“There’s bipartisan agreement that Obamacare isn’t working.”
— Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in a new television ad sponsored by the Senate Conservatives Fund
As part of his campaign to halt all government funding for the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, Cruz makes three assertions about “bipartisan” concerns about the new health-care law. Let’s look at each of these claims in detail.
“Democratic Senator Max Baucus, the lead author of Obamacare, says it’s a huge train wreck.”
Ever since the Montana senator, a key writer of the bill, uttered the phrase “huge train wreck” during an April 17 budget hearing, his words have become a major GOP talking point. But Baucus’s comment has been taken out of context — and he has since said that his concerns have been addressed.
During the hearing, Baucus had a tough six-minute exchange with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding his concerns about whether the administration was doing enough to educate Americans, especially in the business community, about the law.
Baucus sought detailed information about the administration’s goals and targets for education and outreach about the law, saying that he had sought such information before and had failed to get acceptable answers. (Sebelius noted that the administration had been hampered by the fact that because of GOP opposition, Congress had not provided the requested funding for outreach efforts.)
In that context, Baucus said: “I just tell you, I just see a huge train wreck coming down. You and I have discussed this many times, and I don’t see any results yet. What can you do to help all these people around the country going, ‘What in the world do I do and what — how do I know what to do?’”
Meanwhile, in July, Baucus wrote an opinion article for Politico in which he said that the administration had addressed his concerns, especially because the administration announced it would delay implementation of the employer mandate until 2015 in order to give businesses more time to get ready for the law.
“I certainly didn’t pull any punches in telling the administration of the need for greater education and outreach on the ACA, especially targeting the business community,” Baucus wrote. “The administration listened to my concerns. And more important, it listened to the concerns of the business community…With education and outreach efforts ramping up in recent weeks, I am confident the administration’s rollout plan is on track.”
In other words, no more train wreck. In fact, contrary to Cruz’s suggestion, Baucus is still highly supportive of the law.
As Baucus put it: “The ACA is a good law, and I believe in it. I spent two years of my life working on this legislation, and I will continue to spend my last two years in Congress working to make sure it is implemented well.”
Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said Baucus’s new stance “makes no difference, it’s what he said. We still agree with his original assertion that it’s a train wreck.”
“The president is quietly granting Obamacare waivers to big corporations.”
The ad flashes a reference to a New York Times article on July 2 as its source, but nothing in the newspaper that day refers to “waivers” being granted to “big corporations,” quietly or not. Instead, the news that day was about the administration’s unexpected decision to delay the employer mandate by one year — a move that spawned big headlines.
Frazier says the use of the word “quietly” was justified because the announcement was made via a blog post by a Treasury Department official (under a headline apparently designed to appeal to Baucus: “Continuing to Implement the ACA in a Careful, Thoughtful Manner.”)
Frazier also says that some columnists have used the phrase “delay” and “waiver” interchangeably.
Referring to “quiet” waivers to big corporations, of course, makes the administration’s shift seem much more sinister. But the vast majority of firms with more than 50 employees — about 96 percent — already offer health-care coverage. As we have noted, this factoid doesn’t tell the whole story — companies may offer health care but not to all employees — and so it is unclear how many workers would actually be affected. But Cruz is overstating the case when he suggests this action was only aimed at big companies.
“Teamsters President James Hoffa says Obamacare will destroy the foundation of the 40-hour week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”
Cruz accurately quotes from a letter that Hoffa and two other union presidents sent to Democratic congressional leaders. Much of the letter, however, deals with a regulatory dispute about how union health-care plans will be treated — which some have suggested amounts to “double dipping” by unions. In any case, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said last week that progress is being made with the administration on addressing the issue.
A key question is whether the changes can be accomplished via revised regulations or a change in the law. Usually, technical or substantial fixes are required in any large piece of legislation, but the administration is hamstrung by Republicans’ refusal to consider any major changes because they want to scrap the entire law. (Democrats argue that this is unreasonable, but Republicans note that the law was pushed through Congress without a single GOP vote.)
The union letter’s reference to the 40-hour workweek refers to anecdotal reports that some businesses are pushing workers to part-time work because of the law’s requirements. As we have noted, the evidence for this alleged trend at the moment is slim; no one will really know the impact until some years after the law is implemented. In any case, the employer mandate that supposedly was causing this problem has been delayed for one year.
The Pinocchio Test
Cruz’s claims in this video are seriously overstated, especially the suggestion that Baucus thinks the health-care law will be a “train wreck.” Baucus was clearly talking about just education and outreach efforts, not the law itself — and he says his concerns have been addressed.
Ironically, Baucus says the delay in the employer mandate helped solve the concerns he had raised — and then Cruz turns around in the ad and uses the delay as another strike against the law.
Cruz can’t have it both ways. He earns Three Pinocchios.
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