Score One For Proper Scoring: The CBO And The Obama Administration

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 19, 2009

I have had occasion to criticize the Congressional Budget Office in the past for some dishonest analysis of the emerging plans on health care reform. But credit where it is due; the CBO delivered with a biting and accurate scoring of the Obama Administration’s reform plans. As the CBO pointed out, the plan comes in at $1.6 trillion over ten years, when the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Max Baucus, wanted the plan to come out at an even $1 trillion over the next ten years. Taking an extra $600 billion out of any reform package terrifies the likes of Ezra Klein. To summarize Klein’s discomfort, he believes that penny-pinching to the tune of $600 billion over the next decade means less reform. As Klein writes, “[t]he hope that we could expand the current system while holding costs down appears to have been just that: a hope.”

Of course, some of us knew that already. And relatedly, no wonder the Obama Administration wanted to rush consideration of health care reform. But never mind that for a moment–I want to focus for a minute on the following comment in Klein’s post concerning the $1 trillion target the Senate Finance Committee set for itself:

. . . Why $1 trillion? Why not $1.3 trillion or, for that matter, $700 billion? And it’s an arbitrary financing target. It’s not $1 trillion with coverage expanded to 40 million people. Just $1 trillion.

Note that language. Even if we get the spending down to a mere(!) $1 trillion, we won’t get universal health coverage, as Klein himself admits. That alone ought to be an argument against the Administration’s plans; I am against universal coverage, but if the Obama Administration is going to commit to spending gobs of money to achieve universal coverage, it ought to actually achieve universal coverage. Instead, it appears that the Obama Administration may well spend gobs of money . . . only to get relatively little bang for its buck. If that’s not a scandal, nothing is.

I suppose it is worth noting that the instruments for the CBO’s unfavorable scoring of the Obama plan were put into effect by none other than former CBO Director–and current OMB Director–Peter Orszag. Irony can be very ironical at times. It is also worth noting that health care reform–once seemingly unstoppable, has run into so many obstacles, that Barack Obama’s first choice for the twin positions of Secretary of Health and Human Services and White House Health Policy Czar, Tom Daschle, is now suggesting that the White House may need to drop its insistence on a government takeover of the health care system. The White House and its allies have had a no good, horrible, very bad day, when it comes to the issue of health care reform, no?

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