The health care debate is an interesting one. People are passionate on both sides of this issue. And for every comment I receive on this blog, I also receive a handful of emails from people who don’t want to express their opinions publicly. Liberals are mad at republicans because they view the republicans as obstructionists for standing in their way in passing health care reform. Republicans are the “party of no” say the liberals. And the conservatives and independents are mad at democrats for failing to listen to the people and attempting to pass a massive federal program despite waning public support.
As usual, I have a few opinions to share on both sides of this. But first let me tell you a story about a bus system.
For those of you who don’t know much about Lawrence, let me give you a quick overview of our community. We’re a college town with a population of less than 100,000. Lawrence is a liberal community embedded in a conservative state. The views of our community are much different than they are for most of the Midwest. We have more in common philosophically with San Francisco than we do Wichita.
Several years ago we were deciding on whether or not Lawrence should have a public transportation system. Liberals explained how important the bus system would be to the community, and how it would be financially self-sustaining within a few years. Conservatives countered that Lawrence was just too small, and didn’t need a bus system. My point at the time was that there was no way that public transit would be self-sustaining financially, and that the debate needed to be on whether or not we, as a community, were willing to pay for a bus system.
The voters supported the bill, and Lawrence Transit, typically referred to as the “T”, was born.
To make a long story short, ridership has been abysmal. Lawrence has been losing approximately $2.5 million per year on the “T”. And at the last major election we were asked to vote for a significant sales tax increase in order to keep public transit afloat. And like good liberals, we voted for the tax increase to save the bus system.
So my question is this: Did our city’s liberals really believe that the bus system would be self-sustaining? Did they talk themselves into believing their wildly optimistic revenue projections? Or were the projections just distractions to begin with? Financial slight of hand so to speak. The truth is probably a little of both. Some of the liberals believed the financial projections because that’s what they wanted to believe. And others probably didn’t care. They were so determined that our city “needed” a bus system that they didn’t care about the future costs or flawed revenue projections.
Liberals wanted what they always want, and that’s for the government to step in and right social wrongs. Lawrence liberals felt like it was wrong for us not to offer public transportation to our community. But instead of debating the merits of public transportation in a city of less than 100,000 people, many of whom were already being served by KU’s bus system, they focused on their wildly optimistic projections of revenues to explain how there was no reason NOT to create a public transit system. At the time I viewed their reasoning as flawed and intellectually dishonest.
Give the Democrats their Props
The republicans were in control of Congress from 1994 to 2006 and failed to solve our country’s health care problems. I give a lot of credit to the democrats for moving forward and attempting to solve this problem. I think it’s interesting that often we condemn politicians for doing what’s in their own self-interest, and not doing what’s best for the country. But in this case we’re witnessing the democrats commit political suicide as they attempt to pass what they perceive as a solution to our country’s health care problems. And now many on the right are condemning the democrats for sticking to their principles.
But a word to democrats, your cry of republican obstructionism is lame. The democrats decided to throw a big party and didn’t invite the republicans. Don’t blame the republicans for whining about it. With significant majorities in the Senate and the House, and a democrat in the White House, democrats viewed this as their opportunity to pass a massive federal program to “fix” health care. They knew that fiscal conservatives would never get onboard with their plans, so they didn’t invite them to the party. They thought that they could force this legislation through Congress without the republicans. And now democrats are whining because they haven’t been able to pass this legislation despite majorities in the Senate and the House.
Liberals want what they always want, and that’s for the government to step in and right social wrongs. Liberals want nationalized health care, and this legislation is a significant step towards a single-payer, government run solution. I don’t begrudge liberals for this. But I do begrudge the intellectual dishonesty of many of their arguments for this legislation. I’ve already covered several in past posts, but here are a couple more.
Financial Slight of Hand #1: The president has repeatedly talked about the 10 year and 20 year projections for costs associated with their plan. But the numbers are flawed and misleading. In the first ten years, the program is paid for because we have almost ten years of tax increases and Medicare cuts, but most the benefits only kick in during the second half of this ten year projection. So we’re paying for the plan for ten years, but only receiving five years of benefits. Why? Because that was the only way to make the numbers work over the first ten years.
But the financial projections over the first 20 years are just as flawed and misleading. The 20 year projection is based on significant future budget cuts that are not included in the current legislation. Even the CBO recognizes that these budget cuts are never likely to happen, making the 20 year projection irrelevant.
Financial Slight of Hand #2: The administration continues to claim that by adding more people (the currently uninsured) to the health insurance pool, insurance rates will go down, even though most projections still show premiums on the rise with the passage of their bill. The plan is to force all Americans to buy health insurance. The reasoning is that since many of our “uninsured” are actually young, healthy Americans, adding them to the pool will reduce premiums. This is again flawed logic. Many of these young Americans will continue to go without coverage and risk the potential penalties. And it’s possible that forcing Americans to buy health insurance will be found to be un-Constitutional anyway.
But the people who are more expensive to cover will certainly enter the health insurance pool. People who cannot afford premiums because of health issues, and those who are currently denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, will drive up health insurance premiums.
Like the Lawrence liberals who focused on wildly optimistic revenue numbers for a public transportation system, democrats would rather make the case for expanding the government’s role in health care based off of flawed financial projections than the merits of the program. I’d call this intellectually dishonest.
Note: Here’s a post I wrote about Congress being empowered by their beliefs in healthcare reform.