Saturday, May 16, 2009

Theater of the absurd

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn talks health care reform:
Everywhere you look, health care reform seems to be chugging along. Insurers and drug companies are visiting the White House to show solidarity with President Obama. House Democrats are promising to pass a bill by July 31. But, if you talk to senior staff in the administration or on Capitol Hill, you'll detect anxiety over one tiny agency--an agency that helped kill health care reform in 1994 and has the power to do so again.

That agency is the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is just now weighing in on the debate. When Congress writes a bill, the CBO is the agency that determines how much implementing it will likely cost. And that's no small matter. For every extra dollar in new expenditures that the CBO projects, Congress must find a new dollar in revenue--or learn to live with a new dollar in deficits. Back in 1994, the CBO decided that paying for universal health insurance under the Clinton plan would cost more than the administration thought it would. That forced Bill Clinton and his allies to propose additional regulations on insurance prices, incurring a political liability that helped seal the plan's fate.

The CBO hasn't rendered an official verdict on health care reform this time around, because, officially, there's still no plan on which to render a final verdict. But the CBO began producing preliminary projections about three weeks ago, based on rough proposals that congressional staff have submitted. And, according to several sources familiar with the estimates, the news isn't quite what Obama and his allies were hoping to hear.

The good news for reformers is the CBO's determination that expanding health-insurance coverage would cost a lot less than many outside experts had predicted. Instead of a politically daunting $1.5 trillion, the CBO figures the price tag will be closer to $1 trillion, at least under certain parameters.
Read that again -- the good news is that under certain parameters health care "reform" might only cost $1 trillion. This is absolutely mind boggling, it's almost as if such people operate in a parallel universe. We have truly come to a bizarre place where a trillion dollar price tag is considered good news. Welcome to the new era of responsibility.

Update: Greg Mankiw, who isn't given to over the top rhetorical flourishes, says that the "long-term fiscal strategy at the White House is based on large doses of wishful thinking."

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