President Obama has given House and Senate leaders the green light to eschew the transparency that comes with a formal conference to merge the chambers’ health care bills, and instead have informal closed door talks that will be inaccessible to the media. The clear message is that speed is more important than anything else, including President Obama’s campaign pledge to have health care negotiations broadcast on C-SPAN to “enlist the American people in the process.” This need for speed isn’t being driven by a desire to give Americans health care coverage as soon as possible — those benefits don’t kick in until 2014 — but entirely a result of Obama’s own vanity and political calculations, because he wants to be able to sign a bill before his State of the Union Address.
The Associated Press reports that “the House will work off the Senate’s version, amend it and send it back to the Senate for final passage.” If so, we can only expect the Senate bill to get more expensive. The reason is that with the public option now likely out of the picture, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to find some way to keep her liberal caucus onboard with the health care bill. Remember, the first time around, the health care bill would have been defeated in the House had Pelosi lost just three more votes. Given that a handful of pro-life Democrats would bolt assuming the abortion language is watered down, she cannot afford any more defections among liberal members. That likely means increasing the amount of subsidies offered to individuals to purchase insurance on government exchanges, and perhaps having them start sooner — both of which would increase the cost of the legislation.
As I’ve noted on a number of occasions, the CBO cost estimates that get quoted in the media understate the true cost of the health care bills because Democrats have employed a number of accounting gimmicks to get the number they want. While the frequently-quoted number may not be representative of the true cost of the legislation, the White House decided at some point that the number that does get quoted shouldn’t be higher than $900 billion. Majority Leader Harry Reid found a formula that enabled the CBO to churn out the number $871 billion as the cost of the final Senate bill. However, the comparable number in the CBO analysis of the House bill was $1.055 trillion (the subsidies alone cost $166 billion more).
So, the question is, what will be the cost of getting liberals to fall in line with a bill that does not include a public option? And what new spin will the White House resort to when the headline number crosses the magic $900 billion threshold?
UPDATE: BreitbartTV compiles 8 clips of Obama promising that health care negotiations will be broadcast on C-SPAN.