The Spectacle Blog

Obama Backs Off WH Econ Estimates, Struggles to Defend Bogus Health Care Claim

By on 6.23.09 | 3:13PM

President Obama today conceded that his administration “missed the mark” when it estimated the unemployment level if the stimulus package passed, but that didn’t stop him from making a series of dubious claims to push his health care agenda.

During his afternoon press conference, Obama was asked about the fact that the White House projected that unemployment would now be around 8 percent if the stimulus legislation passed, yet in reality it now stands at 9.4 percent and he says that it will reach the double digits.

“Keep in mind the stimulus package was the first thing we did, and we did it a couple of weeks after Inauguration, and at that point nobody understood what the depths of this recession were going to look like,” Obama said. “If you recall, it was only significantly later that we suddenly get a report the economy tanked.  It’s not surprising then that we missed the mark in terms  of estimates of where unemployment would go.“

Of course, at the time, President Obama was arguing that we were facing the worst crisis since the Great Depression.

Asked if he could estimate the peak unemployment rate, he said, “I’m not suggesting I have a crystal ball. Since you just threw back at us our last prognosis, let’s not engage in another one.”

Yet even though he’s suddenly shy about making prognoses, he said, “Here’s some things I know for certain. In the absence of the stimulus, I think our recession would be much worse.”

Of course, given that the same team that gave us the first set of estimates is in charge of calculating how many jobs are “saved or created” as a result of the stimulus package, it would be wise to avoid taking his statements at face value. Which brings us to health care.

During his opening remarks, Obama reiterated a promise he has made over and over again:. “There’s no doubt that we must preserve what’s best about our health care system, and that means allowing Americans who like their doctors and their health care plans to keep them,” he said.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that “White House officials suggest the president's rhetoric shouldn't be taken literally,” and Obama confirmed this when ABC's Jake Tapper asked him about how Americans would lose their insurance if their employers decided to dump them in a new government-run exchange.

“When I say if you have your plan and you like it… and  you have a doctor and you like your doctor, you don’t have to change plans, what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform,” Obama said.

In other words, the government will not force people to change plans. But this rather immaterial, given that independent analysts from the Congressional Budget Office to the Lewin Group have estimated that anywhere from 23 million to 119 million would lose their current health care, depending on the nature of the legislation as employers drop health care coverage and direct their workers to government.

Obama’s response during the press conference was to dip into the stimulus playbook and argue that even more people would lose their current health care if we did nothing.

“Let’s assume that nothing happened,” Obama theorized. “I can guarantee you that there’s a possibility out there that a whole lot of Americans, there are not going to have the same health care they have, because what’s going to happen is, as costs keep going up, employers are going to start making decisions, ‘we’ve got to raise premiums on our employees,' in some cases, 'we can’t provide health insurance at all,' and so there are going to be a whole set of changes out there.”

So, essentially, this is the equivalent of arguing that legislation will “save or create” more employer-based health care than would have otherwise existed. Thus Obama can manufacture whatever numbers he wants.

Now as a matter of policy, there’s no particular merit in guaranteeing that everybody will get to keep their current health care coverage.  Personally, I would support a health care proposal that eliminated the employer tax exclusion and transferred that benefit to individuals. Such a disruption to the current system would undoubtedly mean that some people would have to lose their current health care plans, even though I think we’d end up with a better system with expanded coverage, because individuals could choose their own plans rather than having an employer do it for them, those who are on their own could enjoy equal tax treatment, and people could take their policies with them from job to job.

But the point of drawing attention to this is to highlight Obama’s dishonest approach to health care, and governing in general. He doesn’t want to level with the American people and acknowledge that there are tradeoffs involved in any major policy initiative. If people want to overhaul the entire health care system, it’s going to have an effect on every aspect of the system. This idea that we can change everything that people don’t like while preserving everything that people do like, as if it exists in a bubble, is tremendously deceptive. Obama now has to backtrack on his stimulus claims, how will he react if health care passes and suddenly millions of Americans are losing the health care plan they like?

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