Yesterday, David discussed the CBO’s miscalculation regarding the Senate health care bill. Democrats had been insisting that bill somehow cut the deficit and strengthened Medicare, but as it turns out the CBO had to clarify that the savings of the bill were being double counted. The “savings” the bill produces either have to be applied toward the Medicare trust fund or they have to be put toward the cost of the legislation to make it reduce the deficit by $132 billion over the next ten years. (That’s assuming you buy into the shady accounting tricks used to score the bill.) Megan McArdle has a typically astuteblog post up discussing the implications all of this. Megan even observes that as recently as Saturday, President Obama was trumpeting the bill’s twin achievements of deficit reduction and strengthening Medicare. However, Megan didn’t quote Obama in full —fortunately The American Spectator’s Phil Klein did. The entirety of Obama’s remarks in the immediate aftermath of Senate Democrats securing finally securing 60 votes to pass their health care bill are worth pondering:
“This bill with strengthen Medicare and extend the life of the program. Because it’s paid for and gets rid of waste and inefficiency in our health care system this will be the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade. In fact, we just learned from the Congressional Budget Office that this bill will reduce our deficit by $132 billion over the first decade of the program, and more than one trillion dollars in the decade after that.”
Well, we now know that whether it was an innocent mistake or fiscal prestidigtation, one of these claims is simply not true. Which is all the more reason you don’t railroad an unpopular bill through in the middle of the night, as this episode proves conclusively that the Senate can’t be trusted not to make mistakes involving literally hundreds of billions of dollars.
But the bottom line is that this is a massive, massive blunder and the President and the Senate Democrats need to come clean about it. They sold the American people, or tried to anyway, on specific promises regarding deficit reduction and preserving Medicare. Now they can’t be sure of either of those promises. And Joe Taxpayer should probably be scared has heck about what else they’ve overlooked regarding the consequences of health care legislation.
If the President and Senate Democrats are serious about their repeated promises to produce health care reform that saves money in the long-term, then they’re going to have to scrap what they’ve got and go back to the drawing board. But nothing in the way that health care legislation has been handled so far suggests that Democrats are hoping for anything other than a short-term, ego-driven legislative victory.