The Corner

Paul Krugman, Logician

Fresh from falsely accusing conservatives of inciting mass murder with metaphors, Paul Krugman has now taken to accusing us of launching a war on logic.

He has come to this conclusion, he notes in today’s column, because conservatives insist that the health-care bill enacted last year will not reduce the deficit, and that repealing it will. Krugman points to a House Republican analysis of the costs of the health-care bill and then insists that the first and foremost argument in that analysis has to do with the “doc fix” to Medicare—the fact that the support of doctors’ groups for passage of Obamacare was bought with the promise of a long-term repeal of cuts to doctor payments but the cost of that promise was not factored into the cost of the final bill. Readers of his column online are given a link to the actual document, where they can plainly see that—whatever they might make of Krugman’s careless assessment of the argument’s merits—this is certainly not the document’s foremost argument (not in terms of priority and not in terms of magnitude of cost), though readers of his column in print would have to go looking. He then dismisses without explanation a number of the document’s key arguments (like the fact that the CBO was compelled to use assumptions of massive cuts in Medicare that are very unlikely to happen, that double count savings in Medicare and Social Security when calculating the cost of the law, and that ignore the cost of implementation) even though the CBO itself has acknowledged them all (here it is on implausible assumptions (p.14), on double counting, and on cost of implementation, for instance). But all the while Krugman accuses Republicans of ignoring the CBO.

Let’s get clear on the basics. Everyone agrees that Obamacare involves a massive increase in spending and a massive increase in taxes. Defenders of the law, including Krugman, want to suggest that the massive tax increases are larger than the massive spending increases, so the bill would reduce the deficit overall. Immense tax and spending increases certainly make for an odd path to deficit reduction, but this is their argument in defense of the law’s fiscal merits. To allow for that case, the law was designed to game the CBO scoring system, and to impose some very implausible assumptions of massive entitlement spending cuts by future congresses. Even with these assumptions, neither the CBO nor the Obama administration’s own CMS actuary argues that the law will actually reduce health-care spending or the rise of health-care costs—which are the actual problems at the core of our health-care dilemma and the reason why insurance has moved out of the reach of a growing number of American families. The solution to the problem, therefore, is not a new entitlement program modeled on the ones that are already bankrupting the government but rather a means of empowering consumers to make purchasing decisions and therefore to put a downward pressure on costs for a change. Republicans have proposed to repeal Obamacare (a repeal that, as the CBO has said, would constitute a massive spending cut and a massive tax cut over the next ten years), and have offered an array of ideas to better empower consumers to reduce costs and extend access to coverage.

Perhaps Paul Krugman disagrees with that approach, but if so he doesn’t explain why in his column. Instead, presumably in the new spirit of civility encouraged by his newspaper, he simply assumes bad motives:

The key to understanding the G.O.P. analysis of health reform is that the party’s leaders are not, in fact, opposed to reform because they believe it will increase the deficit. Nor are they opposed because they seriously believe that it will be “job-killing” (which it won’t be). They’re against reform because it would cover the uninsured — and that’s something they just don’t want to do.

Very logical.

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

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