Obama’s Great Health Scare
On the campaign trail last year, Barack Obama promised to end the “politics of fear and cynicism.” Yet he is now trying to sell his health-care proposals on fear.
At his news conference last week, he said “Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage, or lose their job. . . . If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket. If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the consequences of inaction.”
A Fox News Poll from last week shows that 84% of Americans who have health insurance are happy with their coverage. And because 91% of all Americans have insurance, that means that 76% of all Americans will be concerned about anything that threatens their current coverage. By a 2-1 margin, according to the Fox Poll, Americans want coverage from a private provider rather than the government.
Facing numbers like these, Mr. Obama is dropping his high-minded rhetoric and instead trying to scare voters. During last week’s news conference, for example, he said that doctors routinely perform unnecessary tonsillectomies on children simply to fatten their wallets. All that was missing was the suggestion that the operations were conducted without anesthesia.
This is not a healthy way to wage a policy debate. It also risks making the president look desperate at a time when his proposals are looking increasingly too expensive for Americans to accept.
Last weekend, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) demolished Mr. Obama’s claims that his plan cuts the growth of future health spending and won’t add to the deficit. Responding to a White House proposal to create an independent panel to recommend Medicare cuts, the CBO said on Saturday that “The probability is high that no savings would be realized” in the next decade, while entitlement spending would rise $1.042 trillion. The CBO did say there might be $2 billion in savings in the second decade of the program—a pittance.
White House Budget Director Peter Orszag shot back at the CBO with a blog posting on the White House’s Web site arguing, “the point of the proposal . . . was never to generate savings over the next decade.” Really? The White House rolled out the proposal hoping to give cover to Blue Dog Democrats in Congress barking about the cost of overhauling health care.
The House version of ObamaCare adds to the deficit even though the new taxes to pay for part of it begin two years before the program itself kicks in. That head start puts ObamaCare in the black through 2013. But net new spending after that overwhelms future revenue to add to the deficit each year.
Keith Hennessey, who was a National Economic Council director for George W. Bush, estimates the annual deficits in Mr. Obama’s plan will grow to $64 billion a year by 2019. And this assumes that Mr. Obama gets all the tax increases and Medicare cuts he wants.
On Sunday, the CBO released another torpedo at the burning hull of USS ObamaCare. Responding to an inquiry by Rep. David Camp (R., Mich.) about whether the House bill would run a deficit in its second decade, the CBO reported it would “probably generate substantial increases in federal budget deficits during the decade beyond the current 10-year budget window.” The CBO does not believe that Mr. Obama’s proposal “bends” health-care spending down, as the president has repeatedly claimed it would. The CBO says it escalates above today’s rate.
By 2029, Mr. Hennessey estimates that new taxes will bring in $143 billion a year, while net new health spending will have increased by $348 billion a year.
Damaging reports from the CBO had earlier provoked some Chicago-style intimidation, with the president summoning CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf to the Oval Office. It’s safe to assume that they didn’t talk about the Chicago White Sox. Imagine if Mr. Bush had done that after the CBO released numbers that undercut the centerpiece of his domestic agenda. “White House thuggery” and “intimidation” would have been the theme of nearly every editorial writer in the country.
Team Obama’s pressure, however, might have caused the CBO to release its latest missives on a weekend, when fewer people are paying attention to the news.
Mr. Obama’s problem is that nine out of 10 Americans would likely get worse health care if ObamaCare goes through. Of those who do not have insurance—and who therefore might be better off—approximately one-fifth are illegal aliens, nearly three-fifths make $50,000 or more a year and can afford insurance, and just under a third are probably eligible for Medicaid or other government programs already.
For the slice of the uninsured that is left—perhaps about 2% of all American citizens—Team Obama would dismantle the world’s greatest health-care system. That’s a losing proposition, which is why Mr. Obama is increasingly resorting to fear and misleading claims. It’s all the candidate of hope has left.
Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.