Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Obama’s Medicare Fantasies

Ahead of this evening’s first presidential debate, it’s worth examining what may happen on entitlement reform in a post-election environment.  Politico had a piece last Friday examining what the President isn’t saying about Medicare:

[During debt ceiling negotiations in mid-2011,] Obama and his top aides made clear that they were willing to swallow serious changes to Medicare in exchange for deficit reduction….Obama, in an interview with [Bob] Woodward, acknowledged he was open to nudging reluctant liberals on Medicare and Social Security if Republicans were willing to deal on taxes.  “’I am willing to move on entitlement reform — even if my own party is resisting, and I will bring them along — as long as we have significant revenues so that people feel like there’s a fairly shared burden when it comes to deficit reduction.’”

The Obama camp’s statements mislead on multiple fronts.  First, President Obama is currently claiming on the campaign trail that his proposals “will save Medicare money by getting rid of wasteful spending in the health care system.  Reforms that will not touch your Medicare benefits.”  What President Obama is claiming – before the election – is that he fully intends to break his own campaign promise “not [to] touch your Medicare benefits” after the election – so long as Republicans agree to break their own campaign pledge and raise taxes on the American people.  To say that is a cynical move – the antithesis of hope and change – is putting it mildly.

The second problem is that the President’s claim itself doesn’t withstand serious scrutiny, given his past track record.  Take, for instance, his pledge to Congress in September 2009 that his health plan would “cost around $900 billion over ten years.”  Here’s how that turned out:

  1. The final health care legislation as enacted spent $938 billion on insurance subsidies – more than the President’s $900 billion figure;
  2. The legislation also included a total of $144.2 billion in additional mandatory spending on programs other than insurance subsidies (e.g., closing the Medicare “doughnut hole,” prevention “slush fund,” etc.) – taking the measure’s mandatory spending to well above $1 trillion;
  3. The legislation included more than $100 billion in authorizations for domestic discretionary spending – figures revealed only after the legislation was signed into law; and
  4. Even the $1.2 trillion in combined mandatory and discretionary spending was an under-estimate of the law’s true 10-year fiscal impact, as the insurance expansions were delayed until 2014 in an attempt to make the bill seem less expensive than it really was.  The Congressional Budget Office concluded in July that the $938 billion in insurance subsidy spending has nearly doubled, to $1.68 trillion, now that more years of subsidy spending are present in the 10-year budget window.

So when all is said and done, and the gimmicks exposed, the plan President Obama claimed in 2009 would cost “only” $900 billion will in reality spend much more than that – a liberal, and recklessly irresponsible, record that would make many question Obama’s ability, and desire, to take on America’s unsustainable entitlements.

Even if the above fears are unfounded, and President Obama will finally put aside his liberal tendencies, the man who claims that “even if my own party is resisting” entitlement reform, “I will bring them along” appears to be vastly over-estimating his ability to influence the “professional left.”  According to Bob Woodward, Speaker Nancy Pelosi hit the mute button on President Obama during negotiations on the “stimulus” in 2009.  That might be a nice way to avoid listening to someone who has described himself as “long-winded” – but it doesn’t speak well to the President’s ability to influence his own party.

To sum up: President Obama wants Republicans to break their campaign promises after the election – which his advisers already claim he fully plans on doing himself – so that they can negotiate with someone whose health care bill cost twice what he promised, and whose own party’s leaders have tuned him out.  Somewhere, P.T. Barnum must be smiling.