Congressional Leadership

The CBO Weighs In

The Congressional Budget Office, powerfully, weighed into the health care debate yesterday:

Congress's chief budget analyst delivered a devastating assessment yesterday of the health-care proposals drafted by congressional Democrats, fueling an insurrection among fiscal conservatives in the House and pushing negotiators in the Senate to redouble efforts to draw up a new plan that more effectively restrains federal spending.

Under questioning by members of the Senate Budget Committee, Douglas Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, said bills crafted by House leaders and the Senate health committee do not propose "the sort of fundamental changes" necessary to rein in the skyrocketing cost of government health programs, particularly Medicare. On the contrary, Elmendorf said, the measures would pile on an expensive new program to cover the uninsured.

Though President Obama and Democratic leaders have repeatedly pledged to alter the soaring trajectory -- or cost curve -- of federal health spending, the proposals so far would not meet that goal, Elmendorf said, noting, "The curve is being raised." His remarks suggested that rather than averting a looming fiscal crisis, the measures could make the nation's bleak budget outlook even worse.

Elmendorf's blunt language startled lawmakers racing to meet Obama's deadline for approving a bill by the August break. The CBO is the official arbiter of the cost of legislation. Fiscal conservatives in the House said Elmendorf's testimony would galvanize the growing number of Democrats agitating for changes in the more than $1.2 trillion House bill, which aims to cover 97 percent of Americans by 2015.

A lot of Democrats want to see more savings, said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), who is leading an effort to amend the bill before next week's vote in the Energy and Commerce Committee. "There's no way they can pass this bill on the House floor. Not even close."

Going to be interesting to see how the White House and the Congressional Leadership respond over the next few days to the new information from the CBO.  Given the continued weakness in the economy, and the worsening long term fiscal picture that follows the recession caused decline in government revenue, those promoting health care reform will have to be persuasive that reform will both help create jobs and improve the long term fiscal prospects of the nation.  Given how weak the economy is now, until it improves I worry that any health care bill which can be painted as one that could push us further into recession now, or help drive us further from solvency in the future, will be a hard sell.

Rob Shapiro makes a similar case in his weekly column yesterday.

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