‘A new entitlement we didn’t even ask for’

August 30, 2012

Obama signs his health-care reform bill into law, as promised. (Marvin Joseph-Washington Post)

Jon Chait zeroes in on an unusual line from Paul Ryan's speech last night: the vice presidential nominee's characterization of the Affordable Care Act as “a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for.”

Chait's take is that this is about dividing the country into the productive many and the shiftless few. "Who is 'we'?" he asks. "We is the majority of Americans who do have health insurance. We outnumber the 50 million who don’t. They can go screw themselves."

I'd ask a different question. Didn't we ask for it? After all, we elected Barack Obama, who ran for president in large part on a promise to pass a universal health-care bill. He was pretty explicit. "I will sign a universal health-care bill into law by the end of my first term as president," he said.

There's a fair argument to be made that elections don't bring mandates. People vote for all sorts of reasons, and preferring Barack Obama to John McCain doesn't mean you're endorsing Obama's health-care bill. But Ryan has been pretty clear that he believes elections do confer mandates. "We want to deserve victory," he said on Friday, "so that when we win this election, we have the authority, the mandate from the people."

I agree with Ryan on this one. I think that if the Republicans win this election, they've been explicit enough about repealing Obamacare and passing some variant of the Ryan budget that they should go for it. And I'll think that even if the polls show that moving Medicare to a voucher system is unpopular.

Elections should have consequences -- and, in particular, they should have the consequences the candidates have promised. But it's odd to take that perspective and also argue that universal health care was somehow a surprise after the 2008 election.

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Brad Plumer | August 30, 2012