Health Care Reform: Capitol Hill Illusions, Delusions and Lies

The biggest political lie of 2010 is off to a flying start in 2011. As the new Republican House majority sets out to “repeal” the new health care law, Democrats are waving a report from the Congressional Budget Office that the media describes as stating that such an act would actually add to the deficit, because the CBO has calculated that the law, as it stands, will reduce the federal deficit by about 270 million dollars.

But wait a minute! What CBO is really saying is that if the assumptions and projections incorporated into the law are accurate, then the law will cut the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office is not allowed to challenge the assumptions written into a law, only to calculate what a law will cost according to those assumptions. This also means that the CBO will not assume that the costs of implementing the many administrative measures in the law will rise—as the costs of all major federal programs inevitably do. Speaker John Boehner has stated that he doesn’t believe that anyone in Washington, including the Democrats, really believes that the new law will reduce the deficit. Ezra Klein, the Washington Post’s mouthpiece of the Left, claims that the Republicans actually know the law will lower the deficit. Who’s lying? Or perhaps a better question is, what constitutes a lie in such a convoluted context?

As the Wall Street Journal, hardly the first, points out this morning, Klein and everyone else pretending that this is the first health entitlement they’ve ever seen come out of Washington, D.C. is, if not lying, being intentionally deceptive. Wait—that is lying, isn’t it?

“Democrats and the media are behaving as if they have no knowledge of Congress’s habits or the history of government health-care programs over the last half-century. Entitlements are always sold as modest and “paid for,” then years later everyone suddenly discovers that they are “unaffordable” without digging deeper into the pockets of the middle class. How do you think Medicare and Medicaid got to their current pass? The government can’t subsidize coverage for tens of millions of new people and simultaneously reduce the deficit, as most Americans seem to intuitively understand.”

If Congress makes all the right moves in the future as the law assumes it will (which, as Boehner says, everyone in Washington over the age of six knows it won’t) , and if one accepts the accounting devices the bill’s advocates employed to represent a nearly one trillion dollar expenditure as savings (including, according to critics, ten years of taxes in the bill used to fund six years of subsidies…double-counting $398 billion worth of Social Security and Medicare revenues… an expensive long-term care program that frontloads taxes and postpones spending until after the period score by the CBO…and a legion more), then sure, the law reduces the deficit. But as CBO’s director noted on his own blog in March, the CBO calculation being represented as non-partisan certainty by Democrats and the press

“….reflects an assumption that the provisions of the legislation are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation. For example, the sustainable growth rate mechanism governing Medicare’s payments to physicians has frequently been modified to avoid reductions in those payments, and legislation to do so again is currently under consideration by the Congress. [Note: And the reductions, once again, were ducked in 2010.] The current legislation would maintain and put into effect a number of policies that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time.”

“Might be”…and by any fair assessment of the history of entitlements, almost certainly will be.

So why is the new House Minority leader telling the public that repealing the bill will “heap mountains of debt onto our children and grandchildren” and “do very serious violence to the national debt and deficit”? Why is Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius claiming that “we can’t afford to repeal” the law? Why is the White House saying repeal would “explode the deficit”?

More alarming still, why is most of the press simply reporting the CBO estimates as fact without explaining them? There is a reason why most of the country doesn’t believe the argument that a massive new entitlement insuring millions of Americans will cost less than it brings in: it is unbelievable. And it probably isn’t true.

So who is being unethical in this Capitol Hill farce?

The Republicans? Well, they aren’t being dishonest, exactly. They are grandstanding and wasting precious time, since there is no way the House’s vote to repeal of the law will make it through the Democratic Party-controlled Senate, much less the inevitable presidential veto. If, by some miracle, Republicans succeeded in killing the law, they would have to replace the law with something, because the same “everybody in Washington” that knows that the current law isn’t going to reduce the deficit also knows that exploding health care costs will drive up the deficit disastrously without major changes. Do Republicans know what that something would be? Just opposing the current law isn’t enough, and  isn’t responsible.

The Democrats are lying, at least those using the CBO report to claim the Republicans are violating its commitment to reducing deficit by repealing the law. It also is a disingenuous argument: the law was passed by the Democrats as a measure to make the health care system better, not to balance the budget. A massive health care law that won’t work, as the Republicans claim, ought to be repealed on that basis. It makes no sense to keep a bad trillion dollar law just because it saves money—which, of course, it won’t.

The news media has really disgraced itself in this debate. It isn’t exactly repeating an untruth by headlining the CBO’s estimates regarding the law, but almost no sources explain what the CBO opinion is based upon, or what the CBO really means when it says “Eliminating the health care law will result in an additional $270 billion in deficits”, which is “Eliminating the health care law will result in an additional $270 billion in deficits if all the assumptions in the law are correct, which they probably are not, and if implementing the law costs no more than it says it will, which it almost certainly will, and if nothing at all takes its place, which is highly unlikely.”

In fairness to the media, the New York Times’ hard-left commentator Paul Krugman, who is on record as believing, for example, that the U.S. deficit isn’t large enough, does seem to believe that the law will reduce the deficit. Even he, however, does not answer the question of why this one gigantic new entitlement, unlike all others before it, won’t cost a lot more than originally assumed once it is fully operational. Krugman is an award-winnng economist, and I’d really like to know how he gets around the lessons of Washington bureacracy. Maybe it is because he doesn’t live in Washington…where everyone knows that the law isn’t going to be repealed and can’t possibly reduce the deficit. And where so many elected officials continue to tell us otherwise.

From the beginning of the health care reform debacle, both sides of the issue pursued its agenda by misrepresenting facts and deceiving the public, with the media periodically helping out by refusing to be objective.

It goes on.


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