The CBO’s score of the Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform bill isn’t winning over any converts. After a year of building up the budget office’s ‘bipartisan’ credibility — Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has repeatedly equated the CBO with ‘God’ — Republicans are now dismissing the office’s politically inconvenient conclusions.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the new version of the Senate Finance Committee’s health bill “will result in a net reduction in federal budget deficits of $81 billion over the 2010–2019 period” and would actually “reduce the federal budgetary commitment to health care.” But Republicans are stressing that the CBO analysis is “preliminary,” insisting that Democrats have a secret plan to scrap the existing health care legislation that “expands the role of the federal government in the personal health care decisions of every American.”
– Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA): “I think it’s going to be closer to a trillion dollars…It’s going to lead to a massive involvement of the federal government in health care.” [Fox News, 10/07/2009]
– Dick Morris: “If that sells well, they should list it under fiction on the best sellers list.” [Fox News, 10/07/2009]
– Michelle Malkin: “These are fantasy numbers, that’s the bottom line.” [Fox News, 10/08/2009]
Watch a video compilation:
The Baucus bill requires some substantial changes, but the Republican effort to invalidate the CBO scores is highly disingenuous. It’s hard to argue that you support bipartisan deficit-neutral health care reform and oppose a measure that incorporates pages of Republican ideas and actually reduces the deficit by $81 billion over 10 years. To make that argument, one must pretend that the Baucus bill is something it’s not.
To be clear, the bill is far from perfect and many progressives have their share of complaints. As Jonathan Cohn points out, the coverage provisions are “significantly lower than the projections from the House bill.” “In raw numbers, it’s the difference between 25 million people (Senate Finance bill) and 17 million (House bills) still uninsured ten years from now.” The Committee has some $71 billion (before it meets President Obama’s cost threshold of $900 billion) and could invest in higher affordability credits or improve affordability measures by allowing the Exchanges to “negotiate with plans for lower bids, encourage plans to form select networks, and exclude plans that do not offer good value and cost-effectiveness.”
Moreover, Congress should replace the proposed network of cooperatives — which, according to the CBO, are “unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country or to noticeably affect federal subsidy payment — with a robust public option that could save the government as much as $150 billion over 10 years. It should eliminate the “failsafe” clause that “automatically” cut subsidies in the exchange to avert a projected increase in spending, strengthen employer-based coverage by replacing the bill’s free-rider provision with a pay-or-play employer mandate, and improve consumer protections by regulating the insurance plans of large self-insured corporations and lowering the amount insurers can charge older people for coverage. The Committee bill should also invest in long term care by adopting the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, “a national insurance program to be financed by voluntary payroll deductions to provide benefits to adults who become severely functionally impaired.” The legislation establishes a safety net for long term care needs and also generates new revenue for reform. The House bills and the Senate’s health committee both include the program.
The Baucus bill provides Congress with an important opportunity to build up and incorporate many progressive criticisms into the final Senate bill. After all, Republicans have demonstrated, once again, that they will paint even the most conservative health bill as an expensive government take-over of health care.