The Corner

Judd Gregg’s CLASS Act Time Bomb

Sarah Kliff (who is actually very good) over at Ezra Klein’s blog has a great interview with former senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, who — I had either forgotten, or maybe never knew — pushed the amendment to Obamacare that required CLASS to be actuarially sound to be implemented:

Sarah Kliff: The White House announced last week it would stop implementing the CLASS Act. Did you expect this?

Sen. Judd Gregg: I expected that, at sometime, it would implode because of the amendment. I didn’t think it was a desirable program. I’m surprised at how quickly they came to that conclusion. It took a year of them working on it. I presumed they would probably take a couple of years [to work on CLASS], so they could offset [other health reform] spending, and then run into a wall. When I put that amendment in, it was sort of a torpedo in the midshift because I didn’t think the program would be actuarially sound. I just didn’t see this happening so quickly.

SK: Tell me more about why you decided to offer that amendment.

JG: I knew we weren’t going to kill the CLASS Act because it was Sen. Ted Kennedy’s proposal, and he was very sick, and most of us were very sensitive to the fact he was sick. This was his last hurrah, legislatively. I knew we were going to implement it, although I didn’t think the concept was sound. Conceptually, it makes sense to prefund long-term care insurance…. but what this bill did was just the opposite. It was totally unsound.

My thought was, let’s put in an amendment that would be hard to oppose, that in effect would either make the proposal sound or would kill it.

SK: Did you expect the Democrats to accept the amendment?

JG: Well, we had a very intense debate that went on for a few days over soundness. At the end, I think, we sort of won the day and decided this thing has got to be actuarially sound. I wasn’t overly surprised that it was accepted. I was appreciative that Chris [Dodd, the former Connecticut Senator]  took it and that members on the other side valued having actuarial soundness.

It was a win-win for us. I didn’t like the idea of setting up the program. But with this, it was either going to have to work or come down as a result of the amendment.

Yes, it’s sad that we have a political system where a guarantee of the fiscal soundness of a given program requires an amendment. And yes, it’s sad that a fiscally dubious program was a fait accompli because it was a sick Ted Kennedy’s “last hurrah.” But that’s some slick booby-trapping on Gregg’s part, designing an unimpeachable and seemingly innocuous amendment from which you can nonetheless draw a straight line to the end of CLASS. It’s as if the Empire had taken friendly advice from the Rebel Alliance on the design of the Death Star’s thermal exhaust ports.

Also, though we got the not-too-shabby Kelly Ayotte in the bargain, this is to my mind an example of why the GOP will always need guys like Gregg. He was a middling-to-solid conservative, but with an undoubtedly spotty scorecard from all the usual suspects — ACU, CFG, and the like. But like a Mitch McConnell or an Orrin Hatch, Gregg was a master of the Capitol Hill process, and sometimes playing that process well matters more to getting conservative outcomes than having all the right policy positions.

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