Cantor rejects plan to spend less on health care

Eric Cantor would love to reduce health care costs, right? Wrong.

An on-again, off-again proposal that forces pharmaceutical companies to essentially discount drugs for Medicare’s poorest seniors is back on-again — despite fierce opposition from the drug lobby and one of their staunchest defenders, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

The pairing of Cantor and the powerful Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association could prove more than enough to squelch the White House-endorsed proposal, which has emerged as one of many divisive concerns among President Barack Obama and congressional leaders who are trying to hammer out a deal to cut federal spending and extend the nation’s debt limit.

The conventional wisdom is that Republicans are desperate to reduce the deficit and debt, but we know that’s not true — GOP officials won’t even consider a penny of additional revenue, even if it helps bring the budget closer to balance. The conventional wisdom also tells us Republicans love cutting spending, but this isn’t quite right, either — GOP leaders only like cutting certain kinds of spending, based on who’ll benefit (and who won’t).

Cantor and the pharmaceutical industry offer a terrific example. For years, the government was able to purchase prescription drug prices through Medicaid at a big discount. Republicans changed the law in 2006 as part of creating Medicare Part D, which privatized the negotiating process.

Restoring the previous system could save taxpayers more than $100 billion over the next 10 years, and in theory, all of those savings could be applied to a debt-reduction deal.

The problem, of course, is the House Majority Leader, who wants to maintain the status quo, even if it costs billions more, and who just happens to be the beneficiary of enormous campaign contributions from drug makers. As Jonathan Cohn explained, Cantor is reading industry talking points, arguing that (a) this would be bad for the economy; and (b) this sounds like government price controls that would stifle innovation.

The latter point is highly dubious: The reduction would bring reimbursement levels for these drugs very close to what they were a few years ago. Many experts, including the CBO, think the likely impact on research and development would be negligible. […]

As for the former suggestion, it’s true that any net reduction in government spending could reduce economic growth, at least at the margins. That’s why it’s not a good idea to be madly slashing government spending right now — and why, perhaps, congressional negotiators should delay implementation of this cut, like the others, so that it would take effect after the economy has more fully recovered.

But Cantor’s anxiety over the economic ramifications of spending cuts seems highly selective. He hasn’t raised similar concerns about cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, and similar programs that would likely have a more devastating impact, both on the economy as a whole and the people who depend upon them for support.

How very typical.