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Posted at 11:11 AM ET, 01/19/2011

It's not on the level

By Ezra Klein

There's a political consultant I know who likes to illustrate the cynicism and dysfunction of our political system with an anecdote from his days as a congressional staffer. He was sitting behind his boss during a hearing when one of the other members -- a well-respected member, no less -- turned to them and gestured at the witness, who was earnestly presenting her case. "Can you believe that?" He laughed. "She thinks this is all on the level!"

Sometimes, I think the biggest analytical mistake I make in my writing is pretending too much of this stuff is on the level. My impulse, when presented with an argument about the cost and deficit impact of the Affordable Care Act, is to launch into a long explanation of why the numbers add up, or at least add up given what we know now. But perhaps it would be better to just show this graph:

wendeficits.png

That graphs shows the 10-year cost, and the total deficit impact, of a couple of different pieces of legislation. First, the extension of the Bush tax cuts that Republicans supported last year. It would've cost $4 trillion over 10 years, and not a dime would've been offset. So it would've also cost the deficit $4 trillion over 10 years. Then the tax deal that we actually passed, which cost $850 billion and charged it to the country's credit card. Then the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, which is the last major health-care law the Republicans passed. It was projected to cost $394.8 billion over 10 years, and Republicans managed to offset 0.5 billion of that.

Then there's the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It's projected to cost $938 billion over 10 years. But the final legislation included $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases. So it actually cuts the deficit in the first 10 years. And in case you think that's a trick, CBO projects that it'll cut the deficit by even more than that in the second 10 years. So it's fiscally responsible and getting more so. Indeed, there's not another major law passed in last 10 years that did close to as much to pay for itself. You can be skeptical about certain provisions, or want to see the bill do more, and still admit that.

And yet I turn on C-SPAN or open the paper and watch the legislation's opponents -- most all of whom voted for or supported one of the other bills on that graph -- say things like "repeal is the logical first step toward restoring fiscal sanity."

It's just not on the level.

By Ezra Klein  | January 19, 2011; 11:11 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: House Republicans discover that the Senate doesn't work very well
Next: The first 12 million is always the hardest

Comments

Exactly! So let's stop spinning our wheels discussing insincere and ridiculous talking points designed to obscure the real issues. In fact, I think we should just drop all arguing about this going-nowhere repeal and let it get passed and then disappear into oblivion.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | January 19, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

That's your problem, Ezra. You've always believed the Pukes were on the level when they aren't. They haven't been since at least Gingrich's time as Speaker. Atrios has been beating this drum for ages. Why you haven't listened to him is beyond me.

Posted by: PhilPerspective | January 19, 2011 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of not being on the level, I see Ezra continues his use of an outdated and inaccurate CBO 'score' to put together a slick graph in an attempt to convince people the ACA will really, really, we really mean it....reduce the deficit.

On an unrelated note, I'm proud to announce I'm now a millionaire. I don't actually have a million dollars, but I have a copy of a career plan from a few years ago that said I would be by now.

And, using Ezra's logic, that written document that claims I would be a millionaire by 2011 means I'm now a millionaire, all facts and evidence to the contrary.

Posted by: dbw1 | January 19, 2011 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I think what you overlook is that every piece of legislation is about somebody getting paid. I don't mean that in the bribery sense, but rather that no one is working for "good govenment', they're working for a specific goal.

No legislation ever even gets introduced, that doesn't have a fiscal bonus for somenone, even if that someone is a legislator who will remain in office forever because they bring home the goods. (John Murtha)

In this case, freely admitting that you known healthcare far better than I, I think the driver was the drug companies. Their fear of losing pricing power made them get behind a deal that gave them more money than they believed they might lose over negotiated prices.

Also one semi-related note.

All the columns in the Post, point out what was a huge flaw in Obama's thinking. He has been forever linked by name (Obamacare) to a piece of legislation that he did relatively little to craft.

He was too inexperienced at the time to realize that if your're the one going to do the time, you may as well be the one to commit the crime, so to speak. Hard to say whether his active involvement from the beginning would have made for a better bill, or no bill at all, but suffice to say he blew it on closely supervising work that was the biggest part of his legacy.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 19, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, dbw, for your thoughtful, evidence-based argument on the CBO's methodology for scoring legislative activity. My favorite part is that you didn't start throwing out irrelevant, inapplicable analogies to obscure the fact that you refuse to believe that reality disagrees with you.

If you had done that, you would've seemed like a conspiracy-theory-thumping crackpot, but thankfully, instead of seeming that way, you've given us the evidence that don't want us to know about!

Bravo!

Posted by: KBfromNC | January 19, 2011 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Want a little cheese with that whine ??? ... welcome to reality ...

Posted by: cunn9305 | January 19, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

It's kind of incredible that no one in the media has noticed that for this bill to approach the deficit cost Republicans are insinuating it does by citing its spending, then the CBO would have to be off by ONE TRILLION DOLLARS.

One trillion dollars. That's a heck of a rounding error, y'all.

This little graph should make it perfectly clear that this entire "repeal the bill in the name of fiscal responsibility" is a cynical lie in the most unbelievable way. There is no fiscal responsibility in the Republican mainstream. Today, fiscal responsibility is solely a Democratic value.

Posted by: theorajones1 | January 19, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Where is the Social Security Act of 1965 on this graph?

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 19, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

"This little graph should make it perfectly clear that this entire "repeal the bill in the name of fiscal responsibility" is a cynical lie in the most unbelievable way. There is no fiscal responsibility in the Republican mainstream. Today, fiscal responsibility is solely a Democratic value."

Nope, because the graph is solely incomplete.

It is missing Medicaid, Medicare Part B, and unemployment insurance, to name a few things.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 19, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who describes the impact of PPACA and includes the revenues from the CLASS Act and Social Security is also not "on the level", so there's some pot-kettle going on here.

Posted by: ab_13 | January 19, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Why don't you just come clean and title your blog - "Defense of Democrats' Policy Ideas"?

Posted by: novalifter | January 19, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

As your earlier post pointed out, the PPACA passage and (attempted) repeal process is probably the beginning of the politicization of the CBO. In retrospect, it's surprising it preserved it's reputation as an authoritative, independent body for as long as it did.

Posted by: jnc4p | January 19, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

"Why don't you just come clean and title your blog - "Defense of Democrats' Policy Ideas"?"

novalifter, you are being silly. Ezra is defending PPACA, so if anything his blog should be titled "Defense of Republicans' Policy Ideas". Or do we need to review this policy's history yet again?

Posted by: Fishpeddler | January 19, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Fishpeddler,

While you're continuing that drivel I'll also add that Republicans NEVER in their putting comparable healthcare reforms together proposed subsidies of $800 billion and taxes of many hundreds of billions in.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 19, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"While you're continuing that drivel I'll also add..."

Thank you, visionbrkr, for adding your drivel to my drivel. Now our drivels aren't lonely.

Posted by: Fishpeddler | January 19, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Fishpeddler,

Your drivel was the same talking points Ezra's peddling that "Republicans should love this, this is their idea"

But my POINT is that its NOT the same because the subsidies and huge expansion to Medicaid was not in Republican proposals. When HilaryCare failed in 1994 or so Republicans reacted by passing HIPAA (bipartisanly I might add) which addressed issues at the time to ensure coverage for pre-existing condtions for those people that remained covered or had no more than a 62 day lapse in coverage.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 19, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

KBfromNC:
"....inapplicable analogies to obscure the fact that you refuse to believe that reality disagrees with you."

Feel free to navigate yourself over to the boards for any number of Ezra's other posts on the ACA, including the "12 million" post of Ezra's today.

If you are looking for evidence-based arguments about the CBO, you will discover it's easy to find several of my detailed disections of the CBO 'scoring' of the ACA.....that is, if you are willing to consider more than talking-point rhetoric.

Posted by: dbw1 | January 19, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

theorajones1:
"...for this bill to approach the deficit cost Republicans are insinuating it does by citing its spending, then the CBO would have to be off by ONE TRILLION DOLLARS."

If you are willing to consider actual facts, you may actually be underestimating how far off the CBO is.....the rate we are going, they may be off nearly 2 trillion....but who's counting?


Posted by: dbw1 | January 19, 2011 3:47 PM | Report abuse

"But my POINT is that its NOT the same because the subsidies and huge expansion to Medicaid was not in Republican proposals."

Alright, I concede. PPACA was not EXACTLY how any particular Republican ever would have written the bill, so Ezra, myself and others are completely off-base in suggesting that the core ideas come from Republican proposals (and actual policy in Massachusetts). I can only beg your forgiveness.

Posted by: Fishpeddler | January 19, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Nothing the GOP pushes today is on the level. They thrive in an Echo Chamber of mis-information, lies, and half-truths.

The Democratic side continues to actually want to govern and hold a fair/open discourse, but the Right continues to show they have no interest in any of that.

Posted by: omarsidd | January 20, 2011 3:44 PM | Report abuse

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