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CBO: Obama’s Health Care Plan Too Sketchy to Score; UPDATE: Obama Punts on Public Option: “That’s Up To Leader Reid”

February 22nd, 2010 by AHFF Geoff

Obama Releases an 11 Page Health Care Plan the CBO Cannot Score

In the wake of this morning’s thunderous 11 pages of vague and somewhat contradictory bullet points from the Obama Administration as the latest iteration of Obamacare, the CBO makes the ironic point that Obama’s plan is too vague to score with any degree of accuracy regarding the 10 year cost of the plan. CBO Director Douglass Elmendorf, who was elevated to his position by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, makes this point as delicately as possible on the Director’s Blog:

This morning the Obama Administration released a description of its health care proposal, and CBO has already received several requests to provide a cost estimate for that proposal. We had not previously received the proposal, and we have just begun the process of reviewing it—a process that will take some time, given the complexity of the issues involved. Although the proposal reflects many elements that were included in the health care bills passed by the House and the Senate last year, it modifies many of those elements and also includes new ones. Moreover, preparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.

So the CBO would need the Obama Administration to actually provide “very detailed specifications” of their provisions to score the bill, as opposed to the eleven pages of bullet points with underlined or bold faced (and probably poll-tested) phrases (such as affordable or greater accountability or Improve Individual Responsibility). Indeed, the only real changes, even by the White House’s own talking points, involve only reversing prior, unpopular backroom deals cut by Obama and special interest groups (unions) or specific senators (Ben Nelson (D-NE), the insertion of price controls into the legislation, and a claim that “Republican” ideas are driving the Medicare cuts. Politico’s Ben Smith reports:

The White House, in talking points circulated to allies on the Hill, points to three major differences between Obama’s proposal and the Senate health care bill:

In particular this proposal makes three specific changes to the bill passed by the Senate:

• It eliminates several “special deals” including the arrangement made for Nebraska;

• It includes a series of measures proposed by Republicans to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse;

• It includes a new provision to prevent arbitrary rate hikes like the recent 39 percent increase in California.

The reversal of the odious Cornhusker Kickback and the deal with the unions over the cadillac tax are good steps to reverse prior mistakes, but are not substantive progress towards a more centrist health care reform plan. Indeed, the CBO will not have a price for Obama’s “new” plan by the time of the great health care summit Thursday as planned and by now undoubtedly fully scripted by the Obama Administration. The reason the CBO will not have a score is that Obama’s plan lacks the specifications needed to score a proposal, and even if those specifications were provided, the CBO cannot score a bill in that short a period of time. The Obama Administration obviously knew of this inability of the CBO to score its proposal before it was released, as we know the Administration has hired the best health care economists in America to work on its scoring of the various iterations of Obamacare (remember Jonathan Gruber?). Accordingly, it must be Obama’s intent to head into the health care summit he created blind regarding the cost of his bill according to the CBO. Obviously, the CBO’s scoring will play a critical role in any serious negotiations between the GOP and Obama over a health care bill.

A conclusion from the above-outlined CBO issue and the explicit statements regarding reconciliation by Obama’s communications people this morning when releasing their 11 page bullet point summary could be that Obama is not serious about entering substantive negotiations with the GOP and is instead, again, rushing the process. As noted by the NYT back on February 7, 2010 when Obama first floated the idea of a health care summit with the GOP, it appears that in the absence of an attempt at real consensus, this week’s meeting with the GOP will “serve only to allow Democrats to frame a political argument against the Republicans going into the midterm campaign.”

UPDATE: Regarding the politically charged issue of the inclusion of the public option in the Obama Plan, the Obama Administration omitted any reference to same in today’s 11 pages and via spokesman Robert Gibbs stated “Thats up to Leader Reid”:

The White House says it’s up to Harry Reid whether the Senate votes on the public option.

Twenty senators have signed a letter asking for a vote on the public option through reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to pass legislation with just 51 votes.

White House press secretary Robert Gates said today that the White House will leave that up to the Senate Majority Leader.

“I think they’ve asked for a vote on the floor of the Senate, and that’s certainly up to those who manage those amendments and up to Leader Reid,” Gibbs said.

President Obama did not include a public option in the new healthcare plan he unveiled this morning, which builds on the Senate bill.

Gibbs suggested it was left out because it lacks support, saying the president is looking for “the best way forward into something that can ultimate wind its way through Congress.”

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3 Responses to “CBO: Obama’s Health Care Plan Too Sketchy to Score; UPDATE: Obama Punts on Public Option: “That’s Up To Leader Reid””

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