Opinion

Chicago politics: Wonk edition

Neil Patel Co-Founder and Publisher, The Daily Caller

Last week Chuck Blahous, a prominent policy analyst who was deputy director of the National Economic Council under President Bush, produced a report showing just how much Obamacare could increase spending and our debt. The Obama White House didn’t like it. Like a schoolyard bully who feels threatened by the smart kid in class, the White House responded with lots of attacks and few real answers.

Blahous, who currently serves as one of the two public trustees for the Social Security and Medicare programs, has been a well-respected Washington policy wonk for a long time. With an undergrad degree from Princeton and a PhD from Berkeley, experience on Capitol Hill and experience as executive director of the bipartisan Social Security Commission co-chaired by Pat Moynihan, Blahous has built a solid reputation many years in the making. Top policy people on both sides of the aisle can and do attest to the fact that he is smart, honest and not a partisan gunslinger.

Blahous’s report confirmed what many already knew. President Obama’s health care law, contrary to its marketing, would actually increase future budget deficits. Instead of being part of the solution to America’s fiscal problems, Obamacare makes those problems much worse. What Blahous did to advance this discussion is quantify the extent of the problem. By undoing some of the double counting that Washington’s bizarre budget rules allow, Blahous found that in the best-case scenario, the law will add at least $1.15 trillion to net federal spending over the next decade, and at least $340 billion to federal deficits over the same period. In the more likely scenario, the law would add around $530 billion to federal deficits over the first 10 years, and more afterward.

Blahous bases his findings on a detailed analysis of Medicare financing. He shows that the administration and, because of its scoring rules, the CBO are double counting Medicare savings. By law, if Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund is depleted, Medicare hospital insurance spending must be cut to the level that can be financed from incoming taxes and premiums. Since Obamacare extends Medicare solvency, it also extends the period over which Medicare is permitted to pay full benefits, an extension that increases the amount of spending that Medicare is later able to do.

Notably absent from the report is any level of partisan attack on the president. The paper stays out of most of the big controversies. There is no mention that Obamacare will probably be found unconstitutional. There is no mention of the president’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which many allege was set up to ration health care. There is no analysis of whether the president was being honest when he repeatedly promised that people could keep their current health plans if they wanted. The sole focus of the paper is the law’s effect on the deficit. This analysis is presented in an analytical and sober way. You won’t find the term “Obamacare” in the report.

Instead of addressing this substantive and legitimate critique made by a serious policy expert, the White House and the president’s campaign went into attack mode.

A campaign spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said, “The Koch brothers and their allied organizations first spent millions of dollars attacking the president in an attempt to maintain taxpayer subsidies for oil and gas companies that are making record profits and boosting their own bottom line. Now, they have bought and paid for a false, partisan report.”

Jeanne Lambrew, the president’s health policy adviser, said, “One former Bush administration official is wrongly claiming that some of the savings in the Affordable Care Act are ‘double-counted’ and that the law actually increases the deficit. … This new math fits the old pattern of mischaracterizations about the Affordable Care Act when official estimates show the health care law reduces the deficit.”

I must have missed the part where administration officials explained why Blahous is wrong and the “official estimates” are right. Blahous lays out a pretty convincing case. What’s their case? Do they not have a real response to Blahous? If they did, I’d imagine they would use it rather than accuse him of being “bought and paid for” or “partisan.” We would be happy to print a reply at The Daily Caller if the president’s esteemed advisers have one, but I have a feeling we could be waiting for a while.

Neil Patel is the co-founder and publisher of The Daily Caller. He was previously chief policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.