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Posted at 11:41 AM ET, 01/21/2011

Column: The Republican war on the CBO

By Ezra Klein

It's the age of civility in American politics, but there's one institution that's been civil all along: the Congressional Budget Office (sorry, but sometimes civility is boring). The nonpartisan agency, which calculates the official cost of legislation for Congress, speaks in the polite language of actuarial tables, refuses to reliably please or disappoint either party and is the closest thing American politics has to an umpire. And the Republicans are getting sick and tired of it.

The reason is the health-reform law. The CBO trashed the Democrats' first few attempts at a fiscally responsible bill, refusing to agree that various technological improvements Democrats were making to the health-care system - like electronic health records - would save the money Democrats said they would. That sent the disappointed Democrats back to the drawing board - and more than once. But they eventually came up with a blunter, surer financing strategy: About $500 billion in cuts and reforms to Medicare, and a similar amount in new taxes. It was proof that the system had worked: Democrats, despite knowing that the taxes and Medicare cuts would cause them great political pain, were so intent on getting the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from the CBO that they made their bill far more fiscally responsible.

This left the Republicans in a bind. If the Democrats' legislation fulfilled its goal of covering almost every American and also managed to pay for itself, it was suddenly much harder to oppose. So last week, as the Republicans sought to make their case that the health-care bill should be repealed, a lot of their arguments were aimed at undercutting the numbers coming out of the CBO.

The agency's product is nothing more than "budget gimmicks, deceptive accounting, and implausible assumptions used to create the false impression of fiscal discipline," wrote conservative wonks Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Joseph Antos and James C. Capretta in the Wall Street Journal. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says the CBO's numbers are based on "smoke and mirrors." Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), angry that the CBO thinks tax cuts reduce tax revenue - no doubt the agency has also been known to say that the sun rises in the east - has called for the CBO to be abolished.

The sad reality is that it's not hard to discredit budget estimates in 30-second soundbites: You just say whatever you want and trust that your opponent doesn't have anywhere near enough time to explain the issue. Take Republican criticisms that the "doc fix" isn't included in the CBO's scores, and that if it were, the health-care bill would increase the deficit. It's absurd. In 1997, congressional Republicans capped the rate at which Medicare could increase payments to physicians. But their cap was too low. Now they want Democrats to fix it for them and pile the costs onto the bill. It's a little like saying that the cost of the war in Iraq should be added to health-care reform.

But you'll notice it took a moment to explain that. It's easier to just say that the score is full of "smoke and mirrors" and then make some authoritative-sounding point about Medicare payments. Who's got the time to check it out?

You can play whack-a-mole with this stuff all day. But beneath it is something more insidious: an effort to discredit the last truly neutral, truly respected scorekeeper in Washington. The facts don't support the particular case the Republicans want to make, so they're trying to take down the people who supply the facts. But once that's done, it can't easily be undone. And the true loser will be the very thing Republicans claim to care most about: the deficit.

If getting the CBO's seal of approval ceases to matter, then political parties will cease to try. That's when the "smoke and mirrors" will really begin: when bills just have to sound good rather than pencil out. When there are no skeptical budget experts sending legislation back to the authors with a note that says, "Sorry, not there yet." When policy debates are decided by who can yell the loudest rather than who can write the best bill.

The bargain that both parties have struck with the CBO is that they'll accept the short-term setbacks the agency imposes on them because, in the long run, it's better for the system to have someone keeping score. Right now, Republicans are breaking that bargain. They're not merely saying that the CBO's guess is bad, or that the CBO is right but the bill is bad for other reasons, but that the CBO's whole system is, in the words of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), "Garbage in, garbage out." Civil? Maybe. Wise? Definitely not.

By Ezra Klein  | January 21, 2011; 11:41 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Comments

Gee it's almost like Republicans don't care about deficits. But that can't be right can't it? Clearly from the history of the past 40 years the GOP has been a tireless opponent of government red ink. /snark

Posted by: redwards95 | January 21, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Wow. What intellectual dishonesty on the part of Ezra Klein. The CBO wasn't convinced by the Democrats' promises on electronic health records. That was a small component and unrelated to the claims of a fiscally responsible bill.

The Democrats didn't have convince the CBO. The CBO makes its estimates on what Congress members ask them to. They may be non-partisan, but only because they're also blind dupes forced to submit to the partisan interests of whichever Congress member requests of them.

The Democrats needed to convince the public, not the CBO. And they realized that the best way to do that was to manipulate the CBO score.

The bill assumed unrealistic payment rates, trust fund accounting (borrowing that necessitates a future undetermined financial outlay), unrealistic tax revenue estimates (Cadillac plans), additional unrelated taxes on investments and biofuel tax credits. All these were added after the first few attempts by the Democrats to make the bill appear better than it is to the public. Then they went to the CBO, which is non-partisan and powerless, to assume these unrealistic expectations and give the bill a political palatable score.

It's not that Ezra Klein isn't aware of these issues. In fact he has admitted them. He relented in an interview with Rep. Paul Ryan that the score was gamed for political reasons.

"PR: You and I both know why they took it out. It made the numbers look bad.

EK: Absolutely"

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/03/the_true_cost_of_the_health-ca.html

Yet like a good Journolister Ezra Klein manipulates the news and facts to serve the liberal agenda.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Disingenuous, Klein, at best.

The estimates the CBO emits are probably good, basic reference points, but much of your arguing revolves around pretending that the estimates are gospel. There is much in them, however, with which to find fault, as numerous people have pointed out to you time and time again over the last months, if not years.

Posted by: msoja | January 21, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

cprferry - that's a complete mis-characterization of the quote. They were both talking about the Medicare doctor payment formula from 1997. It was not included in the CBO's estimate BECAUSE IT WAS FROM 1997. It's not part of Healthcare Reform by any stretch of the imagination.

It's completely disingenuous to quote Ezra here and say he knew about "gaming the score". It's gaming the score to keep those costs IN the CBO's analysis, not out.

Furthermore, you're pretty much just quoting talking points without mentioning specifics. "Unrealistic payment dates" is such a fuzzy, pointless phrase it means nothing. Unrelated taxes were included in the bill to pay for the necessary cost outlays; they aren't unrelated in the slightest.

It's comments like this--no information to back anything up, but well written so as to appear intelligent--that are screwing up our system. The CBO is the CBO. They don't cherry pick data. They don't mess with numbers. They analyze the bill, as written, and provide feedback. They have flaws, but not to the degree that you can discount the entirety of their conclusion.

To do so is utterly partisan, and willfully ignorant.

Posted by: samslaw25 | January 21, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

'The agency's product is nothing more than "budget gimmicks, deceptive accounting, and implausible assumptions used to create the false impression of fiscal discipline,"'

Well, you know what settles the issue? You know what teaches? You know what moves us forward? You know what decimates Republican lies, misleading, and propaganda?

Try-and-See.

And you know what one of the biggest enemies of try-and-see is? The filibuster.

And finally someone else besides me is saying this, Jonathan Chait:

The bad news is that this move [ending the filibuster] will allow a lot of right-wing legislation. The good news is that, eventually, it will allow liberal legislation that will gain public approval and stand the test of time better than right-wing legislation does.

at: http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/81829/republicans-learn-hate-the-filibuster

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | January 21, 2011 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Dozens of posts on the CBO and the score for PPACA, yet still Ezra has never actually addressed the issues of the CLASS Act and Social Security revenues. It is impossible to be intellectually honest and defend the inclusion of those two things in the score.

Posted by: ab_13 | January 21, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

OK, why don't we all play the CBO game: If you take your current salary and projected it out ten years from now, then also do that with your expenses, you could come up with an estimate of your net worth. How accurate do you think that will be? Would you be willing to pay for the health insurance premium of you neighbor, forever, based on your projections, or would you think that there are too many things that could change or go wrong between now and then to take that financial risk?

Posted by: cummije5 | January 21, 2011 1:00 PM | Report abuse

samslaw25,


so if the doc fix was from 1997 then why does Ezra still harp on the Medicare RX program? That was from 2003. Why do liberals still harp on the war, heck the war in Iraq is pretty much over right?

oh becuase the costs are still being incurred from those things (just like the doc fix).


@ab13,

i don't expect he'll ever bring up the CLASS Act because its a complete boondoggle.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 21, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

cprferry - that's a complete mis-characterization of the quote. They were both talking about the Medicare doctor payment formula from 1997. It was not included in the CBO's estimate BECAUSE IT WAS FROM 1997. It's not part of Healthcare Reform by any stretch of the imagination.

It's completely disingenuous to quote Ezra here and say he knew about "gaming the score". It's gaming the score to keep those costs IN the CBO's analysis, not out.

Furthermore, you're pretty much just quoting talking points without mentioning specifics. "Unrealistic payment dates" is such a fuzzy, pointless phrase it means nothing. Unrelated taxes were included in the bill to pay for the necessary cost outlays; they aren't unrelated in the slightest.

It's comments like this--no information to back anything up, but well written so as to appear intelligent--that are screwing up our system. The CBO is the CBO. They don't cherry pick data. They don't mess with numbers. They analyze the bill, as written, and provide feedback. They have flaws, but not to the degree that you can discount the entirety of their conclusion.

To do so is utterly partisan, and willfully ignorant.

samslaw25, Ezra Klein admitted that the Democrats took at least one thing out of the bill to make it look better. That is gaming the score. They didn't remove it because it was deemed unrelated to health care, they removed it because to make it look better. Klein would agree with that statement "absolutely."
Klein, of course, has failed to make any public statement whether it thinks adding the biofuel tax credit revision savings (surely that's not health care) or applying unrealistic assumptions on tax revenues on Cadillac plans were added to make the bill look better.

Not that we could trust him anyways.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 1:26 PM | Report abuse

samslaw25,

Ezra Klein admitted that the Democrats took at least one thing out of the bill to make it look better. That is gaming the score. They didn't remove it because it was deemed unrelated to health care, that's merely the excuse, they removed it because to make it look better. Klein would agree with that statement "absolutely."

Klein, of course, has failed to make any public statement whether it thinks adding the biofuel tax credit revision savings (surely that's not health care) or applying unrealistic assumptions on tax revenues on Cadillac plans were also added to make the bill look better.

Not that we could trust him anyways.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I am sure the Republicans will include a permanent solution to the "doc fix" in their replacement healthcare bill, and I am sure they will find a way to pay for it so it does not increase the deficit.

I would be interested to see if the "doc fix" were passed in a separate bill and therefore assumed to be permanent law in the CBOs calculations, if that would change the Affordable Care Act's effect on the deficit.

Everything I have been able to find seems to suggest it would not affect it. The "doc fix" is a separate issue that would increase the deficit by about $279 billion over 10 years, if it were included in the Affordable Care Act or not. Nothing seems to suggest it would alter the financial projections of the actual bill in any way.

Posted by: DeanofProgress | January 21, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda/230114/doc-fix-and-blame-game/reihan-salam

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2011/01/battle_over_health_care.html#more

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Only the CBO can "game the score".

They didn't.

The bill is the bill. Lot's of things went in and out for various reasons (political, financial, and other). You can call it gaming if you want, but every bill proposed by both parties is gamed in the same way.

Posted by: lauren2010 | January 21, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

The Doc fix is a problem created by Repubs and will have to be fixed by any health reform proposal. As you all have learned in basic Math, elements that appear in both sides of an equation cancel out. Obviously Repubs don't like Math, or Chemistry, Physics. Or History. Don't appreciate Geography either. Are horrified about Biology for sure.

Posted by: Rick571 | January 21, 2011 2:34 PM | Report abuse

@lauren2010: Please explain how the inclusion of CLASS Act revenues and SS revenues in the score is anything other than gaming.

Posted by: ab_13 | January 21, 2011 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Do you suppose Ezra would be so passionate in defending the CBO if the head of the CBO were a life-long conservative, former Bush staffer, and former senior fellow at the Heritage foundation...and the CBO had had found the PPACA to add a trillion dollars to the deficit?

The CBO is currently led by Elmendorf, a former Clinton staffer and senior fellow of the liberal Brookings Institution. And surprisingly enough, the CBO favorably found the PPACA to reduce the deficit in spite of all accounting evidence to the contrary.

Posted by: dbw1 | January 21, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Exactly. Yes, every Congress manipulates the CBO score. The CBO is a non-partisan channel of partisan lies. And therefore the bill, and its claims to deficit reduction, are open to question, not the rigid defense that Ezra Klein gives it.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Maybe if we privatized the CBO then Republicans would respect its work.

Posted by: spekny | January 21, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

"The Doc fix is a problem created by Repubs
Posted by: Rick571"

The underlying bills that created the problem were passed by overwhelmingly bipartisan numbers in a Republican Congress and signed by a Democrat President. No specific party is deserving of plan.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Rick571:
"Repubs don't like Math..."

Well Rick, since you are obviously an expert and fan of 'math', perhaps you would like to give this a go since Ezra has yet to address it.

From all appearances, the CBO score included $2 billion in the first year for the small employer tax credit. Ezra told us two days ago in his "12 million" post that 4 million small businesses are going to benefit from this PPACA tax break this year.

You can find my lengthy breakdown of the 'math' on the message board under Ezra's original post Wednesday, but in short those two claims don't mesh...if there are really 4 million small businesses set to claim that credit, it will cost $30billion or more...yet another gigantic miss by the CBO report.

But please, do share your mathematical reconciliation of those two claims and let us know where all of us mathematically-deprived Republicans are wrong.

Posted by: dbw1 | January 21, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

the reason this quote:

PR: You and I both know why they took it out. It made the numbers look bad.

EK: Absolutely"

is disingenuous is that the dems actually took it out of the bill. its not like it got left in but they asked the cbo not to score it. they weren't getting the score they wanted, so they changed the bill. this is the system working like it should, not being manipulated.

Posted by: mrmacx | January 21, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

saying the dems took out legislation to change the score is misleading. this isn't gaming the system. the cbo wasn't scoring the bill they way they wanted, so they changed the bill. this is the system working like it should.

Posted by: mrmacx | January 21, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

ab_13

Why don't you create a blog and prove your point?

Please be sure to let us know whether you read the ACA bill, the CBO report, and have the skills necessary to validate the CBO methodologies.

And to prove you are not partisan, on your blog please skewer the GOP as well for running up the debt (82% created by the last three GOP presidents when Obama took office, and 4/5 of current deficits due to BushJr).

If you are the kind of person who gleefully exposes the lies (big and small) or BOTH parties, then...halleluah!

BTW, I have some questions:

- Did you support Bush's medicare-D law without paying for it?

- Did you support doubling DoD budget and Iraq invasion while Bush cut taxes and reduced fed revenues to historic levels during wartime?

- Do you support current GOP House rule changes to allow Repubs to use reconciliation to cut more taxes and in so doing, not have to pay for it?

Posted by: lauren2010 | January 21, 2011 3:25 PM | Report abuse

They were quick to jump on the first reports that favored their position, now that it doesn't anymore they want to abolish it.

Furthermore they twisted CBO data to try to support the meme that it was a job-killing bill when actually the data shows that it would give people more choices in terms of their employment.

Posted by: JRM2 | January 21, 2011 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Gee -- all the conservative comments here seem to be playing the same ole conservative game: Ezra is a member of the liberal media; government is evil; we all KNOW that health care reform is going to push up deficits, and so the CBO MUST be wrong; etc.

Ezra's point is simple: there are hardly any credible information sources anymore. The closest thing we've got is the CBO, and conservatives are(finally) going after it with the same viciousness they've gone after everyone else.

Why? For the same reason they have mostly destroyed the mainstream(non-FOX) media: Reality has a liberal bias. Conservatives simply don't want to hear things like: cutting taxes reduces revenue; if everybody has a gun, that won't reduce gun violence; the deficit is largely caused by Republican tax cuts; etc.

So, the CBO says that health care reform is actually going to reduce the deficit. Republicans don't want to acknowledge that, so the destroy the institution that did the analysis.

Quite frankly, I don't understand why anyone listens to these people anymore. They wrap up their pronouncements in truthiness, and get mad at anyone who critically examines their claims.

Posted by: MOmark | January 21, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

"the cbo wasn't scoring the bill they way they wanted, so they changed the bill. this is the system working like it should.

Posted by: mrmacx"

However, it does leave open the question what else the Democrats added, changed or perpetuated unrealistic assumptions (Cadillac plan tax revenues, the CLASS Act scam, undetermined borrowing from trust fund accounting, 10-6 year split for the period of full revenues and expenses), of to the bill to make the CBO want they wanted. We know for certain that at least 19 billion in deficit reduction came from late additions of education reform and 7 from the biofuel tax credit revision.

Of course Ezra Klein and liberals are quick to point out that the doc fix isn't part of PPACA but they say nothing of biofuel tax credits. Because they know if they made the slightest revision in their remarks to address that $26 million it leaves open the credibility of the manipulated CBO score they've held so dear to.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

MOmark:
"So, the CBO says that health care reform is actually going to reduce the deficit. Republicans don't want to acknowledge that..."

Question 1: have you actually read the CBO report being discussed (the one that claimed the ACA would reduce the deficit $143 billion in the first 10 years).

Question 2: assuming you are not hypocritical enough to criticize conservative arguments against certain elements of the CBO 'scoring' without understanding it at least a little bit yourself, would you care to address any of the actual criticisms levied? (cost of high-risk pools, cost of small employer tax credit, cost of discretionary spending left out of the ACA legislation, etc)

By all means, if you want to establish some credibility feel free to offer forth some arguments and facts supporting the CBO scoring assumptions that are under assault....at least with something more than tired partisan rants, if you can do so.

Posted by: dbw1 | January 21, 2011 4:50 PM | Report abuse

@cprferry: first of all, it doesn't leave this question open. the bill is online and available to be read, and the cbo's methodology is open and available.

second of all, i can't really understand the rest of the post. ignoring how incoherent most of it is, how does using various ways to pay for the bill invalidate the fact that it is paid for?

Posted by: mrmacx | January 21, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse

"The facts don't support the particular case the Republicans want to make, so they're trying to take down the people who supply the facts."

The recent whining that discussions have become couched in nasty language is missing the larger point that the discussions have become based on outright lies. It's not really important who started it, what's important is that the Republicans achieved enormous success in 2010 by flooding the airways with total fabrications. Sad indeed that in this country there is no political cost to lying, even if you get caught (unless it's about sex).

Posted by: DavidinCambridge | January 21, 2011 5:07 PM | Report abuse

mrmacx,

To admit that the Democrats removed the doc fix because it created a CBO score they didn't want (or really that they could not justify to the public) is to suggest that what the Democrats put into the bill and took out of the bill WAS motivated by what they wanted to the CBO score to say. You may not call that manipulating the score, and I'll agree that all Congresses do it. But it is. The CBO is merely a non-partisan channel of partisan lies.

The debate over the bill's costs can not be shut down, as Ezra Klein and many liberals have, by merely citing the CBO score. The CBO score is immediately suspect upon the acknowledgment that the Democrats changed the bill to get the CBO to say what they wanted. Ezra Klein "absolutely" acknowledged they did. Upon further review the CBO score depends upon a number of unrealistic assumptions, unstated spending and indeterminable borrowing to cause one to further doubt the CBO's score.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

"You can find my lengthy breakdown of the 'math' on the message board under Ezra's original post Wednesday, but in short those two claims don't mesh...if there are really 4 million small businesses set to claim that credit, it will cost $30billion or more...yet another gigantic miss by the CBO report."

dbw1,

I was involved in a discussion yesterday on this same issue (with eggnogfool IIRC), and it was pointed out that 4 million small businesses aren't necessarily set to claim that credit - all that was being counted was elligbility based on the number of employees. That's a plausible claim, given that it would be very hard to parse which businesses were actually offering health insurance to employees and which weren't, and which businesses paid workers $50,000 or more on average (and thus wouldn't be elligible).

However, even using very conservative assumptions from that point on and the miss looks to be still at least $10 billion annually (and would presumably grow with the cost of insurance and employment growth), probably offsetting by itself all of the claimed deficit reduction. If CBO is correct, then assuming 20 million employees qualify for the tax credit, $2 billion will only provide a $100 tax credit per employee on average.

Another important point came out of that discussion, in which it was said that the employer tax credits were too small to incent any businesses to offer coverage. While that's probably not 100% true (I'll bet at least one takes the bait), it sounds plausible in general. If you had a business and was offered, say $300 to give your employees insurance which cost you $4,000 each, you might view that as a bad trade - and even if that trade is somehow tempting at the moment, the value of the credit would be gone in a year after the annual premium increase. A few businesses which get the full 35% credit might jump in, but probably not those further down the sliding scale.

And that's an important point - Congress included $38 billion in the bill which is basically a useless gimmick (or, if not a useless gimmick then far more expensive than $38 billion) from the perspective of getting more people covered. Now, I'm all for letting businesses keep their own money, but if I was a Democratic politician I'd wonder why it was in the bill to begin with.

Posted by: justin84 | January 21, 2011 5:42 PM | Report abuse

mrmacx,

You don't see any hypocrisy in saying the doc fix shouldn't be part of the bill but continuing to claim the savings from biofuel tax credits? Surely such a decision was purely political ruse. It leaves open the question what other scams were included to get the score. It harms the reputation of the CBO score. That's why you'll never see Ezra Klein or any proponent of Obamacare make any significant remark among the lines of "the bill reduces the deficit, but I'll admit at least $26 billion of that is unrelated to health care and was included to make it political palatable." That's because they know their claim about the bill's deficit reductions rests on a house of cards. They can't harm any part of the claim's credibility without potentially destroying all of it. So they ignore or deflect.

Posted by: cprferry | January 21, 2011 5:44 PM | Report abuse

--*Sad indeed that in this country there is no political cost to lying*--

So, why on earth would you want to grant more and more power to politicians and bureaucrats? Do you not realize that political power shifts back and forth on a fairly regular basis? Doesn't it make more sense to look after your own interests, rather than placing them in the hands of such miscreants and outright frauds?

Posted by: msoja | January 21, 2011 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Why is it that one Ezra Klein, with NO economic experience, no economic degree - NONE! No business experience, not even owning a hot dog stand (Ben Bernanke also has these lack of qualifications, except for the academic credentials that he has, and Ezra has NOT) somehow is allowed to pontificate his ignorance in the Post on "Economic and Domestic Policy." The boy has a degree in poli-sci and his only work experience was that he had a website. THATS IT!!! This loser has some Daddy connection somewhere that lets him spout his ideology in a paper that is fast losing readership.

Posted by: shred11 | January 21, 2011 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Ezra needs to respond, point by point, to Charles Krauthammer's op-ed piece today on exactly this subject. Until then, I am not persuaded that we should take much stock in the numbers from the CBO. He doesn't accuse them of cooking the books, really, but he does point out that the costing exercise is "polluted" by several factors, including and especially the timing of various aspects of the legislation.

Posted by: TerryOtt | January 21, 2011 8:18 PM | Report abuse

While I often disagree with Ezra, I ususally find his arguments cogent and well reasoned. However, his continuing defense of the Affordable Healthcare Act is myopic to the point of blindness. It is analogous to praising a family wallowing in debt for buying a Buick instead of a Cadillac, and then counting the difference in price as a savings. Lets look at the facts:
We take $500 Billion out of Medicare, which faces a huge shortfall. We call it a savings by ignoring the fact that that money is now taken off the table in terms of being able to be applied to that coming shortfall. A savings? No. The money will now have to be found elsewhere. The same is true for the $590 billion in new taxes with respect to the deficit. That money is also off the table.
So when you begin to add all of this up, even in the fantasy land of Federal Government accounting, we now have something over $1 trillion dollars less than we would have otherwise had to apply to our growing problems with the deficit and entitlement programs.
Oh, and yes, the Medicare doctor fix, which Ezra believes should be ignored. Nice, except the CBO assumptions were based on there being no doctor fix. There will be one, and we will now have to find the money to pay for it. Perhaps we can take another $250 billion out of Medicare to pay for that one, and also call it a savings. After all, under Government accounting rules, that is apparently allowed.
My biggest regret in all of this is we no longer have debtors' prisons in which we can throw the miscreants who voted for this legislation and then defend it based on self-serving, dubious, and often frankly untrue arguments, while blithely ignoring the state of the country's overall finances.

Posted by: skepsis | January 22, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

TerryOtt:

Klein does address the issues raised by Krauthammer is his 1/6 "Omnibus" post. The more important question is why do opponents of the PPACA continue to use these debunked canards to attack the law? These are bright people, so it's clearly not a lack of intelligence. That only leaves three choices: dishonesty, a weak argument or both.

Posted by: co8906 | January 22, 2011 4:37 PM | Report abuse

TerryOtt:

Klein does address the issues raised by Krauthammer is his 1/6 "Omnibus" post. The more important question is why do opponents of the PPACA continue to use these debunked canards to attack the law? These are bright people, so it's clearly not a lack of intelligence. That only leaves three choices: dishonesty, a weak argument or both.

Posted by: co8906 | January 22, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I have one word that I think describes all these right leaning posters complaining about the doc fix: obtuse. They must be able to understand it, because most of them seem to be able to make a decent argument about other things. But the Doctor fix issue seems to get them all tied up in pretzels to justify why this must be gaming the system. Let's try to explaing this nice and simple.

In 1997, there was a bipartisan vote to pass a limit on growth of payment to doctors. Within 2-3 years it became very apparent that this was going to be a cut too deep for doctors to bear. Every congress has passed a 1 year doc fix since that time.

So now is where it supposedly gets tricky. The Dems pass the Health bill. They originally wanted to see if they could pass a doc fix and still get a net deficit reduction on their CBO score. They decided that wasn't going to be possible because they wanted the total cost to stay under $1Tr for 10 years. And because they are the fiscally responsible party, adhering to Pay-go rules that the GOP got rid of once they controlled all branches of Government, there was no doc fix in the final bill.

This is not gaming the system. This is budgetary planning. If I am looking to go on vacation and my original plan was to stay at a private beach house, but after looking at the costs I decide I have to stay at a hotel in order to stay under budget, is that gaming the system. I think it is called fiscal responsibility. But that is something most Republican members of Congress seem to have forgotten over the last 40 years, with an acceleration of fiscal irresponsibility over the last 10 years.

Posted by: timnlisa1 | January 22, 2011 11:41 PM | Report abuse

This obsessive focus on zero is swamped with a sort of numerical ignorance. Sure, a bill that scores zero might end up costing some money. The scores aren't perfect, but it is very unlikely that it will do worse than a bill than scores negative one trillion, like the Bush tax cuts.

CBO scores anchor legislation even if the anchor might drag a bit in rough seas.

Posted by: zosima | January 23, 2011 5:21 PM | Report abuse

--*While I often disagree with Ezra, I ususally find his arguments cogent and well reasoned.*--

I've never understood that kind of statement.

If his arguments are cogent and well reasoned, on what basis do you disagree with them?

Posted by: msoja | January 23, 2011 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Two things really stand out to me here. The first being that Ezra is complaining about the Republicans waging some false war on the CBO and while doing so he calls the former CBO director, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, “a conservative wonk”. Secondly, and most importantly to the topic, is that Pelosi, Dodd, Harkin, and yes even the POTUS has bashed the CBO. Did he have a problem two years ago…wait…had he graduated yet? Maybe it’s not fair to assume he heard that one…here a link…

http://www.aim.org/don-irvine-blog/obama-criticizes-cbo-numbers-on-healthcare-cost

Posted by: SweenHawk | January 23, 2011 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Great Blog, Ezra!

Posted by: HappyDay4 | January 24, 2011 12:38 PM | Report abuse

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