Schizoid Sunday Edition: Health Care Showdown

It’s a Schizoid Sunday for me as we await the House vote on the health care bill (prediction: passes by four). As noted in yesterday’s post, I think it’s right and compassionate to extend coverage to millions of the working poor. Good for us on that, and about time.

But the financial picture. . . oy! It’s nice that the Congressional Budget Office gives its blessing to the current bill, but the experts are far from unanimous as to the impact of the new spending on our already obscene and threatening deficits. (One more plug for Scott Burns’ cogent and scary book, The Coming Generational Storm, which reminds us that every time you see an “official” tally of what we owe, that total doesn’t even include the massive unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare.)

And now, like a skunk at the House picnic, comes a former CBO director to play Cassandra. After analyzing the bill (to the extent it can be analyzed),  Douglas Holtz-Eakin has this reaction:

How can the budget office  give a green light to a bill that commits the federal government to spending nearly $1 trillion more over the next ten years?

The answer, unfortunately, is that the CBO is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out.

In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges. The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits by $562 billion.

Eakin’s full and depressing piece is here.

I can easily imagine a full-bodied supporter of health care reform (which is really health insurance reform) saying, “Well, what about it? If we’re going to drown in debt, let’s do it while providing decent health care for children, not dropping thousands of American troops into distant hellholes where they can’t tell friend from enemy.”

I see that point of view, while I don’t entirely embrace it. But who knows? If the health-care Cassandras are right, things may get so  bad financially that we are forced to give up our billions-bleeding foreign policy adventures in imposing democracy on people who rarely seem to understand, want, or deserve it.  Maybe then  we could then bring home the troops and spend a few budget cycles trying to bind up our own wounds.

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