Last Monday, when lobbyists for the six biggest health care industry groups joined President Obama to announce their support for reducing health care spending by $2 trillion over 10 years, I penned and voiced my suspicion that the real motivation was to pressure the Congressional Budget Office to assume that Democrats' health care reforms would reduce spending, despite the lack of evidence. My wife said that hypothesis sounded a little . . . conspiratorial.
Last Thursday, when it was revealed that there was no actual agreement and that the White House basically manipulated the industry to get a week's worth of good health care press, I started to doubt whether strong-arming the CBO was really the goal of that media stunt. Then Jonathan Cohn set me straight.
In an article for The New Republic aptly titled, "Numbers Racket," Cohn acknowledges that the biggest problem facing Democrats is that the $2 trillion cost of universal coverage has to come from somewhere. Cohn, like many Democrats, complains that the "curmudgeonly" CBO isn't letting reformers off the hook by assuming that universal coverage will (partly) pay for itself. Cohn also acknowledges that pressuring the CBO was a likely purpose of last week's media stunt:
The CBO took nearly the same positions back in 1994 -- a fact not lost on either the White House or congressional leaders, who have communicated their concerns publicly and privately. One apparent purpose of bringing industry leaders to meet Obama this week was to showcase the potential for cutting costs; see, the administration seemed to be signaling, even the health care industry thinks it can save money by becoming more efficient.
Democrats have set their sights on legislation that would give government enormous power over Americans' earnings and medical decisions. The main political obstacle to those reforms is their cost, thus Democrats are pressuring the CBO to pretend that those costs don't exist. The CBO (and everybody else) should resist the Democrats' effort to make truth yield to power.