Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, June 22, 2009 8:41 pm

A tiny bit of accounting

Filed under: More fact-based arguing, please — Lex @ 8:41 pm
Tags: ,

So a proposed Democratic health-care plan might cost $1 trillion over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office says, and that’s too rich for a lot of people’s blood.

That plan is in such a formulative stage right now that I have no opinion on it because neither I nor anyone else — including, for that matter, the Congressional Budget Office — knows what ultimately will be in it. But just for the sake of discussion, let’s assume the $1 trillion figure is accurate.

We’ve given about $2 trillion to banks in the past year — every dime of it off-budget.

And we’ve spent about $1.8 trillion in Iraq since we invaded there six years ago — every dime of it off-budget.

So it’s more than a tiny bit specious to suggest that budgeting $100 billion a year for health care is unaffordable. We can afford it just fine. It’s just a question of what our priorities are, should a decent bill finally emerge from the legislative sausage-making machinery.

And what would constitute a “decent” bill? That’s in the eye of the beholder, of course, but  a large majority of beholders have made up their minds:

Americans overwhelmingly support substantial changes to the health care system and are strongly behind one of the most contentious proposals Congress is considering, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. …

The national telephone survey, which was conducted from June 12 to 16, found that 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed. …

Republicans in Congress have fiercely criticized the proposal as an unneeded expansion of government that might evolve into a system of nationalized health coverage and lead to the rationing of care.

But in the poll, the proposal received broad bipartisan backing, with half of those who call themselves Republicans saying they would support a public plan, along with nearly three-fourths of independents and almost nine in 10 Democrats.

The poll found that most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have health insurance and that they said the government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector.

I know only two things about this issue: 1) The status quo ain’t working. 2) Any plan with 72% support — including 75% of independents and 50% of Republicans! — is a centrist, bipartisan plan. (Nonetheless, my state’s Democratic senator may not be on board, the poll numbers notwithstanding.)

Now, I realize that a lot of people are worried about the deficit. But, interestingly, Americans have a history of being more worried about deficits when there’s less to worry about than they are when deficits are actually at historically high levels as a percentage of GDP.

Why is that? Digby hypothesizes:

The fiscal scolds don’t stop when the numbers turn around. They keep up the fear mongering because it isn’t really about balanced budgets or paying down debt. It’s about keeping government from bringing positive results to the people. As long as they can keep people focused on debt, whether it exists or not, they always have the rationale to stop any sort of government action that could empower average citizens.

That’s not true of all deficit hawks. It certainly isn’t true of me. But those of us who do value balanced budgets (over the long term, at least) do have to be careful not to become tools of the Grover Norquists and Pete Petersons of the world, who do not come to the table with clean hands and pure motives.

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