Welcome to the American Revolution II

Welcome to the American Revolution II
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
"We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method..." and warned about what he saw as unjustified government spending proposals and continued with a warning that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex... The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist... Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."Dwight D. Eisenhower

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama vs. CBO:
Healthcare Plan Will Add to the Deficit -- and Spending Too

Sitting with my colleagues in the East Room during the White House news conference July 23rd, I was struck by the President’s insistence -- without qualification or hesitation -- that enactment of his much-cherished America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 “will not add to the deficit.”

In claiming that the health care measure will not add to the deficit, Obama obviously set himself up for debate and criticism with Republicans in Congress. That is to be expected.

But in the process, he has also set the stage for debate with another entity that is explicitly non-partisan and independent: the Congressional Budget Office.
Created under the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974, the CBO estimates revenues in the congressional budget process. CBO “scores” on proposed spending legislation include projections on the impact on the deficit and the national debt.

Less than a week before Obama made his claim about the health care measure not adding to the deficit, CBO released its preliminary analysis of the H.R. 3200 (the formal bill number of the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009). Completed in cooperation with the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), the CBO analysis includes “estimates of the changes in the non-elderly U.S. population with health insurance coverage, the primary budgetary components of the bill’s major provisions related to insurance coverage, and a detailed table of the other provisions’ impact on federal direct spending.”

“According According to CBO’s and JCT’s assessment,” CBO Director Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote in a cover letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D.-N.Y.), “enacting H.R. 3200 would result in a net increase in the federal budget deficit of $239 billion over the 2010-2019 period [Italics added].”

Elmendorf went on to explain that the “estimate reflects a projected 10-year cost of the bill’s insurance coverage provisions of $1,042 billion, partly offset by net spending changes that CBO estimates would save $219 billion over the same period, and by revenue provisions that JCT estimates would increase federal revenues by about $583 billion over those 10 years.”

There you have it: when one hears Barack Obama insist that his vision of health care “will not add to the deficit,” the logical response should be: “Take it up with the CBO, Mr. President.”

A Footnote: Although CBO and its directors are explicitly non-partisan and independent, congressional leaders name the director of the agency. Elmendorf, then, is the choice of Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Company. During an earlier stint with CBO, he worked as an associate analyst under then-Director Robert Reischauer. That was in 1993, when CBO made headlines by scoring President Clinton’s proposed health care plan much higher than the White House did. The CBO analysis was pivotal to the defeat of the Clinton plan.

Obama's Last Big Push for 'Quickie' Passage of Health Care

Walking out of the gates of the White House last night following President Obama’s news conference, it was something of a surprised to find a number of my colleagues discussing something other than the main topic of the session, health care.

But Steve Coffman of the Cleveland Plain Dealer was in our cluster of reporters and he was, of course, the “Steve” who finally got his question in after the President called his name but looked at another “Steve” -- Steve Thomma of McClatchey News.

“Hey, the Plain Dealer got some recognition, McClatchey’s got to be happy, and [the Chicago Tribune’s] Lynn Sweet had to wait a bit but she got her question in,” said Coffman about the mix-up that closed the latest Obama meeting with the press. “So it all worked out fine.”

Whether the overall message of Barack Obama’s nationally-televised news conference works out as well as the “two Steves” glitch remains to be seen. With nine days to go before Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the summer, the President made what is likely to be his last big push for lawmakers to enact his comprehensive health care reform package. Obama read his opening statement from the now-familiar “jumbo-prompter.” In one hour, he took ten questions (the least at any Obama White House press conference so far) and all but three dealt with the health care issue.

Much of Obama’s opening remarks and lengthy answers were clearly designed to reply to criticisms of the health care package now making its way through the House. Once again, Obama reminded reporters and television viewers that Americans spend “more on health care than any other nation” and that “the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid were the consequences of inaction.”

Obama set himself up for further argument with House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) and other opponents of his package by insisting its enactment “will not add to the deficit.” Two days earlier, Pence opened a press conference denouncing the Obama package by citing a study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that the reform measure would indeed increase the deficit by $239 billion over the next decade.

And, as Obama has in his four previous public appearances this week, he made a strong pitch for Congress to enact reform before it leaves town. To my colleague David Alexander’s query as to “why the rush?”, Obama replied, “I’m rushed because I get letters every day by families who are getting crushed” under the burden of health care. Sounding every bit like Lyndon Johnson when he pushed Congress to enact Medicare and other Great Society measures in 1964, he added that “if you don’t set deadlines in this town, things don’t happen.”

There is evidence that what Obama says about deadlines in Washington is true. But there is also a case to be made that insistence on action with nine days to go before the congressional recess may well cost him critical support from centrist Democrats (Blue Dogs) in the House. The Blue Dogs are reportedly pleading with the White House for more time to work out problems they have with the package as it is now crafted. Obama’s talk of deadlines and moving quickly because “the stars are aligned” cannot be heartening to this group, many of whom fear retribution at the polls next year if they back Obama on health care.

As to problems he might be having within his own party over the health care issue, Obama explained to Chuck Todd of NBC News that “this is a big issue and a lot of Democrats have different ideas.” He also reached to Republicans in Congress and declared that “you haven’t seen me out there blaming Republicans. . .” although he admitted he was frustrated with what he considered “a little misinformation” on the GOP’s part.

The large group of foreign correspondent were evident in the East Room, but as a colleague from Latin America remarked to me before Obama came out, “He’s not going to handle any foreign policy questions tonight, is he?”

No, he wasn’t going to and he didn’t. With numerous polls nationwide showing voters turning on Obama over the health care issue and the debate on this issue clearing inflicting some wounds in his personal popularity, the President had to focus the televised hour on pushing health care in Congress in a big way. As to whether it will have an impact, all that can be said is we’ll know in a week, won’t we?

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