Former Congressman Anthony Weiner rose to national prominence in 2009 and 2010 as one of the most passionate defenders of Obamacare and someone who relentlessly pressured Congress and the White House to push for a more expansive program.
Moments after the Supreme Court ruled that key provisions of the law were in fact Constitutional, Mr. Weiner was on the phone with The Politicker, praising key parts of the law but lamenting that the White House had let the case against the law get this far.
He was, he said, as surprised as anyone else that the Court ruled the way it did, writing in an email headline, “okay, okay, its a tax! jeez.”
“I was leading this campaign for a while. I thought it was going down 5-4,” the congressman continued. “I am sure everything has been argued by everyone, but if you take a look at Massachusetts, just over one and half percent of people pay the penalty. So essentially the mandate doesn’t really have any true meaning because people, when they have the opportunity to buy affordable health care, want to do it. It’s a strange argument–like, are people being forced to do something they don’t want to do? No, they are being offered an opportunity to do something they really want to do. “
He added that the administration should not have defended the mandate so aggressively, since in the end the cost of health care would come down and since people would be able to get subsidized coverage. The penalty for failing to get health care would not be that severe, in the end.
“I hate to be self-referential, but somewhere floating around is this debate I did with Bill O’Reilly where he kept saying, ‘Ok, you are going to arrest people for this. And I said, ‘No we are not criminalizing this. It is expressly in the law that we are not criminalizing this…we didn’t want it to seem like a tax increase even though there are these charges but we also didn’t want to lend credence to the notion that government agents in black helicopters were going to swoop down on your balcony and grab you out of your home because you didn’t sign up for this program.”
Mr. Weiner said that he thought however that the law would be overturned simply because the courts have become so politicized.
“I thought it was going to be overturned right from the get-go,” Mr. Weiner said. “In these big cases, I don’t believe the law matters all that much. The court has become an extension of the political debates of the day.”
Mr. Weiner suggested that perhaps Chief Justice John Roberts was trying to change that perception of the court, and warned fellow progressives against assuming that today’s decision heralded a new era on the bench.
“In one fell swoop did we change the political climate of the courts? No. It’s funny–we shouldn’t go too far doing the victory dance in the end zone and declaring how amazing it is when they essentially reached the decision that everyone assumed they were going to reach when this was first written. We are kind of like playing against this weird expectations arc. Now when the court does something that is not completely outrageous we cheer that the Republic has been saved.”
Even with the passage of the mandate however, Mr. Weiner said that he thought single payer was the best way for the country to go, since the current model is “terribly ineffective,” and that the model upheld by the court has “nothing to do with providing health care or saving money. It has to do with basically preserving an industry” of health insurance.
Mr. Weiner blasted the Obama White House for bungling the debate around the bill, describing a “keyser soze” moment when “a large percentage of people in the country started hitting the streets and writing their Congressman to defend the health insurance industry. That was the surest sign that we had fucked up this debate somehow.”
“The opponents of health reform are just opponents of the president and opponents of Democrats. It turned into a fight about values and there is not doubt we got our clock cleaned in that fight. We didn’t do a good job of making simple arguments in our favor…the big lesson the president learned politically is that it is not enough to mediate and try to get the best possible deal for the American people and let the politics take care of themselves. There has to be an almost non-stop campaign around everything you do with all of the trappings of a campaign.”
He noted his own work around the one year anniversary of the bill–a big speech at the Center for American Progress, a Facebook town hall, a Twitter town hall, answering questions on Reddit.
“The White House and the president did nothing,” he said, and suggested that at every moment when a new provision of the bill became law–such as allowing those under 26 to stay on their parents health insurance–that White House should have held a big event.
“I think you can count on one hand the number of barnstorming kind of events they did after the health care law was passed. He should have been out there all the time, all over the place.”
After the bill passed, Mr. Weiner led a campaign to get Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from ruling on the bill because his wife had received a salary from Tea Party groups working to overturn the bill , and he lamented that the White House was not similarly aggressive in “putting the court on the defensive.”
The politics of the decision Mr. Weiner said were unclear.
“The general philosophy I have is that when people are denied something they are more pissed off then the people who get something are happy. I know that the prevailing side in fights are generally less happy about winning than the losing side is pissed off about winning. That is a general article of faith of mine about politics.”
Had the law been overturned, it would have been he said like Bush v. Gore and rallied Democrats. Otherwise, the law even without the mandate would have likely survived
“It’s a ninety dollar fucking mandate in the first year. ‘You can’t force me to get health insurance.’ But wait, we are going to give you a big subsidy, then what would have happened? You would have had a big day of reckoning once the exchanges were open, people would have been signing up in great numbers instead of dropping out. It would have been like, ‘You are so happy about [the law being overturned ?] Fine. You don’t have to have fucking health insurance. All right, fine. Happy?’”
Mr. Weiner, who was forced to resign from Congress following a Twitter scandal, gave no indication about his future plans, only saying that he had a six-month child at home which was keeping him busy, and that he had “fallen in love with SCOTUS blog.”