In what was probably the least surprising news of last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) revealed that their cost estimate for the health care reform bill may have been a tad off - $115 billion to be precise.
When did $115 billion become such an inconsequential number that hardly an eyebrow raised when the true cost of the Patient Protection and “AFFORDABLE” Care Act (PPACA) was made public? My guess is that few people really believed the original CBO estimates. After all, cost overruns have long been the norm in federal government and there is no logical reason why anyone would have expected the health care reform cost to be any different.
In their defense, the CBO said they knew all along that the numbers provided to Congress earlier this year would not be entirely accurate. The initial projections estimated direct spending and revenue effects but did not include discretionary spending which can vary depending upon Congressional appropriations.
The CBO warned at the time that this was the case, but Democrats were more than happy to take the $938 billion price tag and run with it. Now they have to explain what House Minority Leader John Boehner accurately described as a “clearly irresponsible” action in forcing the legislation through without revealing the true costs. Fellow Republican and House Appropriations Committee member Rep. John Lewis sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in February asking that any vote on the legislation be postponed until the CBO had completed its analysis of discretionary spending costs. Seems like a reasonable request, but I suppose that letter went straight into Pelosi’s circular file.
While a 12 percent cost overrun may sound bad enough, the actual figure is likely to be even higher. Even now, the CBO warns that they cannot project what future appropriations for a number of grant and other programs identified in the legislation might be. The appropriations, referred to as “such sums as may be necessary,” currently have no specific funding levels so no one really knows how much they will cost.
Democrats have dismissed concerns over the extra $115 billion saying that Congress still has to stay within a budget. Even President Obama has vowed he will veto spending on the bill if the costs are not offset elsewhere. I’ll believe that when I see it.
The unpleasant truth of the matter is that some of the $115 billion is needed just to implement the health care reform legislation. The amount includes $5 - 10 billion in administrative expenses for the Department of Health and Human Services as well as $5 -1 0 billion in costs for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce provisions in the law.
Though willing to admit they really don’t know what this bill is going to cost, the Democrats and administration officials are working hard to reassure the citizens that if any of this discretionary spending is authorized, it will be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget to avoid adding to the deficit. In fact, they are still adamantly insisting that the Patient Protection and “AFFORDABLE” Care Act will save $143 billion over ten years.
Putting aside the question of whether or not spending $938 billion (or $1 trillion) to save $143 billion is a good idea, you really have to wonder what kind of fools these politicians take us for when they treat a $115 billion math error as if it is chump change.
Discretionary or not, these costs should have been included in the initial projections. Though CBO director Douglas W. Elmendorf claims the spending could result in greater or smaller costs depending on appropriation actions, the facts remains that money will be spent for these items. Republican lawmakers are absolutely correct when they insist estimates for this discretionary spending should have been made available before a vote was held on the legislation.
As Sen. Orrin Hatch said, the lesson to be learned is that you should not trust what Washington says about Obamacare. Too bad enough legislators did not learn that lesson before they voted for it.
Kristi Reed is a reporter for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm running on memory here, but I believe the numbers used by LBJ for medi-care were just a teeny bit out of sync, ie. projected to cost
$9 billion from 1965-1990. Actual cost $105 billion. No one can determine what the outcome of socialist legislation will be. Keynesian economics is and always will be a destroyer of Republican forms of government. They were designed to be that way.