The CBO on HELP

THE CBO ON HELP…. It was the kind of news that opponents of health care reform were no doubt thrilled to see. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) late yesterday published an estimate of the costs associated with the Kennedy/Dodd health care bill, crafted within the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

The results were ugly: the measure, as reviewed by the CBO, “would cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years yet leave tens of millions of people uninsured.” Not exactly the kind of legislative package that would generate widespread public support.

If this CBO scoring doesn’t sound right, there’s a good reason for that. Republican hyperventilating notwithstanding, Jonathan Cohn explains why all of this is premature.

Imagine you were trying to build your dream house and the architect gave you a status report. The design still wasn’t finished: He hadn’t sketched out the plumbing, the wiring, and the roof. But, he said, he could tell how much it would cost to build what he’d already designed.

You’d be curious about the number; it might offer some hints about how much the house would cost in the end. But you wouldn’t spent too much time dwelling on it since, after all, the final price was going to be much different.

Well, that’s the same attitude you should take about the estimates of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee bill that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) delivered yesterday…. The Senate HELP bill is not yet finished. Like the house design without the plumbing, wiring, and roof, the HELP bill is missing several key elements that would dramatically change the final estimate.

The question then becomes what led to yesterday’s CBO results. Why would the HELP committee send over an incomplete bill? Ezra Klein noted, Dems hoped to buy some extra time while working on building some bipartisan agreement. “The HELP Committee’s expectation was that the CBO, in crafting its preliminary estimates, would assume something similar to the outline it had seen months before,” Ezra explained. “The CBO didn’t. In fact, it did the opposite. CBO ran its estimates with no employer mandate and an individual mandate with a laughably small penalty. Members of HELP were shocked by yesterday’s estimate. The bill that CBO scored did not look much like the bill they intend to write. Which means that the numbers aren’t correct. If HELP is writing a bill with a strong employer and individual mandate, and CBO scores a bill with no employer mandate and a weak individual mandate, it’s not clear where that estimate leaves us.”

In other words, don’t believe the headlines and definitely don’t believe the Republicans using this as a reason to oppose reform.