POLITICS

Ted Cruz Signs Up For Obamacare Is Your Short-Sighted Media Fixation Of The Week

03/29/2015 07:30 am ET | Updated Mar 29, 2015
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Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall convene every Sunday and attempt to decode and defang in a way that will hopefully leave you feeling unharmed and less confused. We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

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ted cruz act

As you may have heard, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) this week officially joined the 2016 GOP primary scrum (or, if you've a yen for parsing narrow legal definitions, leaped past that scrum), in a fancy to-do at Liberty University -- a fitting venue for Cruz to lay down the foundation of his pitch to the conservative base, in which he adopts the persona of Jesus H. Reagan. Or, if you prefer, Ronald H. Christ -- it's essentially the same concept, and I am not a picky man.

But what Cruz did next was very puzzling: He signed up for Obamacare. A loud chorus of "Duh fuh?" ensued.

It couldn't go unnoticed that Congress' leading antagonist of the Affordable Care Act had gone out and voluntarily enmeshed himself and his family in Obamacare's loving graces. And don't worry -- it didn't. The political press got right to work, etching the narrative -- the tale of a man who'd gone out and faffed something up, produced a wincing gaffe in the hours after his much-hyped announcement.

The headlines tell the tale. ABC News went with "Ted Cruz Will Sign Up For Obamacare, the Law He Hates." Politico made sure to mention that Cruz was "one of the Affordable Care Act's harshest critics" in a report headlined, "Ted Cruz says he's going on Obamacare." The Washington Post's James Downie penned a piece titled, "Yes, Ted Cruz is a hypocrite for going on Obamacare." Slate's Jamelle Bouie disagreed, writing, "Cruz slipping on a political banana peel doesn’t make him a hypocrite," in a piece titled, "It’s Hilarious That Ted Cruz Is Signing Up for Obamacare." Vox took Cruz on a shopping trip for an Affordable Care Act plan. Life was full of laughs. (Or, if you prefer, laffs.)

Though the gaffe-chorale was loud, there was little thought to what Ted Cruz might do next. One of those things being: maybe not signing up for Obamacare after all. Or, decline to take a subsidy. That is, an additional subsidy -- as a sitting member of the Senate, it's subsidized anyway, which is something that Cruz himself alluded to at the time:

"We'll be getting new health insurance and we'll presumably do it through my job with the Senate, and so we'll be on the federal exchange with millions of others on the federal exchange," Cruz said.

Asked whether he would accept the government contribution available to lawmakers and congressional staffers for their health care coverage through the ACA, Cruz said he will "follow the text of the law."

But as ThinkProgress' Igor Volsky pointed out, even though Cruz "framed the decision" to join Obamacare "as one of inevitability," this wasn't actually the case:

The Affordable Care Act does not compel members of Congress to enroll in DC’s health care exchange; it simply cuts off the government contribution to their insurance plans if they buy their policies elsewhere. “The final rule extends a Government contribution towards health benefits plans for Members of Congress and designated congressional staff so long as the health benefits plans are purchased via the appropriate SHOP as determined by the Director,” a summary of the final rule says. “Nothing in the final rule or the law prevents a Member of Congress or designated congressional staff from declining a Government contribution for him or herself by choosing a different option for their health insurance coverage.”

In other words, Cruz “could purchase coverage in the outside market but would get no subsidy from the FEHBP program,” Tim Jost clarified for ThinkProgress, referring to the acronym for the federal health care program. “It seems like the primary other option he would have is to take advantage of COBRA through his wife, though he’d be forgoing the employer contribution. He could also buy non-group coverage,” Larry Levitt, Senior Vice President at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said. Cruz could also potentially purchased insurance through his presidential campaign’s presumptive health care insurance. In those instances, however, he would have had to give up his employer’s contribution and likely pay more for insurance than he is now being charged under Obamacare.

So, why then, would a guy with options that he could easily afford -- and that weren't the hated Obamacare: a) not take those options, and b) open himself to this dose of ridicule? Is Cruz unwittingly setting himself up for some Saul-like conversion, if the Affordable Care Act ends up working to his benefit? No, readers, banish that thought. I would submit to you that, far from a gaffe, this is actually a fairly shrewd gambit from Cruz. The part where Cruz likens himself to the "millions of others on the federal exchange," is a key tell. Cruz, having firmly established himself as Obamacare's most ardent philosophical opponent, will now have the chance to oppose the law as a participant.

There are some fundamentals involved that Cruz is no doubt intelligent enough to understand. One of those fundamentals is a structural conundrum that the Affordable Care Act has always faced: The universe of people participating in the law is several orders of magnitude smaller than the universe of people who have opinions about the law. This has bedeviled the law's supporters since its conception -- as poll after poll shows the public does not care for the law. However, it's also proved to be a problem for the law's opponents, whose fishing expeditions for Obamacare horror stories have tended not to yield the desired result. But Cruz will be able to present himself, rhetorically at least (you know: "optics"), as the living embodiment of the thing that squares that circle.

It also assists him in his mission to cut a contrast with other members of the GOP's 2016 field -- like, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who had a direct hand in preventing Obamacare's Medicaid expansion from coming to his state, while Cruz was leading unsuccessful efforts to destroy the law in Congress. Cruz will now be able to say, "I'm in this system, I hate it, and this is why I was leading the way in Congress so that Scott Walker wouldn't have to worry about it." That's what our blinkered Beltway touts refer to as "leadership," in their pundit coloring-books.

Cruz is deftly using the oddly-enough angle of this news -- Obamacare-hating senator forced into Obamacare -- for a populist cause. He's not the first Republican to do so. In his successful 2014 campaign for Senate, Colorado Representative Cory Gardner repeatedly talked about the family plan he'd held onto until it was scrapped for not meeting the ACA's standards.

"I got a letter saying that my family's plan was canceled," said Gardner in a TV spot. "Three hundred and thirty-five thousand Coloradans had their plans canceled, too."

"At personal cost," Weigel writes, "[Gardner] took a decision that made him more relatable and vulnerable to the insurance market. And now Cruz has done the same." That's likely Cruz's gambit here. Going "on Obamacare" will allow him to deepen his relationship with the people who hate the law out of suspicion, while simultaneously allowing him to claim himself as one of those aforementioned, non-elite Americans "on the federal exchange." That's no mean feat, considering that the only reason he's forced to make a choice in health insurance at all is because his wife is taking a leave of absence from her job at Goldman Sachs.

So Cruz, with the added enhancements of insider credibility and common-folk fealty, will go on excoriating Obamacare with his typical fervor. Naturally, I don't expect any of these criticisms to be non-disingenuous, but remember, this is a "political campaign," not a "be relentlessly honest and have perfect grasp of the facts contest."

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Meme of the week.

What's one thing that unites many of the high-profile characters running for president, from top-tier contenders like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, to dark horses like Ben Carson and Martin O'Malley? As Daily Intelligencer's Jaime Fuller points out, it's a lack of expertise. And that's not a criticism or an opinion of the field -- that's the self-professed accounting of the candidates themselves. Per Fuller:

Jeb Bush is not an expert. Last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the former Florida governor even confessed that he wasn't an expert in Washington politics -- though he sure seems eager to take part in them.

Bush is not alone in not being an expert. As you can see below, other 2016 presidential possibilities have invoked this necessary caveat when seeking to comment on things they have no business talking about -- or when trying to avoid subjects they'd rather not comment on.

It might be fun if some reporter asked the candidates, "Is there any field of human endeavor or study that you can, in fact, plausibly claim to be an expert?" Give credit to Carson: He can at least say "neurosurgery," which is an actual thing.

"Draft Warren" winds brow increasingly stale

run warren run

For as long as mankind has known of Elizabeth Warren, a sizable portion has wanted Warren to seek a political office. So, she did. And nearly as soon as she arrived in the Senate, many of those same people have wanted Warren to run for president. Warren has deftly resisted the siren song emanating from those who would unwittingly have her embark on a life-ruining career path, but it is nevertheless a flame that always burns, a desire that remains unquenched, a boundless amount of energy that really could be put to more productive purposes.

Last Sunday, The Boston Globe ran the latest entreaty from Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, whose members launched "Run Warren Run, a major effort to highlight the immense grass-roots support that exists for Senator Warren's vision," and who must, in all honesty, be deemed successful in demonstrating the truth of this claim. But when I heard about this, I immediately thought of so many thus far unsuccessful attempts to convince Warren to run, and I wondered: Is there anything original that can be said at this point that might tip the balance?

The answer is: "LOL, no." Let's take a look.

GALLARD: "Senator Elizabeth Warren has established herself as the country’s leading advocate for working and middle-class families. The Democrat has proven equally adept behind the scenes and in the media spotlight, and has stood up to Wall Street banks and other powerful interests to win changes that are improving millions of Americans’ lives."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Bill Lipton, of New York's Working Familes Party: “We know a champion for working families when we see one ... The only thing better than watching Elizabeth Warren take Wall Street to task from the Senate would be helping her bring our issues to the center of the national debate.”

GALLARD: "Put simply, this moment was made for Elizabeth Warren. With income inequality at its highest level on record, and corporations and lobbyists wielding enormous power in Washington and state capitals around the country, we need a president who is firmly grounded in making government work for regular people."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Gallard's first paragraph.

GALLARD: "And Senator Warren hasn’t just studied the struggles of America’s working families -- she has lived them, having been born and raised in a family she describes as being 'on the ragged edge of the middle class.'”

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Uhm, Warren herself? Who is Gallard trying to convince here?

GALLARD: "Regardless of which candidate they favor, most Americans agree that it’s important to have a vigorous contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The New York Times’s David Leonhardt recently wrote that without a slate of strong candidates, Democrats 'may conduct one of the least competitive nominating contests in modern political history.'”

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: The New York Times' David Leonhardt.

GALLARD: "It would be unprecedented for a candidate -- Hillary Clinton -- to march to the nomination largely unopposed, as many observers predict could happen if Warren doesn’t run. Such a scenario would be bad for both the party and for our country. A strong competitive primary campaign gives candidates a running start in the general election by giving them experience in articulating a clear vision and responding to crucial issues. Winning a competitive primary prepares the eventual nominee to face a battle-tested Republican candidate."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Literally tens of political pundits and reporters who have questioned whether Hillary running unopposed would be a bad thing for Hillary Clinton. (Also, are we drafting Warren to win this race, or are we drafting Warren to enter the race and make Hillary Clinton doubleplusawesome?)

GALLARD: "Poll after poll has shown that her message of economic justice and standing up to Wall Street resonates not just with liberal Democrats, but across the spectrum of potential voters. In fact, large majorities of likely voters who identify as independent and Republican in battleground states support Warren’s agenda, according to a recent poll commissioned by Run Warren Run."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: That time people reported on that poll.

GALLARD: "Some continue to argue that Senator Warren would be more effective in the Senate than in the Oval Office. That’s just not true ... And those calling for her to stay in the Senate would do well to remember that she doesn’t have to make the choice between running for president and being a senator — she can run for higher office while remaining in the Senate ... If Senator Warren does run, she’ll either become President Warren or continue being Massachusetts’ senior senator. It’s a win-win."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Never mind that. Pick an argument. How is it a "win-win" if Warren loses and remains in the Senate, from which position she would be less effective, as you argue? It sounds more like a "win-consolation prize," except that Warren returns to the Senate having damaged her brand and with scads of campaign debt.

"To be clear," Gallard writes, "Senator Warren has said she's not running for president, and we take her for her word. But we also believe she's open to persuasion." That is, indeed, plausible. But you're not going to persuade her with the same arguments that have, thus far, proven themselves to be stupendously unpersuasive.

All I ask, at this point, is that somebody who wants this to happen to come up with even one new argument, for funsies. Please, please.

The Week In Predictions

Jeb Bush: Bush is going to fail in Florida. And also in South Carolina. Or neither of those things. But he will have a talk-radio problem. But that's okay, Cruz's entry into the race will be a good thing for him.

Joe Biden: Biden will be "waiting in the wings" to swoop into the race if Hillary Clinton "falters." It's all part of his "long game."

Bobby Jindal: Jindal will wait until June to make his own announcement for president, because of "the state of his state." Per Charlie Cook: "“I think he could make a judgment that he needs to tend some fences back home ... It sure wouldn’t look good to jump in a race when your job-approval rating back home is 27 or 28 percent.” Sure! By June, I'm sure all of that will be fixed.

Lindsey Graham: Graham "may be the only politician who can stop global warming," so ... sorry about that, Planet Earth!

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

Rand Paul advises Hillary Clinton to return the money Saudi Arabia gave to the Clinton Foundation, because Saudi Arabia has reprehensible policies toward women. Which is true! But surely that makes the case for taking the money, not giving it back, to fund more anti-woman stuff. Hillary Clinton should also get a "
sparring partner
" in the form of a competitive primary.

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker "should stop comparing themselves to Reagan: it makes them look like a bunch of kids." (Bush, Rubio, Perry, and Huckabee, on the other hand, are in the clear!)

And Bobby Jindal has some advice of his own: The GOP should nominate, you know, a conservative governor, probably. Just spitballing!

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

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