David Harsanyi

For Philistines like me, the mysteries of Washington can be both perplexing and wondrous. If you've been watching noted alchemist Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., conjure up health care gold this week, you probably know what I mean.

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Mercifully, House and Senate Democrats recently blocked amendments that would have required health care bills to be posted online for 72 hours before a committee vote, sparing us the needless irritation of grappling with fancy facts about the most consequential piece of legislation in recent memory.

No need to get into the weeds for you and me. No way. Just think of legislation as abstract art. The Congressional Budget Office does.

The CBO's new estimate, which magically meets every one of President Barack Obama's preconditions, is based on "conceptual" language provided by Baucus rather than on any of those maddeningly specific Arabic numerals.

That's because the estimate isn't rooted in an actual bill per se, nor does it incorporate hundreds of amendments that will be part of any final product -- well, not exactly ... What we do have is a CBO that has been browbeaten long enough by the White House to finally summon the conviction to get a figure that so many wanted to hear.

It's also, believe it or not, free.

According to the CBO, the Senate plan -- which actually would cost more than earlier estimates, rising from nearly $800 billion to $829 billion (or $904 billion, according to a number of economists) -- has triggered many excited journalists and politicians to claim that the bill miraculously would "pay for itself."

The CBO says that not only would it pay for itself -- and this part is really wonderful -- but also the government's spending an additional $829 billion over the next 10 years would reduce the federal deficit by $81 billion.

How exactly does health care "reform" pay for itself in Wonderland? In this case, it pays for itself by charging taxpayers new "fees," delivering new mandates and penalties, adding pass-through costs, and cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare.

As you know, if there's anything old folks -- already prone to irascibility from time to time -- absolutely adore it's the prospect of cutting their Medicare benefits. Yet even those savings seem to defy reality.

David Harsanyi

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of "The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy." Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.