Some of the headlines in recent days are not worthy of belief. No, I'm not referring to the headlines that Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, however odd that many seem to many (including, it seems, Obama himself). I'm referring to the headlines earlier in the week to the effect that the health care bill sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus will cut the federal deficit by $81 billion over the next 10 years.
Yes, that is what the Congressional Budget Office estimated. But, as the CBO noted, there's no actual Baucus bill, just some "conceptual language." Actual language, CBO noted, might result in "significant changes" in its estimates. No wonder Democratic congressional leaders killed requirements that the actual language be posted on the Internet for 72 hours before Congress votes.
More significant is the number most publications did not put in their headlines and lead paragraphs: CBO's estimate that the Baucus "conceptual language" would increase federal spending by $829 billion over 10 years. So how do you increase federal spending and cut the deficit at the same time?
One way is taxes. The Baucus conceptual language includes a tax on high-cost insurance plans ($210 billion), penalties for not having insurance ($27 billion) and "indirect offsets" (whatever they are -- $83 billion).
In addition, costs are fobbed off on state governments in the form of more Medicaid spending, and savings are projected from future reductions in Medicare that will surely turn out to be imaginary (Congresses of both parties have acted to prevent such reductions every year since 2003).
We know from past experience that cost estimates of all government health care programs (except the 2003 Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which has private market competition) tend to understate actual costs. So the Baucus bill -- er, conceptual language -- if enacted is likely to expand government spending by more than the estimated $829 billion.
And perhaps quite a bit more. The Baucus measure enables families without employer-provided insurance to obtain it at exchanges with subsidies that make it cost less than what those with employer-provided insurance pay. The latter are a majority of voters -- how long are their elected representatives going to let this disadvantage stand?