The lies last night began in Obama's opening paragraph. "When I spoke here last winter," he began, "credit was frozen. And our financial system was on the verge of collapse." In fact, Obama spoke on Feb. 24, at least six weeks after credit markets began to thaw, and one week after he proclaimed that the passage of his $787 billion stimulus marked "the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans." Obama's speech that day wasn't about staving off a collapse, it was about cleaning up the mess and tackling long-ignored issues. Such as health care.
It's never encouraging when a politician who desperately needs to convince skeptical Americans of his fiscal sobriety starts off by slurring his words. As you might then infer, Obama was just warming up. "Insurance companies," the president announced, "will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies," in part because such prevention "saves money." Looks like someone forgot to tell the Congressional Budget Office, or other non-White House sources that have analyzed the cost-benefit of prevention.
Again and again last night, the president's numbers didn't add up. "There may be those—particularly the young and healthy—who still want to take the risk and go without coverage," he warned, in a passage defending compulsory insurance. "The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money. If there are affordable options and people still don't sign up for health insurance, it means we pay for those people's expensive emergency room visits." No, it means that, on balance, the healthy young don't pay for the unhealthy old. The whole point of forcing vigorous youth to buy insurance is using their cash and good actuarials to bring down the costs of covering the less fortunate.
Such fudges reveal a politician who, for whatever reason, feels like he can't be honest about the real-world costs of expanding health care. "Add it all up, and the plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years," he said, trying hard to sound like those numbers weren't pulled out of Joe Biden's pants, and won't be dwarfed by actual costs within a year or two. "We've estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system–a system that is currently full of waste and abuse," he said, making him at least the eighth consecutive president to vaguely promise cutting Medicare "waste" (a promise, it should be added, that could theoretically be fulfilled without drastically overhauling the health care system). Any government-run "public option," he claimed, somehow "won't be" subsidized by taxpayers, but instead would "be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects."
And in a critical, tic-riddled passage that many of even his most ardent supporters probably don't believe, Obama said: "Here's what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits–either now or in the future. Period." In case you couldn't quite read his lips, the president repeated the line for emphasis. Then: "And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize."
If that "one dime" formulation sounds familiar, that's because Obama made—then almost immediately broke—the same promise regarding taxes on Americans earning less than $250,000 a year. Surely the no-new-deficits pledge is headed for the campaign dustbin faster even then that "net spending cut" we'll never see.
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