WASHINGTON -- What happened to Obamacare? Rhetoric met reality. As both candidate and president, the master rhetorician could conjure a world in which he bestows upon you health care nirvana: more coverage, less cost.
But you can't fake it in legislation. Once you commit your fantasies to words and numbers, the Congressional Budget Office comes along and declares that the emperor has no clothes.
President Obama premised the need for reform on the claim that medical costs are destroying the economy. True. But now we learn -- surprise! -- that universal coverage increases costs. The congressional Democrats' health care plans, says the CBO, increase costs in the range of $1 trillion plus.
In response, the president retreated to a demand that any bill he sign be revenue neutral. But that's classic misdirection: If the fierce urgency of health care reform is to radically reduce costs that are producing budget-destroying deficits, revenue neutrality (by definition) leaves us on precisely the same path to insolvency that Obama himself declares unsustainable.
The Democratic proposals are worse still. Because they do increase costs, revenue neutrality means countervailing tax increases. It's not just that it is crazily anti-stimulatory to saddle a deeply depressed economy with an income tax surcharge that falls squarely on small business and the investor class. It's that health care reform ends up diverting for its own purposes a source of revenue that might otherwise be used to close the yawningstructural budget deficit that is such a threat to the economy and to the dollar.
These blindingly obvious contradictions are why the Democratic health plans are collapsing under their own weight -- at the hands of Democrats. It's Max Baucus, Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who called Obama unhelpful for ruling out taxing employer-provided health insurance as a way to pay for expanded coverage. It's the Blue Dog Democrats in the House who wince at skyrocketing health-reform costs just weeks after having swallowed hemlock for Obama on a ruinous cap-and-trade carbon tax.
The president is therefore understandably eager to make this a contest between progressive Democrats and reactionary Republicans. He seized on Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's comment that stopping Obama on health care would break his presidency to protest, with perfect disingenuousness, that "this isn't about me. This isn't about politics."
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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