it imply endorsement of Obama’s silly statements. A reasonable person rejects silliness on both sides.

So, for the record, those two things Obama said, approximately quoted above, were foolish things to have said. If either are true in any sense, it’s only in a very tortured, speculative way that almost nobody would understand. In my view, he should not have said them, and nobody should endorse them.

Let’s start with “if you like your plan you can keep it.” This is never, uniformly true. Plans change every year, even in the years before Obamacare was conceived. The truth is, if you like your plan, there’s a good chance it will change. That’s just as true, if not more so, under Obamacare. I do not endorse or defend this statement.

What Obama might have more plausibly have said is that Obamacare makes only minor or modest changes to coverage for the vast majority of Americans. Where it makes the biggest change is for the minority of Americans who cannot obtain affordable coverage today. That I could defend, though I am sure others would still contest it.

Next, what about family premiums falling by $2,500? Sorry, no. OK, maybe — maybe maybe — adjusted for benefits, accounting for subsidies, and relative to the counterfactual trend, it might, possibly be true. But this is not how most reasonable Americans would interpret the statement. What’s true is that, in absolute terms, health care gets more expensive every year. Bending the cost curve is not reducing the absolute level of cost. And it remains to be seen if and how much Obamacare will bend that curve. I do not endorse or defend this statement.

What Obama might have said is that health plans will offer more benefits with fewer loopholes. Though this is not costless, costs will be shared in an equitable manner, with subsidies for low-income individuals and higher taxes for those who can afford them. Meanwhile, the law will attempt to slow the growth of health costs, but more is likely needed on that front. That I could defend, though I am sure others would still contest it.

Obama said some foolish things. That does not mean I, as a supporter of the law (with acknowledgement of its trade-offs and limitations) need to accept them. Nor do you. Let’s debate things we actually disagree about, not waste time arguing over silly things we both should reject. Meanwhile, President Obama and his surrogates, please stop saying these things. They sound foolish because, under reasonable interpretations, they are.


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