Pottery Barn Rule: You Break the Healthcare System, You Bought It

Pottery Barn Rule: You Break the Healthcare System, You Bought It July 19, 2017

After the BCRA crashed and burned — and Mitch McConnell’s attempt to revive repeal-and-delay seemed certain to tank along with it — President Trump signalled that he’s ready to take out his own sledgehammer to the healthcare system. He’s seems convinced that the Democrats would to surrender on terms to his Obamacare demolition derby if he managed to cause enough destruction. Yet The Donald ignores Colin Powell’s famous Pottery Barn Rule — you break it, you own it — at his own peril.

Forgetting the Pottery Barn Rule, the president has vowed to smash Obamacare. While Trump will buy the blame, the American people who will pay the price.
Via Cplakidas, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Or should I say the country’s? The Pottery Barn Rule is predicated on the idea that you don’t actually want to smash pottery in the first place. And that you care enough to prevent to avoid paying the Pottery Barn Rule’s price.

Donald Trump ran on a platform of disruption. And after he won — with a major assist from his man-crush Vladimir Putin –Trump has consistently signalled that he considers himself President of the United Trumps of America, willing to do anything necessary to help himself at the expense of the American people.

But fortunately, a few Republicans still recognize that they were elected to be public servants. Proclaimed Shelley Moore Capito on Tuesday:

I did not come to Washington to hurt people.

Thus, Capito and two other female Republican moderates, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — who were shut out of the boy’s clubhouse that drafted the first version of the BCRA — were the ones to put the final, final nail into the Mitch McConnell’s schemes, vowing to not even allow his straight repeal bill to come up for a vote next week.

While Collins voted against repeal when it last came up for a vote in 2015, Capito and Murkowski voted for it. They’ve been attacked for hypocrisy, which is fair enough. But that was the Game of Life. It’s another thing entirely when real lives are at stake when you roll the dice.

Pottery Barn Rule: The BCRA Smashed by Hardliners

After conservatives Mike Lee and Jerry Moran, in coordinated announcements, declared their opposition to the BCRA, the Majority Leader had no choice but to pull it. But Machiavellian Mitch thought he had a clever way to call the hardliners’ bluff with a high-stakes legislative dare.

The thinking went something like this:

Okay, you don’t like my Better Care Reconciliation Act? How about straight repeal bill with a two-year delayed replacement. The CBO says 32 million would be lose insurance with that one. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

I know that it’s hard for many liberals to conceive, but there are Republican moderates like Capito, Collins, and Murkowski (and likely Rob Portman) who are more concerned about the welfare of their most vulnerable constituents than scoring partisan victories. Indeed, Susan Collins has repeatedly called on bipartisan negotiations to improve Obamacare’s flaws.

Said Collins:

We can’t just hope that we will pass a replacement within the next two years. Repealing without a replacement would create great uncertainty for individuals who rely on the ACA and cause further turmoil in the insurance markets.

You mean you don’t want to smash the healthcare system in the hope you can find a way to piece it back together in two years?

It seemed for a while that Collins would be a lonely voice in the wilderness, as her fellow moderates temporized over McConnell’s revised version of the BCRA with variations on…

Uh, well, I’ll have to get back to you after I’ve figured what position will cover my ass the most effectively. (The last part was implied.)

Via Damian Gadal, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Then came Lee and Moran’s announcement of opposition, which may have been a hardline Hail Mary to make the BCRA more conservative, ala the “compromise” that finally passed the AHCA in the House. And McConnell’s game of chicken on the straight repeal vote may be his impotent countermeasure.

In the end, both actions only served to embolden the moderates.

But don’t heave a sigh of relief yet. The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs, reporting for the White House press pools, writes:

POTUS said he was “disappointed” about healthcare.

He also said his plan was now “to let Obamacare fail, it will be a lot easier. And I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll let Obamacare fail. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us.”

Apparently, Trump’s version of the Pottery Barn Rule is, You Break It, You Blame Somebody Else.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Democrats won’t ride in on magic ponies carrying seven pots of gold as tribute to the Republicans after the collapse of the ACA marketplaces. Will the public blame the Democratic Party for the collapse of Obamacare?

Okay then, so what’s the worry? There are plenty of things the Trump administration can do to send the ACA marketplaces into a death spiral.

For instance, all Tom Price would have to do is withhold cost-sharing subsidies (CSRs) for the working poor. The next payment is due Thursday. They can refuse to enforce the insurance mandate, leading to a literal insurance death spiral. Or, they can simply leave the insurance industry in suspense about their plans.

That’s already worked pretty well for them. This is what the president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent in late May:

The failure of the administration and the House to bring certainty and clarity by funding CSRs has caused our company to file a 22.9 percent premium increase, rather than one that is materially lower. That will impact hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.

The proposed marketplace rates for 2018 are being finalized now, and some of them  have submitted dual plans depending on whether the administration opts to continue paying the CSRs, which are essential to the survival of the Obamacare marketplaces.

Indeed, all the Trump would have to do is to drop the appeal of lower court ruling against the legality of the CSRs. The case was brought by the House against the Obama administration, but its successor has yet to make a commitment to continuing the appeal.

But according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, the marketplaces are well on their way to profitability…assuming a particular bull doesn’t crash through the pottery shop.

Maybe it’s time to stock up on Super Glue.

Forgetting the Pottery Barn Rule, the president has vowed to smash Obamacare. While Trump will buy the blame, the American people who will pay the price.
A bull in a 19th century china shop, pre-pre-Pottery Barn Rule. Via Wikimedia, Public Domain.

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