Michael Barone

Barack Obama has said he wants to pass a national health care bill this year, with a government insurance policy option. Democratic congressional leaders have called for passage of such a bill before the beginning of the August congressional recess.

What they want more than anything else is a government insurance program that will tend over the next few years to crowd out private insurance. We are told that a government insurance plan reduces the amounts spent on health care by using "comparative effectiveness research" -- in other words, by rationing care and limiting options through the use of statistics. Unfortunately, statistics are constantly in flux and do not capture the differing needs of actual patients as well as skillful practitioners can.

Obama and his party are pursuing an ambitious goal. It could drastically change health care in the United States. But Congress has yet to write an actual bill, although there are some drafts around. And there's not much time. Congress is scheduled to be in session for only six weeks from next week to the August recess. Six weeks of Tuesday-to-Thursday sessions means 18 days for actual legislating. There are other things before Congress, like annual appropriations and cap-and-trade. Still, Obama and the Democratic congressional leaders see this as a rare chance to make "transformational" changes in America. They may be right.

Still, there are some things out of kilter here. First, there are nagging questions about money. As Clinton White House deputy domestic policy adviser William Galston points out in the New Republic blog, "Congress has thus far given the cold shoulder to most of the administration's proposals for raising revenues dedicated to health reform." So if Democrats want to pass their health bill using the reconciliation process, which requires that they get only 50 votes in the Senate, they will have to come up with $150,000,000,000 in annual revenue or offsetting spending or else add to the $900,000,000,000 in yearly budget deficits projected by the Congressional Budget Office. As Galston points out, the CBO is unlikely to agree with administration projections of savings from comparative effectiveness research. So money is a problem.

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Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM