The standard Republican response to Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to suspend the CLASS program — the Affordable Care Act’s voluntary long-term care insurance plan — after failing to come up with a sustainable model is truly baffling. One can argue that HHS should have listened to the warnings of actuaries who argued that CLASS would never attract enough young and healthy people to keep the program self-sustaining, but criticizing the administration for making the fiscally responsible decision on the back end and canceling the program before it ever became operational is pure nonsense.
But today’s Wall Street Journal — America’s alleged beacon of fiscal responsibility — does just that and more. The paper portrays Sebelius’ decision to accept the fiscal realities of CLASS as an example of Democrats’ effort “to put government on the hook for middle-class costs like home health services” and suggests that the administration’s conceit provides lawmakers with an opportunity to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) — a body that’s responsible for reducing government health care spending:
The only reason the Health and Human Services Department pre-emptively called off this scheme is that former New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg succeeded in inserting a provison that required the Class program’s reality to match Democratic promises as a matter of law. If HHS couldn’t provide “an actuarial analysis of the 75-year costs of the program that ensures solvency throughout such 75-year period,” it couldn’t be legally implemented. […]
At a minimum the GOP could begin by repealing the Class program altogether, since its legal authority is still intact. “One should never leave a partly loaded gun on the table, even if most of the chambers are empty or just house blanks,” writes the American Enterprise Institute’s Tom Miller. He also suggests attaching a few of the more destructive provisions and forcing Democrats to defend them, such as Mr. Orszag’s Independent Payment Advisory Board of 15 political appointees who have broad unaccountable powers to control health-care markets and health care.
On one hand, it’s great to see the paper admit that Democrats did incorporate Republican amendments into the law — in this case Judd Gregg’s safety clutch. On the other, it only serves as a reminder that it doesn’t matters what Democrats do or what compromises they reach, the conservative narrative of “unrestrained government spending” will remain unchanged to the point where the clearest examples of fiscal restraint will be interpreted as its greatest vindication.