On Max Baucus, the Iraq War, and the Obamacare "Train Wreck"


Photo credit: Medill DC / Foter.com / CC BY

Ezra Klein takes me to task for poking fun at the Obama administration's new $8 million marketing contract for Obamacare. I snarked that perhaps they ought to try convincing Sen. Max Baucus—a key author of the health legislation who recently warned that of a coming "huge train wreck" with the law—before spending even more millions on marketing the exchanges to everyone else.

Klein responds today that "the particular irony of Suderman's critique is that Baucus's specific concern was that there would be a 2014 'train wreck' because the Obama administration wasn't doing enough to advertise and explain the exchanges. The announcement that it will spend more money to advertise and explain the exchanges is, in part, a way of responding to Baucus's concerns."

It's true that at the same hearing Sen. Baucus predicted that Obamacare would be a train wreck, he also criticized the administration for not doing enough to educate the public about the law, saying that "administration's public information campaign on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act deserves a failing grade."

But lack of marketing communication wasn't his only criticism. And it wasn't the criticism his statement to Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius led with. The senator's first concern was that the exchanges would not be ready on time—because the administration had not gotten its act together.

"Time is short," he told Sebelius. "You need to use each of these days to work with states and make sure the marketplaces are up and running." Baucus said he was not confident that this would happen. "I am concerned that not every state, including Montana, will have an insurance marketplace established in time." Baucus also complained that the administration hadn't released enough information that people could easily understand the law, even if they wanted to, noting the "lack of clear information" from HHS. That's not a marketing issue. That's an implementation problem.

Nor was this the first time Baucus had publicly criticized the law. At a hearing in February, Baucus seemed skeptical that the administration would be able to manage the technical side of the implementation. The Montana senator "questioned how well the online health insurance marketplaces would interact with what he called 'archaic' computer systems at Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service," according to Kaiser Health News. The Hill reported similarly that Baucus was "skeptical" about "HHS' work on exchanges—specifically, integrating the complex and outdated computer systems of the multiple federal agencies" involved in the exchange system. And when Baucus made his "train-wreck" remark, it was in reference to his long-expressed worries about the administration's failures. "I've got to tell you," he said to Sebelius at last week's hearing, "I just see a huge train-wreck coming down. You and I have discussed this many times and I don't see the results yet."

Baucus is not merely concerned that the administration isn't making enough effort to market the law. He's openly worried that the law won't work—that the administration is not doing an effective job of implementing the law and that the technical challenges involved in creating the exchanges are not being overcome, or at least not being overcome fast enough.

Obamacare's defenders might try to dismiss Baucus's remarks as election-year pandering. But it turns out that Baucus is not seeking reelection again. Which suggests that his remarks are perhaps intended as cautions to his Democratic colleagues.

Klein links my post—along with a Tweet by Ben Domenech saying that "Obamacare is the Iraq of the Obama administration—to an "increasingly destructive information loop" he says is developing amongs critics of the health law. "The only information that is credible to them is information showing the law will be a disaster," writes Klein. "The only news they believe is news that makes Obamacare look bad. The only strategy they've developed is one for when Obamacare collapses under the weight of its failures."

So how bad will Obamacare's first year be? My guess is that it won't be great. If the implementation process was going smoothly, and convinced the law's supporters that it will be a big success right out of the gate, we'd be hearing a lot more about that.

But we're not.

Instead, we're hearing—and not only from critics of the law—stories about how multiple Democratic legislators have pressed the administration about their concerns with the implementation process, about how the administration official in charge of managing the exchange technology is nervous, about how the exchange-building process has run double its expected cost, about the union that supported the law now calling for its repeal, about studies showing that premiums will rise and about how Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has agreed that costs will rise for at least some of the population. Is that an information loop? Or is it just the news? 

Meanwhile, the expectations-setting we're seeing from people like Gary Cohen, the administration official managing the exchange implementation process, gives a similar impression. Cohen told attendees at an insurance industry conference that HHS is developing contingency plans for exchanges that fail or aren't ready, and said that it's "prudent to not assume everything is going to work perfectly on day one." Indeed, he said, "everyone recognizes that day one will not be perfect." Everyone. 

Now, imperfect on day one is not the same as an unworkable catastrophe, but I think it's safe to say that these are not the signs of an implementation process that is going particularly well. Does this mean Obamacare is destined to crash and burn? Some form of delay seems more likely than total meltdown, especially in light of the delay of the small business exchange's choice provision. But if I had to bet money, I'd bet that the exchanges will be open on time, at least in some form, but there will be a handful of serious malfunctions and a lot more small-scale problems as the system gets up and running.

On this, Klein and I basically agree. "I don't think Obamacare will have an easy first year," he writes. But he argues that the overall reality will likely be somewhat more mixed, granting the possibility that "some parts of the law" end up "proving troublesome or even disastrous" but with the law also insuring tens of millions of people directly and benefiting tens of millions more through subsidies or regulations.

Part of the point of Klein's post is to push back against Domenech's Tweeted notion that Obamacare is to the Obama administration what the Iraq war was to the Bush White House. But Klein's reaction—that the law may have troubles but that its major goals are worthwhile—reminds me of nothing so much as the way so many Bush administration defenders reacted to mounting troubles with the Iraq war. Sure, they admitted, there are problems, even big ones, but overall the project is worthwhile and noble, and history will judge it kindly. Others, meanwhile, settled on troubled execution as the primary problem with the war—arguing, in what came to be known as the incompetence dodge, that the problem was not with the war's fundamental aims but its shoddy administration. 

Klein's post is titled "Does an $8 million advertising campaign really make Obamacare into the Iraq war?" Perhaps not. But Klein's response suggests that they may be more similar than he cares to admit. 

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  1. Why are you arguing with Klein?

    You would get more rational responses from a retarded monkey.

    Seriously Pete, no need to step down to make your point.

    1. “He ain’t pretty no more!”

  2. Have we ever seen Ezra Klein (Ezra…..hah) and his super hero alter ego Rachel Maddow photographed together?

    1. Ezra wishes he was that masculine. He’s the definition of “Pipsqueak.”

      UC Santa Cruz! Go, Banana Slugs!

  3. Ricin suspect released. Memories of Steven Hatfill…

    1. It was Tang!
      False positive.

      1. Ted Nugent loves him some ‘tang.

    2. ..and Richard Jewell.

    3. Another blow for the DemOp media conspiratoriat.

  4. Baucus is going to retire next year. What the fuck does he care once he’s lying on the beach in Montana?

    1. Who wants to bet that he never steps foot in MT after he’s out of office.

  5. All of those anti-gun lefties were right about one thing, albeit on the wrong issue: Max Baucus is a goddam coward.

    And now the good people of Montana will fall for the trick and elect Brian Schweitzer, who’s a Democrat and won’t do a damn thing to repeal Obamacare, like someone from a different party would do had Max run and lost.

    Fuck me in the ear.

  6. Baucus wasn’t booing Obamacare, he was saying Boo-urns, because that’s his favorite Simpsons character.

  7. Klein made his entire career selling Obamacare. If it turns out to be a tenth of the disaster its critics are predicting, pretty much everything Klein wrote from 08 to 10 will be proven to be utterly foolish. (I know that is obvious to anyone who reads him but bear with me here. Klein still thinks of himself as a serious person) For him to know accuse critics of Obamacare of confirmation bias is amusing to say the least.

    1. Yeah, but as we have seen for ages, the pundits can be wrong 100% of the time and no one calls them on it or questions their punditry. What does Klein have to fear? Nothing.

      1. Good question. If anything being wrong ensures a long career. But he feels the need to defend this here. Now that you mention it, it is surprising he isn’t now making a living telling the world how bad it is. It is not like these people have any integrity or shame.

        1. It is impossible to experience shame if there is no integrity.

          The Left is without Shame.

          Ergo, The Left has no Integrity.

          (And never has.)

      2. It’s a general problem. The public at large is very reluctant to hold people accountable for much of anything. Whether those people be in politics or any other public field.

        I have no idea how we got there, but I think we’d be better served by having some standards.

        1. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Post fired Klein issuing a statement that someone who was so obviously and terribly wrong about the main subject of his writing is not up to the paper’s standards? And then Klein never worked in media again?

          Can you imagine that? Someone actually held accountable for shilling for a huge mistake? Never happen I know. But if it did, it would be a good start towards fixing things.

          1. Krugman is still writing for the NYT, so I think Klein has a strong future writing for the left for many years to come.

          2. I think that your question reveals the most telling thing about the media today: accuracy means nothing to them. Now, I get that they’re a business and want to sell content and make money. But reputations have value, and nobody seems to give two fucks about their reputation, because they know their TEAM will read whatever they write no matter what.

            1. Exactly. The only time they ever worry about getting something wrong is if doing so hurts whatever ideology they are pushing.

            2. I’ve long thought there is a definite market for a provider of really accurate information. Of course, in this environment, building that kind of reputation would take some serious work, as would finding reliable employees.

              1. I think you are completely and totally wrong, ProL. People don’t want accurate info, they want stuff that makes them feel good or supports their biases. It’s shitty, but that’s the way it is.

                1. For many of people, sure. But there are plenty that think otherwise. Even some partisans I know will admit under the Cones of Silence that media outlets are often totally unreliable as sources of factual information.

            3. I can fix the media, using the free market. Three words:

              Board Certified Journalists

              1. Write a code of ethics.
              2. Select a board.
              3. Sell it to a major media outlet. You will gain market share by employing board certified journalists for your non-editorial news shows.
              4. Other outlets must follow as to not get their lunch eaten by their competitors.
              5. Punishment for non-compliance with the code is to lose your certification (and thus your job).

              1. And that system would never be co-opted by partisans to make sure that only journalists who slanted their way were ever “board certified”?

                Please tell me you were being sarcastic here.

                1. Works for doctors, lawyers, nurses, health care professionals…

                  The code of ethics is key. Require confirmed sources. Require no bias. Require no speculation. Require no spin…

                  Up to the board to determine if the ethics were violated.

                  1. But those professions have objective standards. What makes a competent and ethical doctor or a lawyer can be judged by somewhat objective standards.

                    And the problem is not unnamed sources. You want to have unnamed sources. If some drone in the government knows where a body is buried, you want him to be able to tell his story. But make no mistake government managers are assholes. Whistleblower laws are routinely violated and the only remedy is a years long suit which you may or may not win and even if you do you are out of a job for years waiting for you judgement.

                    The problem with journalism is biased hacks choosing what stories and what facts fit their narrative well enough for the public to be made aware of.

                    1. What makes a competent and ethical doctor or a lawyer can be judged by somewhat objective standards.

                      There is always wiggle room as far as ethics go even among doctors and lawyers. I contend you can put together a fairly objective set of ethics for journalists.

              2. The very day after you instituted such a system, I would start an alt-publication touting 100% uncertified journalists.

                1. That’s fine. The consumers will decide where they want their news from.

                  1. You should add in some requirements on storage of journalists that are capable of emitting more than a certain number of joules.

              3. The issue I see is that those types of organizations often become protection for their members and don’t uphold their own standards. I remember how shocked some lawyer friends of mine were that the NC Bar disbarred Nifong.

                1. Attorneys should get sanctioned, disbarred, suspended, what have you much more often than they do.

                  1. The issue I see is that those types of organizations often become protection for their members and don’t uphold their own standards.

                    Probably true. But as it stands, journalists face absolutely no retribution for unethical behavior. If there were even the slightest potential their reputations/livelihood could be tarnished, they’d be more apt to restrain themselves.

                    1. But as it stands, journalists face absolutely no retribution for unethical behavior

                      I would dispute this. They have reputations, and it’s a business where reputation is important. Of course, if editors are fucking hacks, the end result isn’t what you’re hoping for. But I wouldn’t say that without a certifying board there is no way to “get back at” people or something.

          3. I would be impressed if anyone at the Post ever actually even thinks Klein was wrong at all.

            1. Me too. But I doubt if anyone thinks that. I bet some of the few remaining actual reporters find Klein to be an amusing douche bag and snicker at him behind his back. But I would shocked if any of them think his opinions are wrong.

      3. the pundits can be wrong 100% of the time and no one calls them on it or questions their punditry.

        Chris Matthews Syndrome: enabling lefty idiots across the globe

    2. Klein made his entire career selling Obamacare.

      I disagree. Klein made his career convincing idiots that he is smarter than he actually is. Second, Klein is the manboy-father of Journ-O-List, so the legacy media had an online place to get their propaganda straight.

      1. Privately yes, all that is true. But publicly he was all Mr. Healthcare wonk. The fact that he doesn’t hold an MD and has never worked in healthcare in any capacity didn’t seem to matter.

  8. Poor Ezra Klein. He really wants this shit program to work.

  9. administration for not doing enough to educate the public about the law,

    Obamacare, ideas so good, they’re mandatory.

    1. I thought it was illegal for the US government to use propaganda on US citizens.

      1. ‘Tis. But the WHite House (particularly the Obama WH) is not known for following Federal regulations. They were using Youtube when they first came into office, even though it was not 508 compliant and the gov did not have a service level agreement with Youtube. They also didn’t subtitle their videos, which is also not 508 compliant. My team had been hampered by this restriction for years, then along comes Obama and just ignores the regs.

        1. just for you, a wedding photo


          1. SNORK!

            1. She was attracted to my big “nose”.

          2. I could swear that’s Warty, though…

            1. Warty would never marry. No one cloaca is enough to satisfy him.

              1. Plus, no razor yet made by man can penetrate my facepubes.

        2. That’s what you get for not being born in Kenya.

        3. The bullshit exchange program I mentioned earlier? There are some issues with Smith-Mundt (the law mentioned by $parks), and we had to bring up the issue. The WH people didn’t know or care about it.

          1. You know what else the WH doesn’t know or care about?

            1. Bringing back Firefly?

              1. At this point I don’t care about bringing back Firefly. Reality will never match the expectations fostered over a decade.

  10. how would marketing this horrible legislation make it better? It won’t. You can’t sell people on the benefits because there are none.

  11. Pete,

    Winning this fight is kind of like outsmarting the hydroencephalic kid. Congratulations.

  12. This Prog-Tard debating technique is almost as entertaining as this type of argument:

    Prog-Tard: We must have gun control because, violence!

    Person Capable of Critical Thought: But there is little evidence that gun control reduces violence and criminals, by definition, have little regard for gun control or any other law.

    Prog-Tard: So we shouldn’t make laws because they will be broken?!?!?!

    1. According to Progressive logic, Vermont should be a warzone and Illinois should be the most peaceful state in the Union.

      Instead, the opposite is true.

      1. I just laugh to keep from crying.

      2. You mean New York isn’t at war with New Hampshire and it’s ally Maine for control of Vermont?

    2. Prog-Tard: So we shouldn’t make laws because they will be broken?!?!?!

      Who was arguing this the other day? Something about gun safes?

      1. Shh, it’s not nice to talk about people who aren’t around. Plus, that was my fight with him.

        1. Who? There’s no such person at this website.

        2. Whether we talk about him or not, he’ll make up whatever bullshit he wants when his pout’n’cry is over.

          1. You know, my life got a lot more pleasant once I filtered him out on Reasonable. For me, he took his ball and went home over a year ago. Hit and Run instantly became a more learned, educational and entertaining place when his comments were replaced by a blank band of text.

            I am baffled that people give that mendacious, vapid, dishonest, unintelligent, unimaginative and ill-educated fuck any consideration at all.

            1. It’s his completely undeserved arrogance that I enjoy. It’s like a midget demanding that people agree that he’s actually 7ft tall.

              1. Ain’t it great? It’s funny how he runs around patting himself on the back like he’s the Einstein of Einsteins.

                I read an article a while back about people who are so stupid/incompetent that they think they are amazing because they cannot imagine that there’s anything above their level of comprehension. I think there’s a name for that group of people… Oh yeah, progressives.

            2. Some of us take a perverse delight in mocking him, tarran. His delusions of grandeur are pretty entertaining, like the guy in the insane asylum yelling out “je suis Napoleon!”

              1. And some of us are self-hating and/or stupid enough to actually still fucking argue with him, despite its utter pointlessness.

                Wait, no, let me rephrase that: My arguments with him are pataphysical performance art meant to demonstrate the absurdity and pointlessness of all of life.

                1. Waiting For Tulpo

                  1. Tulpu Encha?n?

                    (no it’s not in fucking English script, spam filter, thanks a lot)

                2. I see it more as practice. Not knowing what stupid shit is going to pour forth from him keeps me on my toes. It helps to hear the retarded talking points online from someone so that I have time to come up with proper responses.

                  It doesn’t actually do anything like educate him, but it makes the idiocy slightly easier to handle when I’m faced with it in real life.

                3. the absurdity and pointlessness of all of life.

                  I have seen all the [commenting] done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and like grasping the wind.

                  1. Dust. Wind. Dude.

                  2. As some wise person said the other day, you don’t debate to change the mind of those you are debating. That seldom happens. You debate to influence those lurking that might not yet have a thought out opinion.

                    This is why I feed the trolls. Well, that and I like to argue.

                    1. My wife yells at me all the time for “arguing with idiots on the internet”. All she sees is that it gets me fired up and spitting sparks. She doesn’t understand the entertainment I get out of laughing at patently ridiculous ideas.

      2. It is he who mustn’t be named.

        1. No that is not the unnamed one. The scourge that was he who shall not be named gamboled through H ampersand R in the before times.

  13. The union that represents our factory workers has recently been informed that their monthly contribution for health insurance will double next year. Much gnashing of teeth ensues. I can hardly wait for blue-collar whites to start openly hating POTUS.

    1. Lest we forget this awesome Donna Brazile Tweet….

      1. Ahh, the Brazile tweet where she calls her doctor asking him to explain her insurance premiums.

        This is what passes for public policy genius in today’s world.

    2. Racism!!! I can’t believe that any blue collar white person ever didn’t hate Obama. He has said since day one he hates their guts and is not there to represent their interests.

      1. At some point, the entitlement-block of the DNC will overwhelm even the union-block.

        1. It is already starting to. First, you can’t build a lasting majority based on the free shit brigade. No amount of free shit will ever satiate someone. So there will never be enough money to satisfy anyone let alone all of them. It was just a matter of time before they all started fighting over the crumbs.

    3. kinnath| 4.23.13 @ 2:10PM |#
      …”I can hardly wait for blue-collar whites to start openly hating POTUS.”

      They won’t. It’ll be the fault of the insurance companies

  14. The history of government IT projects is long and dismal. Many systems that were far less complex have been disasters (internal systems for the FBI and IRS, and recently the California DMV). The Obamacare exchanges are hugely complex, must interface with many other systems, be publicly accessible, and comply with many laws and regulations (including HIPAA and ADA). I don’t see how they can possibly be ready in time.

    And the really amusing thing, as John and others have noted, is that all this will go down in an election year, one in which Democrats hoped to capture the House. Yeah, that ain’t happening.

    1. As a professional Government IT guy, I can say with certainty that this project will fail to be implemented in the allotted time, the IT staff will be blamed and some congresscritter’s pet consulting firm will be paid absurd sums to look important while the IT staff already employed finish the work.

    2. The FBI Virtual Case File stands out in this regard. A system that could have been created by some fresh out college computer nerds ended up going over budget and ended up not even being delivered.

    3. Reminds me of a letter from a doctor I read in American Spectator, about 20 years ago, in which she said that knowing Ross Perot was responsible for the Medicare software was all the reason she needed not to vote for him.

  15. The only information that is credible to them is information showing the law will be a disaster,” writes Klein. “The only news they believe is news that makes Obamacare look bad. The only strategy they’ve developed is one for when Obamacare collapses under the weight of its failures.”

    Maybe Klein should let Suderman onto Journ-O-List 2.0 so he can get the super-accurate, top-secret information that only REAL journalists like Ezra Klein have access to.

    I hear the hazing ritual is that you have get out the tweezers and fellate Dave Weigel.

    1. I heard that you have to go 10 rounds against E.J. Dionne

      1. Nobody needs a fight to last more than 10 rounds.

        1. Nobody needs a fight to last more than 10 7 rounds.


    2. Klein can’t even write a coherent argument. Maybe their only strategy is to plan for what to do when Obamacare collapses under its own weight? So what. Klein acts like that is always and necessarily a bad thing. Maybe letting Obamacare collapse is the best thing to do?

      Klein just can’t fathom how anyone could possibly not want to do everything possible to save the Black Jesus’ program.

  16. Alt text
    bo bext
    banana fana
    fo fext
    me my mo mext
    Go Alt Text!

  17. Did anyone else see this? AP Twitter feed hacked — no attack at White House

    The bogus tweet was “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.”

    1. Some Syrian hackers claimed credit for it.

      1. So, can we invade Syria NOW?

        1. The attacked the president where he is most fearful: in purely imaginary and hypothetical situations.

    2. So these guys were smart enough to hack AP, but not smart enough to run this at 3:50 PM April 15th?

      They would have crashed Earth.

      1. Maybe they didn’t want to kill the entire staff at MSNBC from the shock of going from pure ecstasy at the thought of all of their dreams about their opponents coming true to the crushing disappointment of it being a hoax?

  18. Too bad, Obama care was made from the plans of a train wreck which are held in the offices of disaster policies, a branch of disaster government.

  19. The union that represents our factory workers has recently been informed that their monthly contribution for health insurance will double next year.

    Three bucks per month?


  20. “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.”

    I hope they have the White House Chef in custody and en route to Guantanamo.

    1. That’s fake news–somebody hacked in.

      1. and the DOJ tanked for a few minutes.

        1. DOW rather
          stupid Champions League drinking party.

          1. DOJ, DOW, what’s the difference?

            1. Future executions vs. execution futures.

  21. That’s fake news–somebody hacked in.


    Err, I mean, those damn kids!

  22. Way to completely whiff on the weapons of mass culinary destruction joke, BTW.


    1. I thought you were going with the Hunt for Red October saboteur chef angle there actually.

  23. Baucus is over 100 years old and hard to understand.

  24. Presented without comment, the, er, comments:

    12:09 PM MDT
    In actuality spending for Obamacare is the exact OPPOSITE of the Iraq War, because it will save lives. People with health care live much longer, healthier lives. I’ve never understood why trying to make sure everyone is covered makes some people sooo angry. I’d rather spend money on that, than on a war that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people.

  25. I think the law will turn out to be a horrible failure, but maybe not in the way the exchanges are implemented.

    The real cost problems will happen when the mandates and subsidies take effect. Insurance rates are set to rise significantly for a large number of people. That will make the trade-off between paying the penalty and buying insurance increasingly bad for younger healthier people. The subsidies will kick in and cover some of the cost, but that merely shifts the burden to the federal budget, worsening our deficit woes. Young people are more likely to be unemployed these days, so they may have to stay on their parents insurance until they get a job. But that’s just another sort of cost shifting. Some young people may not have parent with insurance plans they can stay on. There will be a significant slice of the population who will opt to pay the penalty. And the portion that opts to pay for the overpriced insurance may not be large enough to stop an insurance death spiral.

    Add in the cost-inflationary effects of “universal” coverage and no lifetime limits, and MLRs, insurance rates are set to rise even more.

    The laws supporters are praying that it somehow “bends the cost curve”. They will be lucky if the cost curve bends, but it won’t be due to anything in the law. Most likely costs will continue to rise until the price of insurance drives people out of the market and makes the subsidies financially unsustainable, just like Medicare already is.

  26. The author’s first paragraph worries me. If I recall correctly, Ezra Klein’s discussion of Baucus said that Baucus was worried about a train wreck, not that he warned of a train wreck. Let’s see how this affects the rest of his article.

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