Slate is no hotbed of conservative sentiment. But Slate’s John Dickerson is skeptical of the claims being put forward for budget-neutral health care reform. Dickerson writes:
“President Obama has said he will not sign a health care reform bill unless it’s paid for. If it doesn’t lower costs, he will suggest spending cuts to make sure the deficit doesn’t grow. That’s a promise he says he will keep. But what about future presidents and members of Congress?”
Some of us don’t take the president at his word on this. We don’t believe that he would fight this hard for reform and then refuse to sign the bill because it is going to be too expensive. But the bill will have to look as if it won’t add to the budget. And perhaps the massive, unpaid for spending can actually be deferred, making President Obama’s deficit neutral claim technically correct–for the time being.
“The question is not exactly a hypothetical: Today’s rush to send money to seniors gives us a pretty good idea of the answer. For the first time since 1975, the Social Security Administration has announced, seniors will not receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment in their Social Security benefits. The move makes good policy sense—the formula used by the SSA shows the cost of living has not increased in the past year. But it’s also politically unpopular. That’s why members of Congress and the president are trying to give seniors more money.
“When the Congressional Budget Office determined that the Senate finance committee’s health care legislation would not add to the deficit, reform supporters heralded the news. Further, said the CBO, the bill would meet another important Obama priority: It would start to chip away at long-term health care costs. Budget watchdogs were skeptical, though. Former CBO director Douglass Holtz-Eakin was even more so.
What they’re saying is: ‘Your fantasies add up. I could say to CBO: ‘Hi, I’d like to make 5 million a year and live in a 125-room mansion. Does it work?’ And CBO says ‘yes,’ but that isn’t going to happen.’
“The former policy director for the McCain campaign, now with the Manhattan Institute, wasn’t quibbling with the CBO’s math. He just didn’t think future politicians would keep the promises the bill was holding them to.”
If the Democratic health legislation becomes law, the United States ultimately will be like California–broke and unable to pay its bills.