Health care debate

In their futile effort to stop House Republicans from voting to repeal ObamaCare, Democrats made a number of claims in defense of the law.

One in particular stood out.

“Repeal of health care reform” would “add to our deficit,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. He was echoed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who argued that killing the law would increase the nation’s debt by more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

Democrats pointed to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office, which concluded that repealing the bill would increase deficits by $230 billion over the next decade.

So passing the biggest expansion of the federal government in the past half-century is actually going to save money? Is there any evidence in the historical record of such a thing happening anywhere at any time? In fact, can anyone who believes Sen. Durbin, Sen. Reid and the CBO cite one instance of a government entitlement program not eventually costing billions — even trillions — more than projected?

The last time Congress passed a health care reform this complicated and expensive was in 1965, when Medicare became law. This $3 billion-a-year program was supposed to cost $12 billion by 1990. Real cost? Nine times the estimate at $107 billion.

When George W. Bush’s prescription drug entitlement passed in 2003, the administration claimed the program would cost $534 billion over 10 years. But within a year of inception, those estimates were adjusted to $1.2 trillion.

Writing in Wednesday’s online Wall Street Journal, Doug Holtz-Eakin, Joseph Antos and James Capretta argue the only way to conclude that ObamaCare will save money is to rely on “budget gimmicks, deceptive accounting, and implausible assumptions.” Mr. Holtz-Eakin is a former CBO director and Mr. Antos is a former assistant director at CBO.

“The history of federal entitlements is one of inexorable growth,” note the three authors. “Once erected, more and more people get added to the programs. (ObamaCare) will be no different. Spending will soar, and the tax hikes and spending ‘offsets’ that were cobbled together to get the bill passed will either wither away or vanish altogether.”

Leaving ObamaCare in place is the real budget buster, the men argue. “Assertions to the contrary are,” they write, “well, audacious.”

History will ultimately pass judgment. And history hasn’t previously been so kind to those who maintain that imposing massive federal entitlement mandates on taxpayers will save them money over time.

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