Politics & Policy

Talking Points vs. Realities

The president may say he can pay for health care, but that's just talk.

In a swindle that would make Bernie Madoff look like an amateur, Barack Obama has gotten a substantial segment of the population to believe that he can add millions of people to the government-insured rolls without increasing the already record-breaking federal deficit.

Those who think in terms of talking points, instead of realities, can point to the fact that the Congressional Budget Office has concurred with budget numbers that the Obama administration has presented.

Anyone who is so old-fashioned as to stop and think, instead of being swept along by rhetoric, can understand that a budget — any budget — is not a record of hard facts but a projection of future financial plans. A budget tells us what will happen if everything works out according to plan.

#ad#The Congressional Budget Office can only deal with the numbers that Congress supplies. Those numbers may well be consistent with each other, even if they are wholly inconsistent with anything that is likely to happen in the real world.

The Obama health-care plan can be financed without increasing the federal deficit — if the administration takes hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare. But Medicare itself does not have enough money to pay its own way over time.

However money is juggled in the short run, the government’s financial liabilities are increased by adding this huge new entitlement of government-provided insurance. The fact that these new financial liabilities can be kept out of the official federal deficit projection, by claiming that they will be paid for with money taken from Medicare, changes nothing in the real world.

I can say that I can afford to buy a Rolls Royce, without going into debt, by using my inheritance from a rich uncle. But, in the real world, the question would arise immediately whether I in fact have a rich uncle, not to mention whether this hypothetical rich uncle would be likely to leave me enough money to buy a Rolls Royce.

In politics, however, you can say all sorts of things that have no relationship with reality. If you have a mainstream media that sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil — when it comes to Barack Obama — you can say that you will pay for a vast expansion of government-provided insurance by taking money from the Medicare budget and using other gimmicks.

#page#Whether this administration, or any future administration, will in fact take enough money from Medicare to pay for this new massive entitlement is a question that only the future can answer, regardless of what today’s budget projection says.

On paper, you can treat Medicare like the hypothetical rich uncle who is going to leave me enough money to buy a Rolls Royce. But only on paper. In real life, you can’t get blood from a turnip, and you can’t keep on getting money from a Medicare program that is itself running out of money.

#ad#An even more transparent gimmick is collecting money for the new Obama health-care program for the first ten years but delaying the payments of its benefits for four years. By collecting money for ten years and spending it for only six years, you can make the program look self-supporting, but only on paper and only in the short run.

This is a game you can play just once, during the first decade. After that, you are going to be collecting money for ten years and paying out money for ten years. That is when you discover that your uncle doesn’t have enough money to support himself, much less leave you an inheritance to pay for a Rolls Royce.

But a postponed revelation is not part of the official federal deficit today. And that provides a talking point, in order to soothe people who take talking points seriously.

Fraud has been at the heart of this medical-care takeover plan from Day One. The succession of wholly arbitrary deadlines for rushing this massive legislation through, before anyone has time to read it all, serves no other purpose than to keep its specifics from being scrutinized — or even recognized — before it becomes a fait accompli and “the law of the land.”

Would you buy a used car under these conditions, even if it was a Rolls Royce?

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Thomas SowellThomas Sowell is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author, whose books include Basic Economics. He is currently senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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