Thursday, August 22, 2013

Catch of the Day

For the uninitiated, HSAs are tax-preferred vehicles that provide people with bare bones insurance an incentive to put away money in the event they develop chronic illness, require long term care, or experience a costly accident. Modeled after IRAs, they allow qualified people to put pre-tax dollars into an account that can only be drawn from without penalty to pay for certain medical costs.

There’s plenty to dislike about HSAs, but that’s an old debate for another time. Instead, I’m here to ask: What mysterious, benevolent government agency do Republicans think enforces this critical aspect of their supposedly grand plan to reform the health care system? Hint: It’s three letters long.

There's certainly a tension between the GOP grovel to libertarians and real small government types, typified by John Boehner's insistence that the House shouldn't be judged by how many laws it has passed because only big government socialists pass laws...and the GOP attempt, at times, to actually propose 1980s and 1990s style conservative ideas. Of course, that's most obvious in the GOP hatred of "Obamacare," which after all is a 1990s style conservative idea.

The trick is that mainstream conservatives are willing to use the rhetoric of "no government at all" libertarians (or, even more so, simply nihilists) without really wanting to commit to following the actual anti-government implications of that rhetoric. So they want the credit for proposing solutions to real-life problems, pretending not to notice that the rhetoric they use against "liberal" solutions is equally valid (or not) against their own solutions. It's not just Obamacare; the same thing shows up in Republican-backed tax treatments in the current tax code such as the child tax credit (and, I suppose, the EITC). As with HSAs, you need an IRS

I'm not sure how much any of that really does constrain them, but it's certainly possible that part of the "post-policy" turn they've taken -- for example, their long-time failure to come up with the "replace" part of "repeal-and-replace" -- is a result of many conservatives taking the rhetoric too seriously.

I should add, by the way, that I don't want to say that the political/policy model implied by the more extreme anti-government rhetoric that virtually all mainstream Republicans use is per se "wrong." I would say, however, that an actual party that lived by those principles would be very, very, unpopular in the US.

And: nice catch!


  1. "certainly possible that part of the "post-policy" turn they've a result of many conservatives taking the rhetoric too seriously."

    Seems just as valid, if not more so, to reverse the direction of this thought and blame the all-too-clever insiders for not taking political rhetoric seriously enough. Yes, everyone and all politicians lie and massage the truth, but the insiders actively chose to play a very dangerous game by really appallingly separating rhetoric from reality as a guiding strategy.

  2. Stupid "gotcha" article with no meat. IRS "enforcement" on HSAs is pretty simple and benign. Or else the author must cite examples where it isn't. Any examples of the IRS targeting liberal or conservative HSAs? Didn't think so.


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