Demagoguing the House Budget

by Douglas Holtz-Eakin

The Left has launched a full-scale assault on the House-passed budget, deploying a toxic mix of angry rhetoric and distortions. Let us remember that doing nothing is the most dangerous and callous option. Fair-minded critics of the House budget are obligated to provide their alternative reforms yet have failed to do so.

One line of attack seeks to paint conservatives as taking aim at entitlement spending out of some sadistic desire to harm the aged or poor. Nonsense. Conservatives are preserving the future of those programs. Unless something is done, future seniors and poor Americans will see their retirement benefits slashed and access to health care destroyed — that’s sadistic policy.

Entitlement reform is in the House budget because entitlement reforms have to be central to any plan. The large entitlement programs — Obamacare, Medicaid, and Medicare — are running red ink right now and are the major source of the growing debt that harms economic growth. The federal budget cannot come into balance and stay in balance unless the entitlement programs are reformed. Entitlement reform is an obligation for anyone who seeks to lead America to a more prosperous, responsible, and secure future.

The Medicare reforms have come under particular attack for “privatizing” Medicare, “shifting costs” to seniors, or “defunding” Medicare. Those attacks score high on the distortion scale. Right now, Medicare is provided by the same private-sector doctors, nurses, labs, hospital, ambulance services, insurers, medical-device manufacturers, and other providers that will provide it under the reforms. Right now, the federal government assists the financing of these activities, as it would under the reform. So much for “privatizing” anything.

Indeed, the Medicare reforms are built on the principle that seniors — not drug companies, insurance companies, hospital chains, the AMA, or any other special interest — should be at the center of Medicare. The reforms would provide financial support for seniors to choose among government-approved insurance options. Seniors should be in charge of these choices, and in many cases will likely just shift the financing of their preferred lifelong policy from their employer to Medicare.

The premium-support approach is eminently fair: The poorer and sicker get more support; the affluent and healthy get less. This system would look much like the very system that Congress uses right now, and we don’t hear much concern about “shifting costs to Congress”!

The upshot is that the reforms would generate real incentives to lower the cost and raise the quality of health care, preserving Medicare for future generations. It is true that this would cost less than the current system, but that happens to be the point. Indeed, the long-run cost growth matches the goals outlined in Obamacare, a fact critics conveniently leave out when attacking the House budget.

The House delivered a plan that meets the economic, budget, and social-safety-net challenges in a manner consistent with the nation’s principles and values. It’s time for critics to put up or shut up.

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