Snowe eyes arbitrary cuts for cuts’ sake

SNOWE EYES ARBITRARY CUTS FOR CUTS’ SAKE…. Throughout the debate over health care reform, a variety of price tags have been thrown around. Some lawmakers talked about a $1 trillion figure over 10 years. The AP called it $1.5 trillion. Last week, there was talk about $700 billion. In his big speech, President Obama said $900 billion over the next decade.

The Senate’s most moderate Republican has another number in mind.

Another Republican negotiator voiced concerns to Fox. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-ME, said there is still concern about the size of the package which is carrying a near $900 billion price tag. “Maybe we could shrink that to $800 billion or below,” the moderate senator said, citing a skeptical public with bailout fatigue and concern for rising deficits.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Senate GOP moderates did the same thing during the debate over an economic stimulus package in February. Economists saw a trillion-dollar hole in the U.S. economy. Centrists, with an odd fondness for round numbers, kept wanting to shrink the size of the recovery response, just because. They wanted a smaller number, just so they could say it was smaller. They eyed $100 billion in cuts, because $100 billion had a nice ring to it. They were thrilled to fall under an $800 billion ceiling, not for any policy goal, but because it sounded “reasonable.”

Ideally, we’d have policymakers identify the problem, come up with a solution, and then figure out how to pay for it. Instead, we have a few too many policymakers come up with a price tag first, whether it’s sufficient in solving the problem or not.

It is, in other words, entirely arbitrary. Obama is eyeing $900 billion for health care reform. Snowe is now thinking about “$800 billion or below.” Why? Because it just sounds better. Less is necessarily superior to more, the argument goes, for vague, personal reasons that have nothing to do with addressing the problem at hand.

I realize we’re talking about a lot of money here, but the difference between a $900 billion reform package and an $800 billion package is $10 billion a year. Given the size of the U.S. economy, the federal government’s budget, and the willingness of lawmakers to spend freely when it was debt-financed Bush-era initiatives on the line, an additional $10 billion a year to help Americans have quality, affordable health coverage is more than reasonable.

Making health care reform worse, based on nothing but capricious standards on what price tags sound nice is absurd.