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Posted by on Jul 17, 2009 in Economy, Health | 12 comments

We’re All Lemmings Now

Lemming.jpgPatrick Edaburn pointed out last night that the Washington Post (not exactly a bastion of Right wing conservatism) reported on recent CBO findings which indicate that the proposed House health reform plan will actually drive costs up, rather than producing the savings we’ve been promised.

The numbers don’t seem to be the issue here, since they appear to be clear to everyone except the plan’s backers in Congress. More amusing was Patrick’s prediction that Democrats and their supporters would try to shoot the messenger rather than defending the strength of the program.

Considering that 1) the CBO has long been recognized as non partisan, 2) these same Democrats loved the CBO when it made not so positive reports about Bush policies and 3) the Democrats control Congress (and therefore any partisanship in the office would logically tilt to them not to the minority party) the reaction is a bit odd to say the least.

Well, we didn’t have long to wait. Steve Benen at Washington Monthly was quick to point fingers, not at the CBO, but at the Republicans who dared to quote their analysis.

BEFORE THE GOP REDISCOVERS ITS LOVE OF THE CBO…. Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, told lawmakers this morning that the health care reform measures under consideration would likely increase government spending over the next decade, rather than save the government money.

Congressional Republicans, who routinely insist the CBO is not to be trusted, have, not surprisingly, pounced on Elmendorf remarks.

He then goes on to issue a list of demands that Republicans should agree to before they are allowed to quote the CBO or criticize the health reform plan.

Steve, I like you. I read your column regularly and I’ve linked to it here on a number of occasions. You’ve even linked to me once or twice. But if the only response you can come up with to the frightening prospect of these numbers is to yell at the Republicans for quoting them, it’s time to ask if we shouldn’t step back for a moment and take a deep breath. Is it at all possible that we have elected President Lemming and the Congressional All Lemming Review? If you take a quick glance at the scenery going by, isn’t it conceivable that we’re on the verge of getting shoved off a very tall cliff by all the lemmings coming up behind us?

The stimulus package was bungled badly, even though something certainly needed to be done. The numbers stacking up in terms of debt with no realistic path to recovering it are beginning to frighten even the most liberal analysts. And as near as I can tell, the Vice President is so alarmed that he’s taken to drinking heavily early in the day and spouting unrelated sentences to the press. Health care reform that not only wipes out an entire industry but adds to these mounting costs surely deserves a pause in the process and a more critical look.

The country is facing challenges and everyone seems to agree that we need to address them. But this cavalcade of spending and projection of crippling tax brackets should really be jarring all of us out of familiar patterns of behavior and into some sober, serious questions about exactly how we got into this handbasket and where it’s going right now.

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  • $199537

    This was predictable. There is a whole generation of Democrats who traditionally have handled problems by blaming them on the Republicans. Now that they are actually (and essentially completely) in power they still fall back on their patterned responses.

    The CBO report is not a surprise to anybody who has been looking at the numbers. If they are a surprise to Democrats they need to go take a long look in the mirror and ask why.

  • Jim_Satterfield

    Everyone doesn’t agree that we need to address our challenges. The Republican response seems to be more of the same. Be honest. If the Democrats weren’t pushing so hard would the Republicans be proposing anything? I’d say the problem is that due to our political environment we can’t go far enough. Too much of what has been proposed is just putting more money into the same corporations that have never done anything to rein in costs or help with the creation of a real health care system.

  • Guest

    Jazz wrote: “… this cavalcade of spending and projection of crippling tax brackets should really be jarring all of us out of familiar patterns of behavior and into some sober, serious questions about exactly how we got into this handbasket and where it’s going right now.”

    Amen.

  • GeorgeSorwell

    I mostly agree with what Jim Satterfield said. There’s a problem, Democrats are trying to solve it. The reason the CBO score is taken seriously is that Democrats are also trying to be responsible about the costs.

    In your link to Benen, you were also honest enough to insert his link complaining about the Republican’s dysfunctional relationship with the CBO. Here’s a quote from it:

    Last week, the Congressional Budget Office scored an incomplete Democratic health care proposal, issuing an unhelpful analysis with little practical value. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) not only accepted the CBO numbers as gospel, but called the analysis “the turning point in the healthcare debate.”

    This week, the CBO ran the numbers on the Democratic cap-and-trade, and in the process, discredited the Republican talking points on the proposal. Cantor’s fickle love for the CBO, predictably, faded quickly.

    There have been several CBO scores as the process has unfolded. Some better, some worse. The process is still unfolding.

    No bill has been passed yet. I imagine this current score will be taken into account and changes will be made.

    A serious argument against the usefulness CBO score was on display in the NYT article that Patrick linked to in the earlier post:

    The budget office, in its calculations, cannot take into account — or “score,” to use Congressional budget lingo — many of the savings that Democrats say will result from their legislation because those savings fall outside the direct control of federal law.

    If government spending on healthcare goes up $500 million, but out-of-pocket healthcare costs for individual Americans goes down $600 million, that’s $100 million in savings not scored by the CBO. (Naturally, there are problems with this analysis. For one thing, the government spending has still gone up and if you’re not one of the individuals who actually saved on out-of-pocket costs, you won’t see the benefit.) There are arguments on both sides. I’m not sure why Benen’s complaints for his side are any more out of line than Jazz’s complaints for his side.

    As to your complaint about crippling tax brackets, a commenter named Lisa posted this over at the ABC site:

    You’re another one who doesn’t understand tax law. No one is charged 50% on all their income. Look up what a marginal tax rate is. Marginal tax rates are also the reason your solution (that people will have incentives to “lower their income”) makes no sense and wouldn’t work. Again, the high tax rate only applies to that portion of the income that is above a certain level. Lowering your income (I assume your reason is so they go below the threshold where this kicks in) doesn’t lower your tax rate on that income. It just means you take home less money. Stupid plan.

    And why are you bringing up investments? Look up the difference between income tax rates and capital gains tax rates. The reason effective tax rates for the highest income earners will STILL be below 1990s levels even if this bill goes into effect is because capital gains tax rates have been so lowered in the past 30 years.

    Bottom line: Top income earners will STILL be keeping more of their money if this bill goes into effect than they did in the 1990s. Were the 1990s so bad for the wealthy? Seems to me they did pretty well. What’s so bad about going back to something close to those rates?

    Democrats are being the responsible party on this issue.

    In the first comment here, DaGoat complains that Democrats are falling back on their “patterned responses”. This seems unfair to me, in that Democrats are making serious efforts to cover the costs. The drama of the CBO score never mattered during the Bush years.

    What are the Republicans “patterned responses” when they are in power? I find the the deficit as scary as anyone, but I can’t think of anything the Republicans did to bring it down. Just the opposite, right?

    And now that they’re out of power, they’ve decided to vote no.

    If you think there is no problem, the Party of No is doing what you want. But for people who think there is a problem–well, you can’t beat something with nothing.

    • $199537

      What are the Republicans “patterned responses” when they are in power? I find the the deficit as scary as anyone, but I can’t think of anything the Republicans did to bring it down. Just the opposite, right?

      Unfortunately the GOP’s responses were to increase spending and cut taxes, which was as irresponsible as what the Democrats are trying to do. My comment was really referring more to people like Steve Benen, who instead of looking at the issue just complain about the opposing party.

      I think if the Democrats really want to have a new health plan they should just increase taxes across the board and do it. Right now they are trying to pretend they can increase coverage without a significant tax hike and without worsening the deficit.

      Personally I think in the midst of a severe recession is an awful time to be doing this. Obama’s deadlines also do not help – this is a much more complicated issue than many people paint it and it should be done right.

  • “the Washington Post (not exactly a bastion of Right wing conservatism)”

    That’s a joke right?

  • imavettoo

    According to most Republicans it is ALWAYS an awful time to do “this”. Snap your fingers & say SHAZAAM!

  • $199537

    According to most Republicans it is ALWAYS an awful time to do “this”. Snap your fingers & say SHAZAAM

    This would be another example of avoiding the issue (whether this is a good time to revamp health care) and instead deflecting the argument to complaints about the GOP.

  • DLS

    ” But this cavalcade of spending and projection of crippling tax brackets should really be jarring all of us out of familiar patterns of behavior and into some sober, serious questions about exactly how we got into this handbasket and where it’s going right now.”

    What’s sad is that many of us (the critics of the loony as well as destructive _and_ incompetent rush by the Dems on not only health care but on other issues) have known this all along and don’t need to be reminded, but where these words have their real value, they are wasted, on the accidentally or deliberately (willingly) ignorant and dogmatic lib-Dem faithful.

    My wondering remains substantial: Not that the Democrats are as destructive and incompetent as they are, for that’s no real surprise, but why the rush? Is it cynical and ruthless, simply to exploit their power (and the exploitable people who remain ignorant, or even support what they are doing, amazingly) while they have it, is it arrogance and conceit as well as a dearth of realism (shared by their faithful supporters) and childish excitement and idealism, is it related to a misreading of the public (assuming the relative quiet resulting from amazement, annoyance, and contempt by those of us who know better is actually tacit approval), or again ruthlessness, responding to a weak opposition (not only in Congress, but also only from a portion, though growing, among the public)? I don’t know. The pro-Dem-health-proposal TV commericals are aimed at the truly gullible and are contemptible, that’s for certain. I shudder at what it means if so much of the public is assumed to be so gullible or even pathological in supporting such government misconduct.

    There is no “crisis” [sic], there is no need to continue this _stupid_ rushing; if the Dems had much more intelligence and morality, they would _stop_ and revisit this idiocy, starting from scratch and aiming for greater public approval as well as for financial soundness and realism. (Revolutionary for them, I admit.)

  • DLS

    “Right now they are trying to pretend they can increase coverage without a significant tax hike and without worsening the deficit.”

    1. Or that others, objects of envy and resentment, Other People will pay for it.

    2. “Without worsening the deficit,” this, coming from the worst spenders and _deficit_and_debt_creators ever! (But will the gullible and their _supporters_[!] notice this, or will they _care_? Nooooooooooooo)

  • $199537

    My wondering remains substantial: Not that the Democrats are as destructive and incompetent as they are, for that’s no real surprise, but why the rush?

    I think the Democrats feel this is the Golden Moment where they control the House and Senate, have a popular president with political capital to burn, plus have a receptive populace. They also remember when Hillary tried to reform health care, was unsuccessful and set things back 15 years.

    That is of course a poor reason to rush it through since by rushing it increases the likelihood of failure.

  • PJBFan

    I am a strong believer in listening to the CBO. I’ve trusted them all along, even when the GOP, my party, said that they were to be taken with a grain of salt.

    This just improves my argument that we should not be having the Government provide health-care for everyone. Not only is it not a right, as some would claim, but also it costs way too much for Americans to shoulder the burden, especially now.

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