AEI » Latest Content American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise Fri, 30 Jan 2015 03:28:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Trade in 2015: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch on how America can succeed in today’s global economy Thu, 22 Jan 2015 19:38:14 +0000 Event Description

International trade and the US economy are top issues in the 114th Congress. We welcome you to join us at AEI as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) outlines his vision for how America can succeed in today’s global economy. Sen. Hatch will speak to his longstanding efforts to renew Trade Promotion Authority and will discuss what the Obama administration must do to get ongoing trade negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership successfully enacted by Congress.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.

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The Pentagon’s growing army of bureaucrats Fri, 30 Jan 2015 03:26:23 +0000 When President Obama unveils his annual budget on Monday, watch his defense priorities. His State of the Union address presented plenty of new ideas to invest in nondefense domestic programs, but the Pentagon’s budget got zero mention—even as the specter of sequestration looms again for fiscal 2016. Mr. Obama’s track record as commander in chief is not encouraging: Under his stewardship, active-duty ground forces have been slashed while Defense Department civilians have flourished. For this president, it seems, bureaucracy beats combat power every time.

Since 2009 the Pentagon’s civilian workforce has grown by about 7% to almost 750,000, while active-duty military personnel have been cut by roughly 8%. At the same time, dozens of military-equipment and weapons programs have been canceled, including a new Navy cruiser, a new search-and-rescue helicopter, the F-22 fifth-generation fighter, the C-17 transport aircraft, missile defense and the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

The rest of this article is available for Wall Street Journal subscribers. It will be posted here in its entirety on Monday, February 2.


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My book got trolled by the Left Thu, 29 Jan 2015 22:53:21 +0000 Every controversial author likes to know that his work has troubled those on the other side – but not so much that they band together to suppress it.

Yet that’s what has happened with my new book on the financial crisis (Hidden In Plain Sight: What Caused the World’s Worst Financial Crisis and Why It Can Happen Again). Almost immediately after its publication, the book’s page began to be “trolled” by opponents of my ideas.

One-star “reviews” (the lowest category) suddenly began appearing. One of the first, by an intrepid soul who hid his name behind the moniker “NYC Reader1,” appeared the day after publication, and began “How dumb does Wallison think we are? Answer: Very.” This attack was followed in the next few days by more than 50 or so other 1-star reviews, saying things like “not truthful,” “biased,” “not accurate,” and “don’t waste your money.”

None of these reviews showed any familiarity with the book, or contradicted the extensive data that shows the 2008 financial crisis was caused by the government’s housing policies – and not, as the political Left has asserted, by insufficient regulation of private sector financial firms.

Soon, the book’s publisher Encounter Books found the source of this activity: someone named Tim Howard (not the Tim Howard who was the CFO of Fannie Mae in the early 2000s).

His post on what appears to be his own website thanked all the people who had posted negative reviews of the book: “I want to praise all of you who have taken the time to do a customer review on Amazon [and] I encourage everyone to do so if you can… Please remember to click on the “was this review helpful link” for all of the 1-star reviews. This will keep them on the top.”

Clearly, the outpouring of negative reviews were nothing more than a coordinated effort by the Left to suppress the book.

From a certain perspective, this attack was simply an expression of the Left’s Stalinist impulse – the fear of information that contradicts a narrative they have confected about the financial crisis. But in a deeper sense it is an expression of the intolerance and bigotry that has begun to infect much of the Left’s attitude toward any dissent. This is an attitude so foreign to traditional American and democratic values that it poses a threat to the nation’s future. If we can’t have a civil discussion about an important public issue we are doomed to a kind of civil cold war, and maybe something worse.

Hidden In Plain Sight, for anyone who might care to actually read it, makes a data-based case that the financial crisis was caused by the government’s housing policy. Yes, this contradicts the Left’s desire to show the government as omni-competent and omniscient, but we have to understand why ithe 2008 financial catastrophe happened in order to avoid pursuing the same policies in the future. This issue needs a robust debate, with facts.

But that is not the way the Left sees it. Robust debate is apparently not going to be acceptable, even about an issue of such importance. The first indication that the Left’s tactic would not be to contradict my position with facts but to persuade people to bypass the issue came with the publication of 2011 column by Joe Nocera of the New York Times invoking Goebbels headlined “The Big Lie.”

Calling important information “the big lie” is much like the police shooing the curious away from a car wreck – “Nothing here of interest, folks, please move along.”

In one sense, I’m happy to know that my book has so disturbed the Left that they are moved to suppress it, but after a year in which sensible people with conservative views have been hooted down or forced to abandon commencement addresses at respected universities, shouldn’t liberals and others on the Left who value a free society and the free exchange of ideas be speaking up?

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Disability program needs reform, not merely revenue reallocation Thu, 29 Jan 2015 20:06:28 +0000 “Republicans target disability,” say the headlines. A rule passed by the newly elected Republican-controlled House prohibits a supposedly “routine” reallocation of revenues between Social Security’s retirement and disability insurance programs, threatening dramatic benefit cuts for the disabled. In reality, the House rule may force Congress to finally enact substantive reforms for the troubled Disability Insurance (DI) program.

The average new DI beneficiary in 2013 received annual cash benefits of $14,668, plus Medicare benefits worth about $9,600 per year. Federal outlays on DI and associated Medicare benefits top one-quarter trillion dollars annually, more than three times the 1990 level. The DI trust fund is projected to run dry in 2016, resulting in 19 percent across-the-board benefit cuts.

Rising disability costs are partly demographic: an older workforce is more disability-prone, while rising female labor force participation increases the number of women qualified for benefits. But even accounting for these changes, the number of disability beneficiaries has risen by about 40 percent over the past three decades, according to analysis by the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) actuaries.

Yet Census Data show that the share of working-age individuals who report a disability that limits or prevents them from working has remained roughly stable over the past three decades. Self-reported health status has improved, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, fewer workers hold physically demanding jobs, according to the Urban Institute, and Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the rate of occupational injuries has fallen. The major change is that far fewer individuals with disabilities are working: in 1990, 28 percent of individuals with self-reported disabilities were employed. Today, just 14 percent are working.

Congress itself played a role: in 1984, it loosened eligibility standards, paving the way for increased applications based on more difficult-to-assess mental conditions such as depression and musculo-skeletal disorders like back pain.

A second factor is that DI benefits have become relatively more attractive for less-educated individuals who have fared poorly in the workforce. DI benefits are increased annually along with average wage growth, while earnings for less-skilled individuals have stagnated or even declined. As a result, the “replacement rate” offered by DI — that is, benefits relative to what less-skilled workers could earn in the market — has risen substantially, according to economists David Autor of MIT and Mark Duggan of Stanford. Autor and Duggan calculate that the share of high school dropouts receiving DI benefits has doubled since 1984.

While Social Security disability is ripe for reform, many progressives wish simply to shift revenues from the retirement to the disability program without enacting any other reforms. Doing so would weaken the retirement program’s finances, which have deteriorated significantly in recent years, and leave both programs underfinanced for the future.

These inter-program transfers are portrayed as “routine.” Yet, as Charles Blahous, one of Social Security’s public trustees, has pointed out, prior revenue transfers haven’t taken place in isolation from other reforms. Several revenue reallocations were scheduled as part of the comprehensive reforms passed in 1983. The most recent transfer, in 1994, was recommended by the Social Security Trustees conditioned on “a thorough policy review of the program.” Tax reallocation, the Trustees said, “should be viewed as only providing time and opportunity to design and implement substantive reforms that can lead to long-term financial stability.” We’re still waiting for those reforms to take place.

And Social Security’s current Trustees today warn that reallocation alone “might serve to delay DI reforms and much needed financial corrections for OASDI as a whole.”

It is these actions that the House rule would prohibit: relying solely on revenue reallocation and punting real reforms to the future. A broader-based reform plan that extended the solvency of both the retirement and disability programs could include revenue reallocation to address DI’s short-term financial needs.

Comprehensive reforms must recognize that it’s not enough to simply keep workers from going on DI. That’s been tried: administrative actions under the Carter and Reagan administrations cut thousands of beneficiaries from the disability rolls. But the ensuing backlash led to Congress’s loosening of eligibility standards in 1984.

Rather, reforms should be, in the words of the bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board, “directed to self-support, independence, and contribution that can help … avoid, delay, or minimize [the] need for dependence on the programs of last resort.”

One simple reform is to make workers without children eligible for the full Earned Income Tax Credit. Currently, the EITC for a childless worker working full-time at the minimum wage is just $22 per year. Increasing the reward to work would reduce financial incentives to go on disability.

Comprehensive reform proposals from across the political spectrum focus on creating incentives for employers to keep workers with disabilities on the job. One plan developed for the Center for American Progress by Autor and Duggan would require employers to cover the initial period of disability, during which time workers would receive rehabilitative services. Likewise, a proposal from Richard Burkhauser of Cornell and Mary Daly of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, published by the American Enterprise Institute, would institute “experience rating” for employers’ disability payroll taxes, such that employers who keep disabled employees on the job are rewarded with lower taxes. Both proposals draw lessons from the Netherlands, which reduced the intake of new disability cases by 60% by using similar reforms.

In difficult economic times it is tempting to let the government’s Disability Insurance become the equivalent of “long, long-term” unemployment checks or “early, early” retirement benefits. But the financial and human cost of such complacency is too high. The disabled who can work, should work, and Washington needs to enact policies that will help them do so.

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The twilight of China’s Communist Party Thu, 29 Jan 2015 20:01:55 +0000 “I can’t give you a date when it will fall, but China’s Communist Party has entered its endgame.” So says one of America’s most experienced China watchers to a small table of foreign diplomats at a private dinner in Washington, D.C. The pessimism from someone with deep connections to the Chinese government is notable. Washington should start paying attention if it wishes to avoid being surprised by political earthquakes in the world’s second-largest economy.

The China scholar at my table is no conservative. Nor are the handful of other experts. Each has decades of experience, extensive ties to Chinese officials and is a regular visitor to the mainland. No one contradicts the scholar’s statement. Instead there is general agreement.

“I’ve never seen Chinese so fearful, at least not since Tiananmen,” another expert adds, referring to the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy student demonstrators in the heart of Beijing. When prodded for specifics, he mentions increased surveillance, the fear of being investigated and increased arrests.

The full text of this article will be posted on Monday, February 2.

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Dear NASI: What’s behind door #4? Thu, 29 Jan 2015 19:56:57 +0000 The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), of which I’m a nominal member, published a blog post “clarifying the choices” available to reform the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which is projected to run short of funds in 2016. William J. Arnone, the Chair of NASI’s Board, and G. Lawrence Atkins, NASI’s President, point to three ways to strengthen the disability program’s finances.

These include:

  1. Transfer tax revenues from Social Security’s retirement program to the disability program
  2. Raise the payroll tax rate for the disability program, or
  3. Raises taxes for both the retirement and disability programs

That’s it? Those are my only choices? What’s behind door #4?

Arnone and Atkins make no mention of disability reforms such as those passed in the Netherlands in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which created incentives for employers to provide accommodations for workers with disabilities and required workers to undergo rehabilitative services before they could apply for disability benefits. The Netherlands once was a disability basket-case, with among the highest disability rates in the world. Today, they’ve reduced their intake of disability cases by 60%. Worth mentioning?

Reform proposals in the US draw from these experiences. One plan developed for the Center for American Progress and the Brookings Institution by David Autor of MIT and Mark Duggan of Stanford would require employers to cover the initial period of disability, during which time workers would receive rehabilitative services. Likewise, Richard Burkhauser of Cornell and Mary Daly of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, in a book published by the American Enterprise Institute, would institute “experience rating” for employers’ disability payroll taxes, such that employers who keep disabled employees on the job are rewarded with lower taxes.

The bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board has stated that the disability program should be reformed to “support an integrated approach that provides and emphasizes an alternate path — one directed to self-support, independence, and contribution that can help those who might, by taking that path, avoid, delay, or minimize their need for dependence on the programs of last resort.”

There’s been a tremendous amount of research work on disability in recent years. For an ostensible research organization to bypass all of that and reflexively turn to tax increases and only tax increases strikes me as bizarre.

Follow AEIdeas on Twitter at @AEIdeas.

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Place your bets: Why all political junkies should follow prediction markets Thu, 29 Jan 2015 19:25:33 +0000 Let’s talk about the other kind of “money in politics.” Here are three reasons why even non-gamblers should follow political betting markets – and then I’ll touch on the various ways this wagering occurs.

  1. They provide a fascinating snapshot of the political “marketplace”: Just as sports fans who don’t gamble are still interested in what “Vegas thinks,” many of us who follow politics get useful information from prediction markets.
    • For example, when you hear that “Hillary is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination,” this actually a verifiable fact. Hillary is, in fact, the heavy favorite. In betting parlance, she is “odds-on” to win.
    • Another nugget: Jeb Bush’s Dec. 16th announcement that he was going to “actively explore” a presidential run. How much did that statement really change things? After all, he didn’t say that he was officially running, and there had already been months of talk about a possible Jeb candidacy. Well, here’s an interesting data point: With that announcement, Jeb Bush’s odds to win the GOP nomination improved from 5-to-1 to 7-to-2 on Betfair, a large UK betting exchange (this link illustrates the change in Jeb’s odds over time, across various exchanges.)
    • Some fun facts from current betting markets (via the aggregator Predictwise):
  • Likelihood of winning the 2016 presidency:
    • Hillary Clinton 45.9%
    • Jeb Bush 13.9%
    • Marco Rubio 6.7%
    • Mitt Romney 5.6%
    • Rand Paul 5.6%
  • Likelihood of GOP nomination:
    • Jeb Bush 24.9%
    • Marco Rubio 13.3%
    • Mitt Romney 11.7%
    • Scott Walker 11.3%
    • Rand Paul 10.0%
  • Likelihood of Democratic nomination:
    • Hillary Clinton 75.1%
    • Elizabeth Warren 8.5%
    • Joe Biden 3.4%
  1. Markets are the only real-time feedback we have: Remember that first Obama-Romney debate? Early on in that skirmish there was an emerging consensus that Romney was doing well. But how much was it actually improving his chances of winning the election? It took days for polling to fully reflect the debate’s impact. But markets are open 24/7, and those of us watching saw Obama’s re-election odds dropping. Check out the graph below of the first 45 minutes of the debate (lifted from the since-closed futures site Intrade): Obama’s re-election odds fell from 71% to 67%. Nowhere else could you find quantifiable, real-time feedback. FYI, a graph of the entire 2012 election cycle is here.
Obama re-election contract
  1. Accuracy, via “the wisdom of the crowd”: Prediction markets are often the most accurate predictors of election results, outperforming both polls & pundits. In 2012 Intrade “predicted” the electoral outcome in 49 of 50 states. In 2008, Intrade was within 1 electoral vote (Nebraska’s rogue Congressional district) of the exact outcome. There’s plenty more data out there, but I’ll mention one more interesting case: last year’s Scottish independence vote. Markets were way ahead of the polling. As the NYT’s Upshot blog put it, the vote was “A Loss for Pollsters and a Win for Betting Markets.”

So, you ask, how do I bet? Below are the main avenues. Each has their own quirks, and I opened accounts with IEM and PredictIt in order to become more knowledgeable about them (and clearly not because I enjoy this sort of thing.)

  • PredictIt: Called the “online political stock market,” is a non-profit real money prediction site. Launched in October 2014, they purposely avoided the legal issues that plagued Intrade. Cleared by US regulators, PredictIt is legal for US residents. Trading volume appears pretty light so far, with some odd-looking wagers. If their markets get sufficient liquidity, PredictIt could be the new Intrade. They’ve certainly got some intriguing markets available, such as on the outcome of this year’s Supreme Court’s gay-marriage case.
  • Iowa Electronic Market (IEM): Operated by the University of Iowa for educational purposes since 1988, IEM is a precursor to PredictIt. Maximum account size is $500, and one popular bet  is predicting the % of the presidential vote each party gets.
  • Offshore betting sites: These are betting sites operating legally abroad yet closed to US residents. Some of the better-known are Betfair, Paddy Power (which famously paid out Obama bettors two days before the 2012 election) and the Rupert Murdoch-owned SkyBet, which, like many of these sites, is a major soccer sponsor. Most of the wagers are in the form of traditional sports bets, as in “5-to-1 on Hillary.”
2016 US presidential election betting odds5

In conclusion, talk is cheap but betting isn’t. Thus markets work, in politics and elsewhere.

Where do I bet? What kind of site is this? Is it legal for those in the US? How much can I bet? Can I exit my bet before the election? Fun bets available
PredictItEducational non-profit (U. of Wellington)Yes$850 per “question”Yes, buy & sell positions just like stocksWill Elizabeth Warren declare a 2016 run by March?
Offshore sitesBookmakers operating legally abroadNo (I tried)Varies, but can take sizeable wagersOnly by making an the opposite wager (one exception is Betfair exchange)Odds that GOP 2016 ticket is 2 women: 100-1 (it’s 13-2 for Dems)
Iowa Electronic MarketsEducational non-profit (U. of Iowa)Yes$500 total across all marketsYes, buy & sell positions just like stocksWhat % of the 2016 2-party vote will each party get?
IntradeWas set up as a financial “exchange”                             CLOSED IN 2013Had state-by-state electoral college bets


Follow AEIdeas on Twitter at @AEIdeas.

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Building toward another mortgage meltdown Thu, 29 Jan 2015 18:42:24 +0000 ...]]]> The Obama administration’s troubling flirtation with another mortgage meltdown took an unsettling turn on Tuesday with Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt ’s testimony before the House Financial Services Committee.

Mr. Watt told the committee that, having received “feedback from stakeholders,” he expects to release by the end of March new guidance on the “guarantee fee” charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to cover the credit risk on loans the federal mortgage agencies guarantee.

Here we go again. In the Obama administration, new guidance on housing policy invariably means lowering standards to get mortgages into the hands of people who may not be able to afford them.

Earlier this month, President Obama announced that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will begin lowering annual mortgage-insurance premiums “to make mortgages more affordable and accessible.” While that sounds good in the abstract, the decision is a bad one with serious consequences for the housing market.

The full text of this article can be read by subscribing to The Wall Street Journal. The rest of the article will be posted to on Monday, February 2.

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Analyzing the Jordan-Islamic State swap: Bolton on Fox Business’ ‘Lou Dobbs Tonight’ Thu, 29 Jan 2015 18:34:33 +0000 0 Study: Obama’s ‘middle-class economics’ tax plan would have ‘very little net impact on middle-income households’ Thu, 29 Jan 2015 18:30:47 +0000 In an analysis of President Obama’s State of the Union tax proposals — the core of his new “middle class economics” —  the Tax Policy Center finds the ideas “would have very little net impact on middle-income households.” That,  even though the president promised his plan would “[lower] the taxes of working families and [put] thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.” More from the Wall Street Journal about the TPC analysis:

Instead, much of the benefit of Mr. Obama’s plan goes to the lowest-income households, the analysis concludes. For example, those making between $49,000 and $84,000—the middle quintile of earners—would actually see their taxes go up by an average of $7 under Mr. Obama’s proposals.

In the middle, there would be a mix of winners and losers. About one quarter would get a tax cut averaging about $550, while about half would get a tax increase averaging about $290. Instead, the biggest boost to incomes would come in the lowest quintile, those with incomes up to about $25,000. They would see their incomes go up by about 1.2%, or $174. Those in the top 1% would see theirs fall by 2%, or about $29,000.

One reason for the result is that experts tried to estimate the impact on all U.S. workers of the president’s new proposed tax on highly-leveraged financial institutions. That is not a direct tax increase on those workers, but economists figure they would pay in some fashion—through lower compensation and benefits, for example.

The picture is slightly better for the administration if the bank tax is set aside. In that case, only about 6% of households in the middle quintile see a tax increase, as opposed to almost half. But the overall impact of the president’s plan on this group remains negligible-essentially, no change in after-tax incomes and an average $12 tax cut.

The analysis also has the potential to undermine administration claims on its capital gains proposal. In its State of the Union fact sheet, the White House said that 99% of the impact of those increases would fall on the top 1% of earners. The TPC analysis shows that about 62% of the overall tax increase would fall on the top 1%, while the rest—38%—would fall on people with lower incomes. These increases would be felt far down the income spectrum, mostly because of Mr. Obama’s proposal to start imposing capital-gains tax on many inheritances.

Some Republicans say it will be impossible to “outbid” Democrats for the affections of the American middle. (You know, by proving tax relief and more affordable higher ed — not to mention the promise of more high-paying jobs.) Actually, if this is the left’s best shot, it might not be hard at all.

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Are Republicans ready for a post-Obamacare world? Thu, 29 Jan 2015 18:25:57 +0000 ...]]]> Millions of Americans could find their health-insurance plans endangered if the Supreme Court rules this summer that President Barack Obama’s administration has broken the law in subsidizing them. The administration created this problem by pushing through a poorly written statute and lawlessly implementing it. But congressional Republicans nonetheless should step up and solve the problem — and they should do it in a way that hastens the end of Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act lets subsidies flow to insurance plans purchased on exchanges established by state governments. Since most states haven’t set up exchanges, following the law would have required limiting the subsidies geographically. The administration decided to offer them more widely, to include plans purchased on federal exchanges in states that declined to establish their own. If the Supreme Court decides to reinstate the law’s limits, millions of people whose plans are subsidized will suddenly face much higher premiums. And if they drop their coverage, it could cause premiums to rise for those who are left on the exchange, even people whose own plans aren’t subsidized.

Republicans could respond to this situation by saying it’s Obama’s fault and not their problem. But that would be a pretty callous reaction, and it probably wouldn’t be politically sustainable. A new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that if the court restricts the subsidies, 64 percent of people think Congress should “pass a law so that people in all states can be eligible for financial help from the government to buy health insurance.” Democrats would present a united front calling for quick fixes: The recalcitrant states could set up exchanges or deem the federal exchange for their residents to be “state-established”; Congress could pass a short bill blessing the subsidies everywhere.

Acceding to such demands, however, would present its own disadvantages. Republicans would have to expand the reach of Obamacare right after the court had shrunk it, entrenching a model of health-care policy they consider bad for the country and enraging many of their supporters. Because of the way Obamacare is written, the ruling would end the employer mandate and limit the reach of the individual mandate in the affected states. Going along with the Democrats would mean voting for these especially unpopular features of Obamacare. If the only alternatives are doing nothing or effectively reversing the court’s decision, Republicans will split over which to choose and fight each other about it.

But there are other alternatives. Republicans could, for example, offer to authorize the subsidies everywhere, but only through the end of this presidency and in return for some changes to the law. Or they could offer a health-insurance alternative of their own that enables the people affected to get affordable coverage. James Capretta and Yuval Levin have outlined legislation that meets that goal.

Levin and Capretta have concluded, however, that the best response by Congress to a decision striking down the subsidies would be something a bit less ambitious. They think that Congress should advance legislation to allow states to opt out of Obamacare and into something better. Those states would then be exempt from the law’s regulations and mandates. People already on the federal exchanges in those states would keep getting their subsidies for some limited time. Going forward, though, people in those states with no access to employer coverage would get tax credits they could use to buy any state-approved coverage — whether or not it meets Obamacare’s requirements or is bought on any government-run exchange.

This legislation would create a safe exit ramp from Obamacare. It would protect people from losing their coverage when Obamacare’s illegal subsidies end. It would respond to the public demand expressed in that Kaiser poll. Opponents of the law would no longer have to choose between leaving people without insurance and expanding a bad health-care policy. And if supporters of Obamacare balk at the proposal — if Democratic senators threaten to filibuster it, or if Obama threatens a veto — they will have to explain that Obamacare is terrific but can’t withstand the existence of a rival model in other states.

The plan is not politically foolproof. Some people would see their subsidies decline. Popular Obamacare regulations about how insurance companies should treat people with pre-existing conditions would have to be altered (though not abolished) for markets to work in the opt-out states. But it’s the best option for Republicans. They ought to work on it starting yesterday.​

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