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Friday, June 26, 2009

Blaming the Cost of Health Care Reforms on … Facts?

Tasked with providing, “objective, nonpartisan, and timely analyses to aid in economic and budgetary decisions,” the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) can correctly be called the government’s accountant. They are responsible for producing a “score,” or cost estimate, for each bill considered by the full membership of either the House or Senate.

When calculating a bill’s cost, the CBO operates using an established set of rules and formulas (written by Congress, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the CBO itself) designed, “to ensure consistent treatment of spending authority, appropriations, and outlays across programs and over time,” according to the CBO Director.

As has been widely reported, the CBO recently issued their estimates for the two major health care reform bills circulating in the Senate, and the results weren’t pretty – ranging from about $1 trillion for Senator Kennedy’s (D-MA) HELP Committee bill to $1.5 trillion for the bill moving through Senator Baucus’ (D-MT) Finance Committee.

Unfortunately, this “just the facts, ma’am” approach to cost estimation isn’t sitting well with the Obama Administration or Congressional Democrats, leading ABC News to ask:

Is President Obama preparing to dismiss whatever price tag the Congressional Budget Office eventually places on the final draft of the congressional Democrats’ health care reform proposal?

The reason politicians and their staffers are wondering is because for the first time, last night the president expressed frustration at the way CBO – long regarded as a fair and non-partisan arbiter – makes its analyses.

President Obama’s Budget director, Peter Orszag, is former CBO director. But in recent weeks as the CBO has provided $1-$1.6 trillion estimates for two draft health care reform bills, some Democrats have claimed the CBO analyses aren’t fair.
The President contends:
"It doesn't count all the savings that may come from prevention, may come from eliminating all the paperwork and bureaucracy because we've put forward health IT, it doesn't come from the evidence-based care and changes in reimbursement that I've already discussed about."

Continued the president, "the Congressional Budget Office, the CBO, which sort of polices what all various programs cost, they're not willing to credit us with those savings. They say, ‘That may be nice, that may save a lot of money, but we can't be certain.’"
The Administration and Democrats in Congress realize that after the record spending of the last few months, the American public is unwilling to accept another massive government spending program. As such, for PR purposes only, they argue the CBO should reduce their factually based cost estimates by the best guesstimate offered by the bill’s proponents.

This is nothing more than fuzzy math and shoddy accounting – at the expense of the nation’s long-term fiscal solvency.

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