I’ve been documenting the various tricks Democrats have been employing to argue that their health care legislation would cost less than $900 billion over 10 years and not add to deficits. Their tactics include promising cuts to government programs that future lawmakers are unlikely to actually enact and moving $247 billion of spending on Medicare doctors’ payments to a separate bill while claiming that it has nothing to do with health care (even the Washington Post editorialized that this was “nonsensical“). But another way that Chairman Max Baucus was able to keep the cost of the Senate Finance Committee legislation down (as measured by the Congressional Budget Office) was just a simple gimmick.
Given that the CBO only puts a price tag on the first 10 years of a piece of legislation, Democrats realized that they could simply delay the enactment of the major spending provisions of the bill by four years, thus creating the illusion of a bill that costs $829 billion over 10 years. But in actuality, the bill is projected to cost just $14 billion in the first four years, and $70 billion through its fifth year. You can see this in the below table breaking down the CBO spending projections:
I demonstrate this graphically below. The red shaded area to the left of the line represents all of the spending in the first half of the 10 year period the CBO evaluated, and everything to the right of the line represents spending in the second half of that 10 year period. About 98 percent of the spending comes in the last six years, and 92 percent comes in final five year period. Thus, the true 10-year cost of the Baucus bill is well above $1 trillion, and according to estimates cited by Republicans, it’s actually $1.8 trillion.