The Corner

CBO on the Emperor’s New Clothes

For months now, President Obama and congressional Democrats have been claiming with a straight face that spending a trillion dollars or more on a new entitlement program will actually save us money on health care. At some point someone with a calculator was bound to come along and point out the problem with that logic. The Congressional Budget Office is the natural candidate, but has found itself in a tough political spot, as the intense and plainly declared wishes of the Democratic leadership are in conflict with plain facts. CBO has offered some clear but quiet objections this spring and summer, often hidden in complicated tables of figures. But today, the agency has stepped up and cleared its throat. The Washington Post reports:

Instead of saving the federal government from fiscal catastrophe, the health reform measures being drafted by congressional Democrats would increase rather than reduce public spending on health care, potentially worsening an already bleak budget outlook, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said this morning.

The statement came in a Senate Budget Committee hearing, when the Chairman, Kent Conrad, asked CBO director Douglas Elmendorf to comment on the claims that the proposed reforms will “bend the cost-curve” on health care. Conrad said: “I’m going to really put you on the spot. From what you have seen from the products of the committees that have reported, do you see a successful effort being mounted to bend the long-term cost curve?”

Elmendorf, clearly uncomfortable, gave a short answer: “No, Mr. Chairman.” And in the exchange that followed he laid out the ways that the Democrats’ plans will increase health-care spending.

Not a great day for Obamacare, but a good one for CBO, and for honesty in Washington.

Yuval Levin — Yuval Levin is the editor of National Affairs and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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