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Rep. Dave Camp Forgets That Republicans Are Not in Charge

C000071.jpgRep. Dave Camp, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, responded to the mid-session budget review by declaring that "if the House Democrats' unaffordable
$1 trillion health care bill wasn't dead before, it should be now." This doesn't make sense, as health-care reform is going to be deficit neutral, and so large deficits don't have much of a relationship to the program. Camp's argument boils down to the idea that big deficits mean we can't spend money. But he's not saying that "if the $541.1 billion the military has requested in 2009 wasn't dead before, it should be now." Nor is he saying that "if the extension of President Bush's tax cuts wasn't dead before, it should be now." Both of those comments would actually make more sense, as neither expenditure is revenue neutral. But Camp's comment isn't about the deficit. It's about killing health-care reform.

But Camp's perspective is also an understandable product of his time in the majority: When Republicans controlled the Congress, they suspended the pay-as-you-go rules that require new spending to be matched by new revenues or other spending cuts, and so Republican health-care policies such as Medicare Part D were financed on the back of the deficit. If they were in charge, a health-care bill that cost $1 trillion would probably have added $1 trillion to the deficit, just as Camp implies.

Democrats, however, have reinstated the pay-as-you-go rules, and large policies such as health-care reform are now financed by new revenues (hence talk of a surtax on the rich, or a cap on the employer deduction) and spending cuts (like the reductions in payments to the Medicare Advantage programs). Health-care reform, in other words, is neither here nor there as far as the deficit is concerned, in much the same way that my credit card bill doesn't change if I decide to use the $20 on my dresser to buy a pizza rather than a movie ticket.

But Camp's verbal sleight-of-hand conceals a neat trick: Republicans accustomed the country to equating spending with deficit-spending, and now that Democrats are in power and are trying to abide by pay-go rules, they simultaneously play on that impression by implying that the cost of the Democrats' policies will be the cost to the deficit and they attack the tax increases and Medicare changes that are being proposed to ensure health-care reform doesn't add to the deficit.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 25, 2009; 11:57 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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As a very pro-healthcare reform guy, I will make a deal with the Republicans...they back exiting Iraq, Afghanistan and letting the Bush tax cuts expire (all extremely prudent fiscal moves), I would be willing to let health care reform go. The chances of that happening? 0%. They just want to oppose.

Posted by: scott1959 | August 25, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Good argument. But you seem to have deliberately avoided the most obvious conclusion: Camp is using every argument at his disposal against healthcare.

Posted by: Castorp1 | August 25, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Since when do Republicans expect their leaders to make sense?

Since when do Republicans have the intellectual capacity to tell the difference?

Posted by: jefft1225 | August 25, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

And how is the $200 billion/yr going to be raised?

Posted by: DavidBerkian | August 25, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I just can't figure Mr. Klein out. The pay-go bill that Congress just passed is laughably disingenuous. The non-partisan CBO stated that the latest pay-go bill would actually increase the deficit. To quote sage left-of-center DC institution David Broder: "The reason is that the bill exempts from pay-go all of the spending involved in Medicare physician payments and all of the revenue dependent on estate and gift taxes, the alternative minimum tax for individuals and the administration's plan to continue the middle-income tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.
That is not the only giant loophole in this version of pay-go. Unlike the one enacted in 1990, it is not accompanied by any multiyear cap on discretionary spending. That means the 40 percent of the budget reflected in annual appropriations bills for ongoing or new government programs does not have to be paid for."

Doesn't this merit a mention in this ridiculous post that ludicrously claims that the Democrats are fiscally responsible, when President Obama has added trillions to the long-run deficit projections after just a few months in office? How is this responsible blogging, much less journalism?

Posted by: Dellis2 | August 25, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I'd agree that the Republicans are not in charge. But neither are the Democrats: at present, a handful of monarchists are dominant.

I think it's more important to read the words of Robert Byrd, a wise man (and even some Democrats are wise), written on August 21, 2008 (see and more recently on February 23, 2009 (see As another newspaper reported, "'it is important that a Democratic senator took this step with a Democratic president," [Brookings Institute's Thomas] Mann said. 'Byrd always places institutional interests over partisan and ideological concerns.'"

Posted by: rmgregory | August 25, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

DavidBerkian, the $200 billion/yr will be raised in exactly the same way as the money for the Medicare Part D program. The government will either tax or borrow it. The chief difference between this program and Medicare Part D, as Ezra notes, is that some people are actually bothering to think about this in advance.

Posted by: kcc3 | August 25, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

When tax cuts are implemented, as with bush's, revenues typically rise.
If new taxes are implemented, revenues, chances are, will decrease, because you will have people who don't give a damn anymore. They will say: hey, i'm not goign to worry about it anymore, not going to care, not going to expand my business, etc, cause when i do, the tax man thinks he's entitled to it. I'm tired, I'm beaten down. Take it all - why should i bother getting ahead?
Many of our best and brightest won't care and/or will move to another country where they could keep their money and pay less in taxes.
Why do we think people who earn money are evil? I am hardly in any large tax bracket, but I don't see anyone who earns money as bad. They work hard at what they do, and they earn money (and typically, they create jobs). Why is that so bad?

Posted by: atlmom1234 | August 25, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

This is a pretty hilarious post. Seen a few of these on the interwebs today. A recent Journolist topic perhaps?

Trying to help the President out by pushing this meme that health care is budget neutral? It's a lie, and the people pushing it know it. They also know that the disastrous deficit numbers (oops, our estimate was off by 2 trillion dollars! Our bad!) are more or less the end of this health care debate.

But apart from this debate, after everything we've seen from social security, medicare and more recently the cash for clunkers debacle, what kind of fool thinks anything the feds run will be "budget neutral?" Answer: a partisan hack.

Posted by: kenobi1 | August 25, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Tax revenues go up when the economy grows. Tax revenues increase with tax decreases when the amount of decrease in the rate is less than increase in the economic growth. In all recent cases I have seen, tax dencreases do not increase tax revenues more than keeping the tax rate the same

Posted by: williamcross1 | August 25, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

"When tax cuts are implemented, as with bush's, revenues typically rise.

No, they don't. (

"In fact, the last half-dozen years have shown us that we can't have both lower taxes and fatter government coffers. The Congressional Budget Office, the Treasury Department, the Joint Committee on Taxation, the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers and a former Bush administration economist all say that tax cuts lead to revenues that are lower than they otherwise would have been – even if they spur some economic growth. And federal revenues actually declined at the beginning of this decade before rebounding. The growth in the past three years that McCain refers to brings revenues back in line with the 40-year historical average as a percentage of gross domestic product."

The whole "the rich will go Galt!!" trope is rather amusing as well -- you really think, say, a whopping 5% increase in the top marginal rate will cause all the rich folks to leave? Really?

Why didn't they all leave the country in the 50s and 60s, when top rates were 91%? What about the 70s, when it was in the 70% range? The 80s, when it was 50%?

Trust me: They wouldn't be missed. Someone else would take their place.

You know, it's a simple, undeniable fact: The rich have see their share of the wealth go up by 1700% in the past 40 years, while the middle class has seen theirs only go up 20ish%. And it's because of abusive, regressive tax policies passed by conservatives.

We can easily pay not just for some squishy health care public option, but for coverage for everyone, by simply resetting the top marginal rate where it was in, say, 1980. Just like we could easily fund Soc. Sec. for decades by raising the income limit to $150K.

But, for reasons I just don't get, some have decided that protecting the lifestyles and incomes of the very wealthy is more important than ensuring every American citizen has adequate health coverage ... without the fear of losing it if they are laid off, without seeing their premiums go up 400% in six years, and without having to file for bankruptcy if they get cancer.

Honestly ... why do these people protest for the rights of the rich, while ignoring the needs of their neighbors? And why are they willing to spread so many easily-to-prove-as lies in the process?

I'm starting to think they have no shame -- if they did, they'd have already shown it.

Posted by: Tke919 | August 28, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

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