Wednesday, April 25 , 2018, 7:36 am | Overcast 52º


Larry Kudlow: Obama’s Hoof-in-Mouth Disease

The president's FedEx/UPS/Postal Service slip is just one of his many health-care gaffes

It’s hard to know why President Barack Obama said what he said at Tuesday’s health-care town hall in New Hampshire. He actually stated: “If you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. It’s the post office that’s always having problems.”

Larry Kudlow
Larry Kudlow

Oops. Freudian slip? Subliminally speaking, was the president inferring that private health insurers are doing just fine?

Government insurance is what’s in trouble today. Medicare is in the hole by about $40 trillion on a discounted present-value basis over the next 40 to 50 years. And if we’re going to equate government care to government mail, according to Steve Hayes of The Weekly Standard, the U.S. Postal Service is going bankrupt with a $7 billion net loss this year. With 633,000 career employees, the post office won’t be able to make $5.4 billion in retiree health-benefit payments. How many of these federal employees will populate the new government-backed insurance plan if it passes?

So it’s something of a mystery why the president went down the FedEx/UPS/Postal Service turnpike. Perhaps the inner Obama is a free-enterprise guy. Maybe in the heat of battle, his private-sector FedEx/UPS endorsement kind of, well, slipped out unconsciously.

Some will be skeptical of this reasoning. But having once had dinner with the man, along with other conservative pundits, and knowing how carefully he parses his words, it’s hard to understand how he let this free-market blessing slip out. Perhaps he’s secretly competing with Joe Biden to win the hoof-in-mouth disease contest.

Obama’s health-care gaffes are mounting. At a news conference a few weeks back, the president let fly with an attack on doctors who remove tonsils instead of handing out allergy pills. Since doctors are very popular in America, and with many Obamacare protesters opposed to putting government central planners between doctors and patients, that was a big mistake. Worth noting, at that same presser, Obama also put his foot in it by attacking the Cambridge police officer at the center of the Henry Louis Gates affair. More hoof-in-mouth.

Obama’s response in New Hampshire to the so-called death-board issue also was revealing. Some say the boards are tantamount to euthanasia for the elderly. Placards outside the meeting read: “Obamacare, Down the Chute Granny.” (Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is spearheading this protest.)

Obama’s response? He says reform “would not basically pull the plug on grandma because we decided that it’s too expensive to let her live anymore.” But the House bill comes dangerously close to giving unelected health boards the power to pull that plug. And as policy students know, it’s not always the precise wording of legislation that counts, but the regulatory interpretations of laws that are made by federal and state officials.

So, in a sense, Obama’s denial was a nondenial denial. He should have unequivocally demanded that the death-board language be removed from any bill. But he didn’t — perhaps because he agrees with it. In interviews earlier this year, the president said that while he would have fought for his own grandmother’s hip replacement, clinically he can see how those expensive decisions should not be made.

Grandma may indeed represent Obama’s biggest political problem right now. As Team Obama attempts to placate concerns at the Congressional Budget Office that health reform is a budget-buster, seniors are rightly worried that the Medicare program on which they depend will be ravaged by cost cuts.

Rasmussen now reports that elderly folks older than 65 are against Obamacare by 56 percent to 39 percent. That’s a bad number for Democrats, who rely on seniors to maintain their governing coalition. Incidentally, polls also show that about 75 percent of Americans are satisfied with their health-care services, while 80 percent to 90 percent are happy with the whole U.S. health-care system.

It’s still tough to know whether this behemoth government takeover of heath care will actually pass. But two key markets are betting against it. First, over at the Intrade pay-to-play online betting parlor, the bid for the U.S. government health-plan contract is only 38 cents. That’s down from 50 cents in late July. Second, the share prices of big private health insurers have rallied in recent weeks. UnitedHealthcare is up 13 percent, Humana is up 12.4 percent and Aetna is up nearly 10 percent. Those firms will be decimated if the government insurance plan passes. But investors are now predicting it won’t.

For the sake of economic freedom, liberty and fiscal sanity, let’s hope the markets are right.

Larry Kudlow is the founder and CEO of Kudlow & Co. LLC, an economic research and consulting firm in New York City, and host of CNBC’s Kudlow & Company. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

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