the national interest

My Wanker of the Day Acceptance Speech

Oscar winner for Best Actor for the movie
Photo: ROBYN BECK/2012 AFP

Yesterday, I argued that, given that Democrats will have to make some budget concessions to the GOP, raising the Medicare retirement age is worth doing. (Summary argument: It carries disproportionate symbolic weight with Republicans, people will still be covered by Obamacare, and it will create a constituency against Republicans’ efforts to nullify Obamacare.) FireDogLake’s David Dayen has a long post calling my argument “miserable,” which is impressive enough for Atrios to award me the coveted “Wanker of the Day” title. (“Wanker” is a leftie blog cliché used to describe people who deviate from the left-liberal line but aren’t conservatives. Say, Tom Friedman.)

It has been a long time since I’ve won Wanker of the Day, and the rush of gratitude has me feeling a bit flustered. So many people to thank! Let’s see: the hosts of Georgetown cocktail parties to which I hope to one day earn an invitation by selling out liberals. My secretive corporate masters. And, of course, my supporting cast colleagues.

Still, churlish though it may be in the face of being granted a major award, I must acknowledge that the judging process in this case appears flawed. Let me go through Dayen’s argument line by line.

Since Jon Chait has never met a concession he didn’t like, he comes out with an endorsement of raising the Medicare eligibility age as part of a long-term deficit deal. So his cover for what is universally regarded as a terrible idea surely led deficit scolds seeking to use the problem to weaken the safety net to give each other high-fives.

Actually, there are many concessions I don’t like. In fact, I believe raising the Medicare retirement age is the only one I’ve publicly endorsed. If Dayen thinks it is possible for Obama to avoid making any concessions at all to the Republican party without deleterious consequences — this probably is what he thinks, committed as he is to producing the mirror image of analysis in which your party can always win if it just fights harder — he ought to explain how this could happen.

Let’s look at Chait’s reasoning. I would probably start with the fact that he’s not 64 or 65. My parents are, and until my dad reached Medicare in November, they were paying $2,500 a month on the private market for health insurance. So I’ll be happy to provide him with their phone number so he can tell them how it’s “tolerable” for them to spend two years more than they expected doing that.

Well, that is persuasive. It had never occurred to me that 64- and 65-year-olds existed. I had assumed this provision entailed automatically turning every 65-year-old into a 67-year-old. Now I will have to rethink my argument and defer to Dayen’s unassailable authority as a person who has parents in their mid-sixties.

But soft! Here are his actual reasons. One, Democrats have to accept concessions (that’s always a good strategic place from which to begin a negotiation!), and the scolds seem to like raising the eligibility age. So let’s give ‘em what they want. This is a bizarrely content-free assertion. The phrase “If Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles wanted you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it?” springs to mind.

In fact, I don’t argue that Obama should give the deficit scolds everything they want. I have argued against that proposition many, many times. As noted above, I do think some concessions will be necessary.

Second, he thinks that Republicans will somehow forget that this only raises $100 billion, at most, over 10 years, and will then drop any demands to hit a particular number in the negotiations.

No, I don’t argue that this concession will be enough. I believe others will be needed. As I argued, the Medicare retirement age has disproportionate symbolic power to the GOP despite its being a bad substantive idea.

Dayen then quotes my argument that putting 65- and 66-year-olds on Obamacare will strengthen the political constituency behind it and make repeal more difficult. He replies:

This is cynical, to say the least. It’s also completely wrong. The one thing we know will be a side effect of increasing the Medicare eligibility age is that insurance premiums will skyrocket. It will make Medicare more expensive because they lose relatively healthy 65 and 66 year-olds from their risk pool, and it will make private insurance more expensive because they add relatively sick 65 and 66 year-olds to their risk pool. Insurers hate the idea for just this reason. As a result, everyone’s premiums will rise, and cost-shifting will ensue from the government to its citizens.

Did I miss the part where he responded to my point? This has nothing to do with my argument. I acknowledged that raising the Medicare retirement age would shift costs. It’s bad policy. Dayen is presenting this as a rebuttal to my political argument, that shifting previously covered seniors from Medicare to Obamacare will make repeal harder. But it’s a non sequitur.

Dayen continues:

People with busy lives don’t differentiate between what provisions in health care can be attributed to the Affordable Care Act and what provisions come from a fiscal deal. They’ll just know that the ACA got implemented in 2014, and as a result their insurance rates jumped. It’s maybe the worst strategic plan in the world to raise the Medicare age to bolster support for the Affordable Care Act by raising how much everyone has to spend on health insurance, particularly those who don’t get subsidies, the same “significant chunk of middle-class voters who have grown accustomed to the assumption that they will be able to afford health care.”

Well — this is an argument. But not much of one. Dayen seems to be arguing that higher costs within Medicare — which will be small and hidden within larger and continuous cost increases in the system — will make 65- and 66-year-olds not care if there’s any government program that ensures they can obtain affordable health care. Political opinion is hard to predict, but this seems unlikely.


The idiocy on display here can hardly be believed.


My Wanker of the Day Acceptance Speech