October 13, 2009

October 13, 2009 | Commentary on Health Care

CBO Wrong on Health Bill's Cost to Taxpayer

Sen. Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) has received a score on his legislative outline for healthcare reform -- the Vapor Bill -- from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Still, as yet, there is no Baucus legislation for the American people to read. Supporters of Obamacare have declared victory, because CBO says the Vapor Bill would save $81 billion in the first 10 years. Sounds great until you read the report and find out that the savings come about because of a massive hike in payroll tax revenues from the middle class.

The Vapor Bill would supposedly cost $829 billion over 10 years, but would raise taxes through the roof. Ryan Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform points out that new taxes in this Vapor Bill include an individual mandate tax, an employer mandate tax, a potential death of Health Savings Accounts (HSA), a tax on high-end health plans, a new cap on flexible-spending accounts (FSAs), and various tweaks in the tax code to raise new revenue. Add all these taxes together with Medicare and Medicaid cuts (estimated at $404 billion) and liberals can claim a "savings" for the federal government.

Don't let the score of the Vapor Bill fool you. Higher taxes and massive new spending won't save taxpayer s any money. Expanding government and raising taxes should be scored by the American public as a loss for those who cherish freedom.

Obama, Then and Now

In July 2008, Sen. Barack Obama said of Afghanistan: "I think one of the biggest mistakes we've made strategically after 9/11 was to fail to finish the job here, focus our attention here. We got distracted by Iraq." Obama's campaign focused on succeeding in Afghanistan.

Fast forward to October 2009. A New York Times report says Obama told congressional leaders, "that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general," a general handpicked just six months ago by Obama himself.

Candidate Obama seemed pretty sure of the surge in Afghanistan, but President Obama doesn't seem all that sure of anything these days. Our troops deserve consistent leadership from their commander-in-chief.

Earmark Reform

Obama's opponent last year, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), has long struggled against waste, fraud and abuse. The fight in Congress against earmarks is in full force now, and congressional appropriators seem to have the upper hand.

Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste tells HUMAN EVENTS, "In fiscal year 2009, Congress had $19.6 billion in earmarks in the Appropriations bills. This was an increase of 14.6% over the $17.2 billion in fiscal year 2008. Many members of Congress believe earmarks help them get re-elected, and until that perception is changed by taxpayers, it will be difficult for earmark opponents to achieve their goals."

McCain, Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.), Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) haven't given up the fight to strike wasteful earmarks. Coburn has termed earmarks a "gateway drug" to overspending. McCain helped create a point of order in the Senate that would allow lawmakers to remove unauthorized Appropriations or earmarks. It would then require 60 votes to put that spending back in. Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.), a member who puts offsets in all of his spending bills, has joined McCain in proposing new earmark reform ideas.

But the most interesting and radical idea comes from McCain: Eliminate the Appropriations Committee completely and thus end earmarking. McCain introduced S. Res. 189 in 2001 to reorganize the Senate without the Appropriations Committee. Abolishing this committee and the earmarking process is an idea whose time has come. It was a good idea in 2001 and seems to be a great idea for 2009.

Yet More Unemployment benefits

Faced with double-digit unemployment for only the second time since 1948, politicians are considering creating a new class of welfare recipients: victims of the recession. Since the White House-backed "stimulus" failed to create jobs and reduce the unemployment rate, Congress has reverted to subsidizing the unemployed. Currently, individuals are eligible to receive unemployment benefits for 79 weeks, but a three-month extension is expected to pass the Senate soon. That would allow unemployed workers to collect benefits for a year and nine months--at least. There appears to be no end in sight to the unemployment "insurance" extensions, either.

An extension of unemployment insurance is considered must-pass legislation before the end of the year and it will be coming to a vote soon. As we have seen with healthcare, procedural trickery is becoming par for the course. That means the unemployment insurance extension could also become a vehicle for a second stimulus package. Borrowing more money and increasing dependence on government spending will not bolster the economy or help the jobless get to work. Congress should focus on job creation and tax and regulatory certainty. Lawmakers should avoid enacting an economically restrictive energy tax.

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Brian Darling Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Government Studies

Related Issues: Health Care

First appeared in Human Events