Comparing costs

COMPARING COSTS…. At the town-hall forum at the DNC yesterday, an Organizing for America volunteer asked President Obama about the costs of health care reform. He responded:

“Now, one thing that’s very important to remind people, because you notice there’s been a talking point from opponents — ‘trillion-dollar health care bill’ — they love repeating that. ‘Trillion-dollar health care bill.’

“First of all, it’s important to remind people that when they say ‘trillion dollars,’ they’re talking about over 10 years. So this — we’re talking about $100 billion a year — which is still a significant amount of money. But just to give you a sense of perspective, I mean, the amount of money that we’re spending in Iraq and Afghanistan is — what’s the latest figure, Debbie? You figure $8 billion to $9 billion a month, right?

“So for about the same cost per year as we’ve been spending over the last five to six years, we could have funded this health care reform proposal, just to give you a sense of perspective.”

I don’t recall hearing the president make this argument before, and it’s an interesting one.

There are limits to how one can use these cost comparisons, but as a rhetorical matter, it raises a compelling point. Conservatives have said they’re entirely comfortable with spending at least $100 billion a year on wars in the Middle East. Indeed, these same conservatives have said price is no object when it comes to military conflicts. How much of that money is added to the national debt, to be paid for by future generations? Every single penny. This, according to the right, makes perfect sense, fiscally and strategically.

In contrast, the idea of spending $100 billion a year on health care is, according to these same conservatives, outrageous. For many Americans, health coverage is also a matter of life or death, but the price tag has nevertheless been deemed offensive. Indeed, according to the center-right members of the Gang of Six — who have had very little to say about debt-financed funding for Iraq and Afghanistan — the principal focus now has to be on making health care reform even cheaper.

If reform does cost as much as $100 billion a year for 10 years, how much of that money is added to the national debt, to be paid for by future generations? According to Democratic policymakers, not one cent. This is, of course, the exact oppose of the approach the Bush/Cheney administration embraced for the wars in the Middle East, not to mention the Bush/Cheney Medicare expansion that cost hundreds of billions of dollars, all of which was added to future generations’ tab.

That Republicans claim the high ground on fiscal responsibility and debt reduction continues to be a source of great comedy.