Massaging the Numbers

The worst part about modern politics is the lengths that politicians will go through just to convince those unwilling to use logic and facts that they are telling the truth.  And further, when they attempt to use fallacies to bolster these claims even though a little fact checking will counter them pretty quickly.  But beyond that, when the organizations we depend upon to do this legwork for us are just either too lazy or too self-interested to give it a good honest try.

And so it goes with the constant assertion we hear that health care reform is going to ‘lower our national deficit’.  Most people with common sense will immediately question this claim, because history has shown us that this just is never the case with the government managing something.  Government is politics and when politics get involved, it always costs more money. 

However, when you have an administration that has no scruples and is willing to lie directly to the American people as this one has done on several occasions, and who have the backing of the media in this endeavor, it will be years before people finally realize what was done to them and by then, of course, it will be too late. 

But, for those who do have common sense but are baffled as to how the administration can keep saying that they are going to cut the deficit by 1 trillion dollars while paying for 15 million new people’s healthcare (and eventually another 185 million), let’s go through just how they have gone about this so that hopefully you will be able to identify the tactics in the future.

Now to begin with, where does the president get this figure?  He is taking it from the Congressional Budget Office.  The CBO is a nonpartisan group that is responsible for evaluating legislation and then determining the eventual economic impact of that legislation.  That sounds great, except that the CBO is still a government agency and, more importantly, must abide by specific rules while evaluating legislation.  It is knowing and working within these rules that the administration has acted dishonestly in order to push through legislation that they know will not do what they claim.

One of the areas that congress was told would not lead to deficit neutrality was what has been called the ‘doc fix’ by those in the know.  This is a permanent change to the way doctors are reimbursed for Medicare claims.  This was originally in the legislation but was removed when the CBO warned that, when combined with the rest of the healthcare package, it “would increase the budget deficit in 2019 by $23 billion relative to current law, an increment that would grow in subsequent years.”  So, what was the answer?  The democrats removed the section from the legislation and then passed it on its own.  So, because this is no longer in the legislation, it is not evaluated, even though we already know that once this goes into effect it will result in the same outcome, increasing the deficit.  The CBO has since warned about this but because of their rules they are not allowed to include this information in evaluating the actual healthcare bill.

As you can see, manipulating the CBO, once you know the rules, are easy games that the politicians play.  Because they are not interested in the final outcome matching what they say, they are interested in increasing power to their political party and passing their agenda at all costs.  Honesty is just not a priority, just as liberty and freedom are words they read in a speech while trying to attain the power they work towards.

Of course, that was not the only example, or even the worst.  Another rule is that the CBO must take congress at its word about future, unspecified, cuts in spending.  The legislation mentions that spending will be cut but doesn’t mention how or where, but because it will be cut the CBO has to accept that in its evaluation.  And did they promise some cuts!  Lots and lots of cuts, around $300 Billion, which we all know will NEVER EVER HAPPEN.  The CBO, to their credit, has issues supplemental warnings about this and what would happen if those cuts don’t take place as promised, but those don’t make it into the president’s speeches for some reason.

But wait, there’s more!  In addition to having to evaluation only the specific piece of legislation and having to accept as fact future unspecified budget cuts promised, the CBO can only evaluate the effects of legislation 10 years out from the date of passage.  This is why, in the legislation, it starts collecting for the programs years before any spending takes place and then kicks in to high gear on the spending phase just as that buffer starts to get depleted.  What happens when that clock catches up is beyond the limits of what the CBO can, by their own rules, evaluate.

Of course, this is all trivial considering the history of what government programs end up really costing as opposed to what they are proposed to cost.  Looking at the promised costs of Social Security, Medicare, the Iraq War, just to name a few and comparing them to what the true eventual costs were can leave someone scratching their heads. 

And none of this has anything to do with the political ramifications of what is being discussed.  For example, the blatant unconstitutionality of requiring every single American to be covered under a health insurance plan?  Or the fact that we already have the US government paying for over 50% of our health care with the government spending $1,000 more, per person, for health care than the Canadians do, for example.  Or even the fact that insulating individuals even MORE from the results of their own actions and needs with insurance costs based not on their lifestyles but on how much they make is ensuring that we will become less and less healthy without further governmental action into our lives to tell us how to eat, sleep, drink and live…

And to be honest, that is where I think this is really headed.  Once we buy in that we are all costing each other (and the government) money by how we live, the government will determine that it has an authority to ensure that those costs are mitigated by passing laws restricting how we choose to live our lives.

Definitely NOT a view of freedom and liberty that millions have sacrificed their lives over the years for us to enjoy.

8 responses to “Massaging the Numbers”

  1. Warped Reality Avatar
    Warped Reality

    Shouldn’t a complaint about the impacts changes to Medicare reimbursements be leveled at the other bill that Congress passed instead of the current healthcare bill because the currently proposed HC bill does not contain this measure?

    Call me naive, but I still trust the CBO to make realistic and accurate predictions of the impact of the various proposals and the general conclusion is that the extra money to pay for insurance subsidies in the exchange will come from cuts in Medicare, a surtax on the top 5% of incomes and a tax on extremely generous healthcare plans. It’s my understanding that these three sources of funds more or less exceed all the new spending in the bill, which is why the bill is scored to be deficit neutral.

    Regarding the conclusion of your final three paragraphs, I don’t see how expanding health insurance for others diminishes my liberty. Government already funds education, transportation and a host of other services that are deemed to benefit society as a whole by the electorate. This has been going on for 221 years and yet we still remain free from tyranny.

  2. Rhinehold Avatar

    This has been going on for 221 years and yet we still remain free from tyranny

    I think your definition of tyranny and my definition of tyranny are two different definitions… I am not under any illusions that we are free from tyranny at all.

  3. Warped Reality Avatar
    Warped Reality

    I acknowledge that we are not 100% free society, the very existence government is a restriction on liberty. However, I do not think the intrusions are any worse than they were 230 years ago. In some cases, the intrusions have even improved; the abolition of slavery for example. If you believe the formation of our government 230 years ago reached the level of tyranny, then you have a very low bar to reach tyranny and it would be very hard for a society to avoid tyranny without adopting an anarchy.

    Of course, that’s a straw-man argument; I know that you don’t advocate anarchy. You wish to find the comfortable middle ground between tyranny and anarchy and you believe the first 150 years or so of our Constitutional Government fit your ideals, but that somehow the government after 1932 took an unprecedented turn (correct me if I’ve misrepresented your views because I know this is putting words in your mouth). Of course, I don’t think the post-1932 government did that many unprecedented and you disagree. I’m open to discussing this issue.

    We’ve discussed before about the meaning of the phrase “general welfare” in the taxation & spending clause of the Constitution, and I don’t think there’s anyway for me to convince you that your interpenetration is erroneous because it is such a steadfast part of your core philosophy as a person. However I agree that a good idea is to look at how our founders wrote about that clause and how they used it in the first generation of our country in the Antebellum period. I’m still researching that question myself (BTW thank you for the Jefferson documents you sent be a few months ago on WatchBlog; I’m still interested in any other recommended sources for our founder’s writings.)

    BTW I’m glad you are still writing after leaving WatchBlog.

  4. Rhinehold Avatar

    the very existence government is a restriction on liberty

    I disagree, it sort of depends upon your view of government in its purest form and definition of liberty. The Forgotten Man speaks directly to this.

    However I agree that a good idea is to look at how our founders wrote about that clause and how they used it in the first generation of our country in the Antebellum period.

    I think that Jefferson, for example, had a couple of quotes specifically on this issue, they can be found here:

    “The construction applied… to those parts of the Constitution of the United States which delegate to Congress a power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imports, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States,” and “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers vested by the Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof,” goes to the destruction of all limits prescribed to [the General Government’s] power by the Constitution… Words meant by the instrument to be subsidiary only to the execution of limited powers ought not to be construed as themselves to give unlimited powers, nor a part to be so taken as to destroy the whole residue of that instrument.” –Thomas Jefferson: Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. ME 17:385

    “Aided by a little sophistry on the words “general welfare,” [the federal branch claim] a right to do not only the acts to effect that which are specifically enumerated and permitted, but whatsoever they shall think or pretend will be for the general welfare.” –Thomas Jefferson to William Branch Giles, 1825. ME 16:147

    “They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please… Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up straitly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect.” –Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on National Bank, 1791. ME 3:148

    And the most ‘interesting’ prediction of all

    “I hope our courts will never countenance the sweeping pretensions which have been set up under the words ‘general defence and public welfare.’ These words only express the motives which induced the Convention to give to the ordinary legislature certain specified powers which they enumerate, and which they thought might be trusted to the ordinary legislature, and not to give them the unspecified also; or why any specification? They could not be so awkward in language as to mean, as we say, ‘all and some.’ And should this construction prevail, all limits to the federal government are done away.” –Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1815. ME 14:350

    And from Madison

    Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.

    I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

    In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.

    It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.

    Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.

    The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.

    BTW, thank you for the kind words about my continued writing, I was reminded during the couple of weeks off that one must do what is in ones soul to do, whether it is successful in the end or not. So I will endeavor to continue on with my writing, both political and otherwise (though those are somewhere else) because it is just part of who I am.

  5. Warped Reality Avatar
    Warped Reality

    Don’t those Jefferson quotes say that the phrase “general welfare” only refers to the ability of Congress to levy taxes and spend the monies raised. Jefferson & friends are warning against potential abuses of the clause; some people may want to conscript doctors to provide health care if there is ever a shortage of medical professions, but this is an unconstitutional.

    However, I don’t see any inclination to believe that anyone in the antebellum period thought that the Congress could not levy taxes or spend such monies for such a purpose. I’ve searched the Jefferson writings you sent me before and every time he wrote against a proposed legislation that made use of the general welfare clause it was because the legislation constituted some action beyond simple taxation and spending. Most notably, the first Bank of the United States (BUS) comes to mind.

    BTW, we are also ignoring the fact that Hamilton & the Federalists believed they had the authority to set up the first BUS under that clause, and they ultimately won the argument and successfully charted the bank.

  6. Rhinehold Avatar

    Don’t those Jefferson quotes say that the phrase “general welfare” only refers to the ability of Congress to levy taxes and spend the monies raised.

    No, they say that the phrase only refers to the ability to levy taxes and spend money ‘in the limited areas they are allowed to pass laws in’. However, many have since, as Jefferson warned, tried to make the case that it really means that the Congress can pass any law that promotes the general welfare. Which is where ‘welfare’, Medicare and the current healthcare debacle is coming from.

    Jefferson & friends are warning against potential abuses of the clause; some people may want to conscript doctors to provide health care if there is ever a shortage of medical professions, but this is an unconstitutional.

    Is it? How so? If it is a LAW that one has free access, paid for by the government to see a doctor, and there will be shortages when this occurs, how do they fulfill this requirement? Of course *I* think it is unconstitutional, but so is requiring every American to purchase health insurance in the first place. That isn’t stopping this congress or this president from signing such unconstitutional things.

    we are also ignoring the fact that Hamilton & the Federalists believed they had the authority to set up the first BUS under that clause, and they ultimately won the argument and successfully charted the bank.

    And George Bush thought he had the authority to wiretap American citizens and torture terrorist suspects, but that doesn’t mean he did. The congress thought that they had the authority to limit political speech, but they didn’t. Hopefully we will find out through a fair and unbiased Supreme Court that the document means what the people who wrote it meant it to mean, but isn’t it a big disingenuous to come along after and re-interpret what something means when we have what the people who wrote the document meant written down in clear language?

    Jefferson may have been arguing against a central bank, but what he said still meant what it said, that the clause in question was meant to qualify the taxation within the severe limits of the constitution, which were pretty stringent according to the understanding of what they wrote. Remember, they never felt a need to have a Bill of Rights, which is why they were not included in the Constitution, because to them, as limited as the US Congress/President were in what they could do because of the way the document was written, there was no way they could do ANYTHING to violate those rights. No power they had could have allowed them to do so.

    Unfortunately, when we turned the constitution on its head and threatened the packing of the Supreme Court in the 30s (which has been suggested for Obama to do now by his supporters) we abandoned all limits by broadly, and quite obviously against the intent of the original writers, re-interpreting the General Welfare and Commerce clauses of the Constitution to give the federal government far too much power than was ever intended.

    As a final example, now that the health care bill looks to be becoming law soon, what is to stop the federal government from requiring, to keep costs low, that each American be allowed to only eat 2,000 calories a day and exercise 3 to 4 days a week? Wouldn’t this law help keep the health industry from targeting unhealthy Americans by keeping them healthy and helping regulate the interstate commerce as a result? We already see NY wanting to outlaw salt…

    Do you not see how this is going to end up now that we have basically consigned so much of our lives over to the Federal Government for their ‘regulation’?

  7. Warped Reality Avatar
    Warped Reality

    But isn’t spending money for the General Welfare one of Congress’ enumerated powers? As long as Congress is just taxing & spending money everything is fine as far as I see it. If Congress wants to do more than that they will need to find a different provision to justify their actions.

    If there are shortages of medical professionals, then people will be denied care. All this legislation does is put Health Care in the same category as roads. If there is a shortage of roads, we don’t conscript laborers to build more roads; we either raise the funds necessary to widen the roads we have or we just deal with the traffic and backups. Same thing for health care, a shortage of medical professionals would most likely mean that some people would go without care; most likely this means people unable to fund their care privately.

    With regards to your analogy between the BUS and wiretapping there is a big difference. Hamilton & friends wrote the Constitution, but Bush and friends didn’t. We agree that it’s a good idea to base an interpretation of the Constitution based upon the words of the first generation of politicians (ie our founders) during the antebellum period, the era of good feelings and the 1st Party system. But actions speak louder than words and the actions of Hamilton & his friends became policy over the vocal objections of Jefferson, which shows that the general mood amongst ALL the founders was in favor of Hamilton’s ideas and against Jefferson’s. Of course ten years later, most attitudes had changed as we entered the era of good feelings and the Jeffersonians were vindicated in the elections of the time. However, Hamiltonian interpretations of the Constitution have had comebacks again and again; first with the Whigs, then with the Republicans (before McKinley) and lastly with the post-1932 Democratic Party. It is clear that you support the Jeffersonian view over the Hamiltonian and both of these philosophies can be defended based on the Constitution and our history. The thing is that both of these interpretations are valid (unless you think all the Federalists were off their rockers).

    As an aside I’d like to mention that Jefferson wasn’t even directly involved with drafting our current Constitution, he spent the summer of 1787 in France, whereas Hamilton was actually there, which is why I tend to support his interpretations a bit more than Jefferson’s. I know you’ve mentioned that you have a library of books related to our founders. I live on a University with a library of over a million books, but there are so many books about our founders that I have trouble making up my mind, so I’m interested in any suggestions regarding books. I am especially interested in reading Hamiltonian writings beyond the Federalist Papers, which after all were advocacy documents intent on winning over supporters of the status-quo (Articles of Confederation).

    Also, I apologize for hijacking your thread, but I am enjoying the dialogue we are having.

  8. dbs Avatar

    miss your participation at watchblog. hope you’re doing well.

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