Tomorrow, both the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will release revised deficit projections showing that the 2009 deficit will be slightly lower than previously estimated, but that ten-year deficits will be about $2 trillion more. Reuters’ Jeff Mason wrote today that the new projections will likely “provid[e] further fiscal fodder to opponents of Obama’s nearly $1 trillion healthcare overhaul plan.” And indeed, Pat Buchanan had this to say today on MSNBC:
Let me say a word here for the Blue Dogs and the Republicans. Joe, I got up on Saturday, coming on over to MSNBC, and it said Obama said ‘well, we made a slight mistake,’ the ten-year year deficit total is not $7.1 trillion, it’s 9 trillion dollars. [...] And Joe, we’re talking about another $1 trillion entitlement program? Are we serious? [...] As a conservative going up there, I’d say, look you guys, we can’t afford this!
Echoing this, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told ABC’s This Week that the high deficit “gives people pause about another trillion dollars that would have to be spent to reform health care.”
First, it’s pretty disingenuous for Buchanan and Joe Scarborough to treat the revised numbers as if they are the product of a math error, instead of revisions that take into account updated economic information and data. Both OMB and CBO have released numerous projections this year, taking into account changing economic conditions. For instance, the 2009 deficit projection went down after less money was spent on the bank rescue than anticipated.
Second, every time new projections come out, the inevitable first question is whether they mean the death of health care reform. But as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out, “the new projections won’t provide any evidence” to bolster the claim that health reform shouldn’t occur:
Not only will it be hard to say whether the projections clearly show an improvement or worsening in the fiscal outlook (better or worse than what?), but the factors that are likely to determine the final size of the deficit in 2009 — the costs recorded for TARP and for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — have nothing to do with questions that some are hoping the new projections will answer.
It remains the case that the best way to get long-term deficits under control is to slow down their “key driver”: skyrocketing health care costs. Without reform, the federal budget will be crippled — which is a fact that these updated projections do not refute.