Obamacare vs. 2009's Digital Transition: Remembering the GOP's rollout crisis, and the Dem's reaction

What a mess. In an implementation that was flawed from the start, not enough Americans knew about the impending changes, and even fewer were prepared for the transition.

By best estimates, over 6.5 million Americans would suddenly lose service they’d depended on for years. Sticker shock set in as people realized that changing over from their old system to the new one would cost a lot more than they were promised.

But one man stood against this resistance. Multiple failures were no reason to delay a program that affected so many millions of Americans.

No, I don’t mean President Obama. That man was Congressman Fred Upton from Michigan (R-MI).

And, no — we’re not talking about the Affordable Care Act (aka, “Obamacare”), which Upton’s legislation attempted to gut and delay last Friday. We’re talking about his poorly conceived, overly-expensive Digital Transition and Public Safety Act, which he fought to push through against the very concerns he has now for Obamacare.

Because apparently when the federal government forces millions of Americans to buy a product that they don’t want, for the supposed greater good, it’s only a problem when Democrats do it, but not the GOP.

The digital transition debacle

In 2005, Upton sponsored the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act, which similar to Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), was supposed to solve a national problem by inconveniencing a small number of people.

Why was it implemented? The 9/11 Commission told Congress that analog television signals were doomed to failure eventually, and that only a massive overhaul from analog to digital systems would allow the kind of rapid and effective communication that America would need in a crisis. This meant that over 20 million televisions (mostly owned by the elderly and the poor) with rabbit ears, coat hangers and origami-shaped tin foil antennae would be made obsolete with the flick of a congressional pen.

Analog would stop beaming out from towers on February 18, 2009, and anyone who hadn’t switched their old school set to a digital version was going to get a blank screen.

This change was forced on the American people, whether they liked it or not.

GOP supports one, fights another, universal program

Yet, the Digital Transition Act, like ACA, wasn’t going to affect most Americans. The vast majority of Americans get health insurance through an employer, and ACA doesn’t affect them. The majority of Americans in 2009 got their television from cable or satellite, so the transition wouldn’t affect them either.

But there were those independent viewers out there, some five percent of the U.S. television viewing public, that suddenly were getting notices that their televisions would go blank. Unless, of course, they paid for a digital converter box to watch the same television broadcast they used to get for free — for “upgraded” digital service they never asked for.

Sound familiar?

Ironically this is about the same percentage of Americans who have to switch their “cancelled” plans thanks to Obamacare. In 2009 Upton and the GOP argued that inconveniencing five percent of the U.S. population was fine in the long run. They’d eventually make the change. That was no reason to delay the digital roll-out.

But their tune has changed now that Obamacare is on the table.

Pointing out this irony certainly paints the GOP in a new light.

This isn’t just a matter of pointing out Republican contrarianism; this example demonstrates how that contrarianism makes all legislation a game of brinkmanship instead of good policy.