Examiner Editorial: Budget Office analysis of Baucus bill raises flags

Obamacare advocates in the White House, Congress and the newsroom of The New York Times were elated this week when a Congressional Budget Office statement said the health care reform bill by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., would cut the federal deficit by $81 billion annually.

Hallelujahs ensued all around, including a Times headline proclaiming “Health care bill gets green light in cost analysis.” But two words in the CBO statement — “Preliminary Analysis” — demonstrate that such celebrations were not only premature, but fundamentally misleading.

CBO had to qualify its observations because it was not allowed to score the actual text of the Baucus bill but rather had to rely upon a legislative summary provided by Senate committee staff. So not only were CBO’s analysts forced to look at language that put the bill in the best possible light; they were also  denied the concrete details and precise legal wording that quite possibly could change their conclusions entirely.

Such “close enough for government work” analyses suffice for Baucus and the Times, but for everybody else, by labeling its assessment as preliminary, CBO was clearing waving yellow caution flags.

Reading further, other yellow flags were present in the CBO analysis. As The Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio has reported, enactment of the Baucus approach will add approximately $900 billion to the federal budget. That money will have to come from somewhere. Half of it will come from massive cuts in Medicare Advantage, while the other half will be generated by new taxes on high-end insurance, higher income taxes, and new levies on drugs and innovative medical devices.

There is another reason why the CBO’s preliminary analysis should be taken with a grain of salt, though this one wasn’t mentioned in the report. Whatever the content of the Baucus bill once it is voted out of the finance committee, it will disappear into a legislative black hole as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and their key aides do what they did on the economic stimulus package back in February — huddle together behind closed doors to write the final bill, which will then be presented as a fait accompli in the form of a conference report.

Everything else is mere sound and fury, signifying nothing, until Harry and Nancy do their thing in the dark.

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