Senator Judd Gregg Misses an Opportunity

Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, appeared on Fox News Sunday yesterday, delivering the party line on the topic of the takeover of health care by the Obama administration.  In doing so, he unleashed some whoppers on the viewing audience.  Those included:

[The] President said yesterday he will not sign a bill that expands the deficit….

Once you take into account the — just maintaining current payments for Medicare doctor — for doctors under Medicare, that bill is deficit neutral….

No. What — president has said that the bill has to be deficit neutral. If you actually look at the CBO score that came out on Friday night — and again, take off the table just maintaining current payment rates for physicians under Medicare — that bill is deficit neutral….

No, the Medicare — the payments to physicians is in the legislation, and that is the only reason that the bill shows a deficit. Once you take that part out, the bill is deficit neutral….

The bill prevents that cut in payments, but no one ever thought that you’d have a 20 percent reduction in Medicare in reimbursement rates for doctors. That was going to happen regardless. It so happens they added that to this piece of legislation, but that’s sort of already baked in to our fiscal trajectory.

We’re looking at what’s happening with regard to new policy. And with regard to new policy, this is deficit neutral over the first decade. There are additional steps that are necessary to make it even better than that over the long term, and I think the single most important thing is this proposal that we have for an independent commission to help bring down costs over the long haul.

Chris Wallace tried to pin him down on the fact that he was basically claiming that the bill would be deficit neutral except for the parts that make it not deficit neutral.

WALLACE: Well, wait, because there’s that little caveat in there. In fact, what the CBO said on Friday is that the bill the House is now considering and rushing to pass, in fact, would add $240 billion to the deficit by 2019.

Now, there’s talk — as you say, there’s a dispute about Medicare payments to doctors. That’s not in the legislation….

WALLACE: That’s what I’m saying. But the — but the reform you’re talking about — the cut in payments is not in the bill….

WALLACE: Which is also not in the legislation.

ORSZAG: Not yet.

It would have been laughable had it not been deadly serious for our economy and our descendants.  He went on in a similar vein regarding the taxes that the President has in mind for us.  Overall, it’s clear that these people believe that they can make anything “deficit neutral” by simply raising tax rates on a select group of taxpayers, and that these taxpayers will happily accept the burden even though they will receive no benefit whatsoever from it.

This later exchange regarding the economy is particularly uncomfortable if you like Orszag:

WALLACE: Let’s turn, in the time we have left, to the economy. When Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus, the White House said that it would keep unemployment a little over, at the top, 8 percent. It’s now, as you well now, at 9.5 percent.

And I want to put up the projections this week from the Federal Reserve. They forecast it may hit 10.1 percent in the fourth quarter of this year and will still be 9.5 to 9.8 percent at the end of next year. Do you agree with those numbers? And why were all of you in the White House so wrong?

ORSZAG: Well, look. If you look back last December or so, everyone – – almost everyone — thought that the economy was not as weak as it actually was.

You can’t go from job losses of 700,000 a month, which is what was happening in the months leading up to January, to job growth like that, you know, just instantaneously. It is going to take some time to work our way out of this.

The situation in December and in January was worse than most people thought….

WALLACE: But you passed… the stimulus in February. You knew how bad the situation — I mean, the president kept saying that it was a catastrophe.

ORSZAG: No, no, but it was even worse than people thought. If you look back at the majority of the Blue Chip forecasts and the other forecasts, including from the Federal Reserve, late last year, which is what we were basing our projections on at the time, they were all somewhat too optimistic because the economy was weaker at that time than anyone anticipated.

What we’re trying to do is focus on how we can — and also remember, that sense of free fall, minus 6 percent on GDP growth — that is attenuated. There’s still a lot more that needs to be done.

WALLACE: But just…

ORSZAG: But we’re not — we’re not in the same position that we were then.

I added the emphasis.  Note how Orszag tries to claim innocence by way of ignorance–“almost everyone — thought that the economy was not as weak as it actually was.”  “The situation in December and in January was worse than most people thought.That is a flat-out lie, as is the long statement about Blue Chip forecasts.  The only Pollyanna at that time was Barack Obama–he of the 4 to 6 percent growth projection in 2010.  But it is true that the President did call it a catastrophe.  You could add “the worst economy since the Great Depression.”  So how can Orszag claim that it’s even worse.  Think about that–it’s even worse than a catastrophe.  What, exactly is worse than a catastrophe? And if it is that bad, why didn’t they recognize it? And now that they’ve recognized it, why are the stimulus funds still held back for spending in 2010-2012?

Maybe it’s summed up in the final quote, “we’re not in the same position that we were then.”  No we aren’t.  Thanks to your policies, we are far worse.  Either you don’t know what you’re doing, or you’re driving us to the poorhouse intentionally.

On to Senator Judd Gregg.  Why do I say he missed an opportunity?  Chris Wallace didn’t toss up some softball questions, but he did ask questions that could have allowed Gregg to point out the errors in Orszag’s statements.

WALLACE: I’d like to get you to react to what you just heard from Peter Orszag. First of all, he says that what the president ends up signing, one, won’t add to the deficit and, two, will cut health care costs.

Gregg was allowed three paragraphs to answer.  Instead of pointing out directly that Orszag was (one) wrong in his conclusions and (two) was wrong on his facts and (three) was supporting an impossible proposition, he chose to speak in tongues–parenthetical phrases abounded, and he ended by agreeing that Congress must do “better.”  It’s indescribable, but you can read it:

GREGG: Well, he disagrees, obviously, with the CBO director on the second point. The issue of whether it adds to the deficit will be a determination of how much they’re willing to raise taxes.

But the real question here — and I think it was — the nail was hit on the head by Mr. Elmendorf, who’s head of CBO — and who is, by the way, appointed by the Democratic leadership of the House and the Senate — and he said that this bill as proposed — or the bills as proposed would significantly aggravate the health care cost situation, that the cost of health care would go up significantly, and that it would raise significantly the burden on the federal government as to what it had to pay.

And as a very practical matter, it did nothing in the out years to contain the rate of growth of health care costs. Those were pretty damning words, to be very honest with you, and they should make us step back, pause and take a look at the — what’s going forward in the Congress and say, “How can we do this better?” And there are ways to do this better.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then got hung up in minutia about details of a letter Orszag had sent to him and Senator Conrad.  Eyes glazed over across the nation.  If you want those gory details, just follow the link above.

Where he really missed the boat, though, was in this exchange:

WALLACE: … if I may just ask, are you saying, though, that the — that the current system, with 47 million people uninsured and with health care costs running way above inflation, is better for the country?

GREGG: No, that’s unacceptable. And in fact, you’ll — in the Senate, at least, there are three major health care proposals from Republicans. I have one, Senator Burr — Senator Coburn has one, and then there’s a bipartisan one — Senator Wyden, Senator Bennett — which would get where we need to go, which is cover everybody and bend the out-year costs of health care without going down the road of this massive expansion of the government role in health care and the massive increase in costs which are proposed in the two bills that have been voted on.

Remember, the two bills that have been voted on so far are the Kennedy bill coming out of the Health Committee, which I serve on, which — yes, it was a party-line bill, because that bill is basically your old-fashioned expand the government, let’s take over the system approach, and the House bill, which was even worse.

And basically, both of those bills lead to putting the bureaucracy between you and your doctor, and I believe they lead to delay and rationing in the end.

A more effective answer would have combined the ideas of the second and third paragraphs, after first stressing that “It’s far better to continue work to find a solution that will work without bankrupting the country and assigning the costs of whatever is done to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, than to support these flawed bills that not only won’t work, they’ll make matters worse.  A government takeover of the health care system is just not acceptable to the American people.  And health care costs aren’t running above inflation because people are uninsured, but because the technology of health care is improving daily and it’s being used by people who are alredy insured.  If you think it’s expensive now, wait until 40 million more people receive health insurance they don’t have to pay for themselves.”

As for the rest of his interview, I hated it.  Or I was really disappointed, take your pick.  He obviously believes that we should all be forced to buy health insurance whether we want to or not.  And he has bought into the President’s promise that we won’t be forced to give up our current coverage, even though the bills as written would force those who lose their coverage because of an employer change onto the government plan.  He said,

But clearly, the president — the goals the president set out I agree with — you know, cover everybody, bend the out-year cost curve, make sure if you have your own insurance you get — and you like it, you get to keep it.

Those three goals are things which I’m 100 percent for, as is the Republican caucus in the Senate.

This is one reason we’re losing the argument while being right on the facts but wrong on the concepts.