Like most liberals, the John Cassidy supports the passage of health care legislation. But, unlike most liberals, he’s honest about the costs and consequences of passing it. Via WSJ, I see this item Cassidy recently wrote. While the substance should not surprise anybody who is a regular reader of this blog, it is rather startling coming from the pages of the New Yorker.
“[W]e will be dealing with its consequences for decades to come, and I think it’s important to be clear about what the reform amounts to,” Cassidy wrote. He goes on to confess that, “The future cost savings that the Administration and its congressional allies are promising to deliver are based on wishful thinking and sleight of hand. Over time, the reform, as proposed, would almost certainly add substantially to the budget deficit, thereby worsening the long-term fiscal crisis that the country faces.”
After explaining many of the accounting tricks the Democrats have used to obtain a passing grade from the Congresssional Budget Office, which I have detailed on numerous occasions, Cassidy concludes:
So what does it all add up to? The U.S. government is making a costly and open-ended commitment to help provide health coverage for the vast majority of its citizens. I support this commitment, and I think the federal government’s spending priorities should be altered to make it happen. But let’s not pretend that it isn’t a big deal, or that it will be self-financing, or that it will work out exactly as planned. It won’t.
Many Democratic insiders know all this, or most of it. What is really unfolding, I suspect, is the scenario that many conservatives feared. The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration before it (and many other Administrations before that) is creating a new entitlement program, which, once established, will be virtually impossible to rescind. At some point in the future, the fiscal consequences of the reform will have to be dealt with in a more meaningful way, but by then the principle of (near) universal coverage will be well established. Even a twenty-first-century Ronald Reagan will have great difficult overturning it.
That takes me back to where I began. Both in terms of the political calculus of the Democratic Party, and in terms of making the United States a more equitable society, expanding health-care coverage now and worrying later about its long-term consequences is an eminently defensible strategy. Putting on my amateur historian’s cap, I might even claim that some subterfuge is historically necessary to get great reforms enacted. But as an economics reporter and commentator, I feel obliged to put on my green eyeshade and count the dollars.
If there is any smidgen of hope for small government conservatism at some future date, it hinges on whether or not we can stop this monstrous legislation.
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