- - Sunday, May 5, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Like rats abandoning a sinking ship, Senate Democrats are furiously fleeing the coming disaster that is “Obamacare.”

The exodus started quietly at first. Sen. Max Baucus said last month he fears the president’s signature health care reform law is quickly turning into a “train wreck.” How bad is it? The Montana Democrat, head of the Senate Finance Committee and an author of the law, has decided not to seek re-election.

Why? Because Obamacare isn’t yet up and running. The true effects won’t be felt until 2014 and beyond. So Mr. Baucus will disappear into the night a hero, long before the nightmare comes.

And just in the nick of time. When Obamacare passed the Senate on Christmas Eve 2009, Americans braced for the worst. Phew, they said as 2010, and 2011, and last year passed, and thought it’s not so bad. But few know the law’s most crushing regulations haven’t even taken effect — in fact, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 42 percent of Americans don’t even know it’s the law of the land.

Twelve percent “believe the law has been repealed by Congress,” the poll found, while 7 percent think it was been overturned by the Supreme Court. A whopping 23 percent said “they don’t know enough to say what the status of the law is.” What’s more, just 35 percent held a favorable view of the law.

While Mr. Baucus was the first to bail, other Senate Democrats have gone overboard in recent weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that he, too, thinks the Affordable Care Act will be a “train wreck” — but only if the massive policy is not implemented properly.

“We have a long ways to go,” he said. “The goal is to have the American people have the same opportunities I have with my health care plan.”

Which would be wonderful, except that talk also emerged last week that congressional lawmakers and their aides were quietly working to win exemptions from Obamacare.

“The talks,” Politico reported, “are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides … Aides and lawmakers in both parties fear that staffers — especially low-paid junior aides — could be hit with thousands of dollars in new health care costs, prompting them to seek jobs elsewhere.”

But where? Part-time workers across America are already having their hours cut so that their employers won’t have to cover the rising health care costs under Obamacare. “The law requires large employers offering health insurance to include part-time employees working 30 hours a week or more,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “But rather than provide health care to more workers, a growing number of employers are cutting back employee hours instead.”

Mr. Reid said the fix is simple: More money. But from where? The law was expected to cost $898 billion over the first decade when the bill was first passed, but this year the Congressional Budget Office revised that estimate to $1.85 trillion.

The rising costs have made Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a chief architect of the law, skittish. Even though the law hasn’t yet taken effect, premiums are already rising as insurance companies brace for the coming debacle.

The New York Democrat warned last week that premiums “could go through the roof.”

“It’s in part because of Obamacare,” the verbose senator said in a moment of candor.

For his part, President Obama offered this: “I think that anytime you’re implementing something big, there is going to be people who are nervous and anxious about ‘is it going to get done?’ until it’s actually done.”

Very reassuring. Remember that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in 2009 that Congress needed to pass the bill “so that you can find out what is in it.” Now, the president is saying we won’t really know how much it will cost taxpayers “until it’s done.”

Who said a onetime community organizer with half a term in the Senate couldn’t oversee the biggest expansion in government since Medicare?

• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times and is now editor of the Drudge Report. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and @josephcurl.

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