Obamacare, the Clintons and the Good Old Days

Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Obamacare delays, the debt ceiling and the Clintons. 
These two sure seem inseparable. Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Obamacare delays, the debt ceiling and the Clintons. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Ramesh: President Barack Obama this week found another way around the law he has fought so hard for: His administration is delaying the employer mandate for medium-sized businesses for another year. It doesn't seem to matter that the statute doesn't say that the mandate can be delayed and doesn't make any distinction between firms with 50-99 employees and other firms. To get out of the mandate the firms also have to certify they didn't shrink to fewer than 100 employees in order to be exempt, which is, of course, not even remotely part of the law either. I'm all for exemptions to Obamacare, Margaret -- I want everyone to be exempt from it. But I'd also prefer not to have a president making up the law as he goes along.

Margaret: If Republicans didn't want to kill Obamacare any way they could, I would agree with you. The president may have gone a bridge too far with his medium-sized business exemption. There is an out in the rulemaking process but it isn't the size of a hospital waiting room. Like voting against raising the debt limit, which Democrats dabbled in, something can't be right when your side does it but not right when President Ted Cruz does it.

Ramesh: We're taking a step toward being a banana republic by letting the executive branch rewrite the laws. At least, though, we're taking a step away from it by not having a debt-ceiling crisis. We seem to be back to the old procedure: The opposition party will vote against raising the debt limit while wanting the increase to pass. That's what Democrats did during the Bush years -- either voting no or avoiding a vote -- and it's what a lot of House Republicans did yesterday.

Margaret: Was it back to business as usual or a new Speaker John Boehner singing zip-a-dee-doo-dah? In another era, he would be a good speaker. He's built to make a deal and celebrate by smoking a Camel and drinking a glass of wine. Three things caught my eye yesterday. The first was the ice storm in Atlanta -- in this time of warming. It's the second south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line weather anomaly in the last month. Will conservatives come around on climate change when the ski resorts close, there's no more fishing and cattle die for lack of water? They aren't going to change their minds on the basis of science. The other stories that I saw were the epidemic of heroin in the wake of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death. This isn't just in New York but small towns where the young people are without jobs and hope. And, finally, the "news" that Hillary Clinton was thought to be ruthless and chose her husband over her politics, which would be to side with women's groups who hate what he did. Any of these grab you?

Ramesh: Speaking of the old days, I see you've written a column about the new Clinton documents from the 1990s. You're right, I think, to say that Republicans would be taking a risk if they ran against Hillary in 2016 by talking a lot about her husband's scandals and her role in them (although I think she played a worse role than you allow). I don't expect them to do that, though. What they will probably do instead is plant the suggestion in the background of the race that maybe a return to Clinton psychodrama isn't what the country needs.

Margaret: But Ramesh, a return to psychodrama is what the press needs. That's why just a whisper about the Clintons is enough to send us panting after Senator Rand Paul. Aside from the Monica stuff, it was interesting to hear Hillary learning that no one liked the Clintons except the people they brought with them to Washington -- which was part of the reason no one liked them. It's ever thus. To get elected, a president has to be likeable, with the exception of Nixon. Someone has to climb the greasy pole and by the time he (or she) is nominated for president, feels pretty good. The politician is surrounded by sycophants. Then Washington doesn't like him and he's shocked, gets defensive and insular. In the Clinton's case it turned tragic when Vince Foster killed himself. Yes, suicide has complicated reasons but a big one in this case was just how awful Washington can be.

Ramesh: Having been a senator rather than a governor -- the first one since the '60s -- Obama could have escaped this trap, but his personality precluded it. I wonder if he sometimes counts the days until he's gone. I know I do!

(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor at the National Review.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.