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Obamacare's Fundamental Dishonesty

1:30 PM, Oct 19, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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If the Democrats' legislation fulfilled its goal of covering almost every American and also managed to pay for itself, it was suddenly much harder to oppose. So last week, as the Republicans sought to make their case that the health-care bill should be repealed, a lot of their arguments were aimed at undercutting the numbers coming out of the CBO.

The agency's product is nothing more than "budget gimmicks, deceptive accounting, and implausible assumptions used to create the false impression of fiscal discipline," wrote conservative wonks Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Joseph Antos and James C. Capretta in the Wall Street Journal. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says the CBO's numbers are based on "smoke and mirrors." Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), angry that the CBO thinks tax cuts reduce tax revenue - no doubt the agency has also been known to say that the sun rises in the east - has called for the CBO to be abolished....

You can play whack-a-mole with this stuff all day. But beneath it is something more insidious: an effort to discredit the last truly neutral, truly respected scorekeeper in Washington. The facts don't support the particular case the Republicans want to make, so they're trying to take down the people who supply the facts. But once that's done, it can't easily be undone. And the true loser will be the very thing Republicans claim to care most about: the deficit.

Now even the Obama administration says the single biggest source of Obamacare's deficit savings is unworkable, and it's tacit acknowledgement that they manipulated the CBO's scoring process by frontloading the revenue and delaying the costs. So I don't think Republicans are to blame for undermining the CBO's credibility. The fact that Democrats deliberately gamed the CBO system to claim the bill was cost effective when they knew all along they were engaging in fiscal prestidigitation strikes me what's really damaging to the integrity of the system, as opposed to GOP critics (rightly) pointing out that the numbers didn't add up.

Let's not forget that Senate budget committee chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., called the CLASS Act "a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of." Yet the program was still included in Obamacare, Democrats proceeded to sell the bill on the basis of it's illusory deficit savings, and Conrad voted for it anyway.

Which brings me to Ezra Klein's more recent comments on the matter. Klein, again to his credit, concedes that those who argued the CLASS Act was unsound from the beginning "have a point." But then arrives at this baffling conclusion:

As I mentioned earlier, the problem with CLASS isn’t that it unexpectedly failed in practice. It’s that further analysis showed it worked exactly as the Congressional Budget Office predicted: it saved money in the first 10 years and cost money after that.

In other words, the motto here is “trust CBO.” And what does CBO say about the rest of the health-care law? They predict (pdf) that it saves some money in the first 10 years, and much more in the decades after that.

This is nonsense on stilts. For a long time the exact argument in support of the program was "trust the CBO." Majority leader Harry Reid stood Senate floor and said "[The CLASS Act is] fully paid for, CBO said, in the far future, decades and decades into the future." Maybe "further analysis" exposed the problems of the CLASS Act, but that came after lots of public statements by Democrats specifically citing the CBO in support of the program. If anything, the CLASS Act saga demonstrates how easily the CBO process was manipulated for political ends, and anyone who argues that the collapse of the CLASS Act should renew our faith in the CBO is either delusional or dishonest.

So many of the debates about Obamacare come down to arguing about numbers and policy details. But in the end, I suspect the real reason Americans have consistently opposed the law is that Americans felt all along that an effort to transfer massive power to the federal government to control huge portions of the health care system through a hastily cobbled together, 2,700 page piece of legislation full of pie-in-the-sky promises was about the last thing they wanted. It's bad that the government wanted this power, and it's much worse that Democrats were being disingenuous in their efforts to acquire it. And with each new Obamacare failure, it just confirms their Americans's suspicions that they were being lied to all along.

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