Tackling Broder’s skepticism

TACKLING BRODER’S SKEPTICISM…. David Broder isn’t sure if health care reform will cut the deficit, and as such, isn’t sure if he likes the bill pending in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was delighted to see the column, and called the writer a “distinguished senior columnist” with important “reservations as a citizen.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) replied, “To focus on a man who has been retired for many years and writes a column once in a while is not where we should be.”

Technically, Broder never exactly retired, and continues to churn out fairly predictable content (next week’s column: politicians should be more moderate). But in his latest item, Broder doubts that the Senate’s reform plan will achieve the promised deficit reductions. The columnist is aware of the CBO report, but reads it in such a way as to conclude that “the promised budget savings may not materialize.”

Broder’s Washington Post colleague Ezra Klein seems to think Broder should have taken a closer look at the details.

The net increase of $160 billion in the first 10 years is part of CBO’s analysis, not a caveat to it. It doesn’t mean the bill doesn’t cut the deficit, it just means that overall spending is larger before you add revenues into the equation. Moreover, the CBO continues: “during the decade following the 10-year budget window, the increases and decreases in the federal budgetary commitment to health care stemming from this legislation would roughly balance out.”

In other words, the revenue and the savings grow more quickly than the costs. Extend that line out further and, yes, federal spending on health care falls as a result of this bill. In other words, the bill satisfies Broder’s conditions. But he doesn’t come out and say that.

Instead, he pivots to the now-traditional argument that Congress won’t be able to stick to the savings and revenue measures in this bill. That, however, is another way of saying that Congress can’t cut health-care costs and the American government will go bankrupt. For one thing, that’s not a very good reason not to at least try and avert that outcome. But if Broder’s position is that we face certain fiscal collapse, then the only real question is whether we would prefer that 30 million Americans had insurance in the meantime, or went uninsured over that period.

Reading Broder’s column reminds me of listening to center-right Democrats complain about the bill for no apparent reason. Harry Reid crafted a modest, affordable bill that would significantly reduce the deficit, cut systemic costs, and steer clear of massive tax increases. This is what the center-right says it wants. And yet, they’re reluctant to take “yes” for an answer.

Broder’s argument seems to be, “Well, maybe policymakers won’t follow through and do what the legislation explicitly mandates they do.” By any reasonable measure, that’s simply not an argument.