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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health care

Chicago Tribune

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Monday:

Democratic leaders in Congress got what they wanted Sunday night: House passage of a massive health bill the Senate approved on Christmas Eve. Muscling this bill to President Obama sets up the Democrats for affirmation or condemnation when citizens get their vote, on Nov. 2. This legislation has cleaved America, and whatever happens next, the Democrats own it.

No major entitlement program has become law in such partisan fashion. In 1935, more than half of the minority Republicans in Congress joined Democrats to create Social Security. And in 1965, nearly half of minority Republicans joined Democrats to launch Medicare. Both parties had skin in each game.

Not this time. Sunday night's voting in the House, like that Dec. 24 action in the Senate, had Democrats unilaterally in charge and voting against the wishes of a majority of Americans. The Democrats are convinced that their legislation is good not just for health care but for already overextended federal finances.

That dubious conclusion rests on a Congressional Budget Office guesstimate that Washington can spend nearly $1 trillion more on health care over 10 years and also cut the deficit by $138 billion. Writing in Sunday's New York Times, former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin profoundly disagreed: "(T)he budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out. In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion."

Oops. Someone is terribly wrong here and sure to be mighty embarrassed when the truth emerges. Having parsed his explanation of the CBO's sleight of hand, and knowing how unlikely it is that future Congresses will make the difficult decisions that this Congress wouldn't, we suspect it won't be Holtz-Eakin.

We do know this bill isn't settled law. Senate Democrats have pledged to make revisions the House wants. Let's see how that goes.

As this election cycle spins on, who voted what on Sunday will animate many House races. How voters respond will determine whether this bill becomes public policy or gets rolled back by some future Congress.

This legislation's most dramatic provisions don't take effect until 2014. That gives time to craft a more sensible compromise that extends health care coverage to more people without breaking the bank. Democrats were right to take on the issue, but woefully wrong in the scope and execution. Our choice would require insurers to take all comers but give them a big new customer base: Americans who now don't have health coverage, but who don't need an overhaul this expensive in order to get it.

Democrats have victory. But at what cost?