Now, You Can Have Your Own Facts.

What's missing from this Politico story, and indeed from Republican rhetoric around the health-care reform bill, is any evidence that the Affordable Care Act will increase the deficit. Republicans have exempted their ACA repeal bill from scoring by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office because the CBO's analysis is that ACA will save the government $143 billion over 10 years, and repealing it will increase the deficit. Sure, some of those savings depend on Congress behaving responsibly, but it's the best estimate of the bill's budgetary effects out there.

Still, according to Speaker John Boehner's spokesperson, Michael Steel, “No one believes that the job-killing healthcare law will lower costs, because it won’t." Politico thinks that public opinion polling "highlighting the wide gulf between how the proposal plays in Washington and in the rest of the country."

But polls aren't economic analyses, whether or not Politico or politicians believe the two are equivalent -- the reality is in the accounting. And what's most absurd about these critiques is the idea that Democrats somehow gamed the system in passing their bill because they kept resubmitting new versions until the CBO decided their program cut the deficit. But that's how the system is supposed to work -- your first bill was too expensive, so you find a way to make it cheaper. As Ezra Klein points out, charges of gimmickry just fall flat -- Democrats even designed the bill so that deficit cuts come first, before benefits increase. Democrats, who have eaten their broccoli (cost controls) before getting to dessert (universal coverage) find themselves accused of starting with a sundae.

If the new majority, which counts deficit-cutting as a top priority, insists their repeal bill doesn't need to be scored by the CBO and continues to undermine CBO's authority as an independent arbiter of budget estimates, it's going to be very hard indeed to move on to debates about budget reform, particularly around the entitlement programs Republicans want to rein in. It's especially difficult if the press pretends that polls are an accurate way to measure the cost of legislation. And it's not as if Republicans don't like citing the CBO: They love to point out that this is a "$1 trillion" health-care reform, because that's the cost of the bill when you don't mention the offsets. They like to point out the stimulative effects of tax cuts. They're even using CBO estimates to wiggle out from under their plan to cut the budget by $100 billion.

But when the CBO disagrees with their interpretation, Republicans just take the CBO out of the equation. You have to admire the realpolitik, but the move means that future efforts to find common ground between the parties will start off on different planets.

-- Tim Fernholz

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