Would you like free cookies? Or a new flat panel TV for your living room? Actually, why think so small — how would you feel about a brand new Lexus for everyone in your family? The answers, no doubt, are yes, yes, and, with the exception of really diehard BMW fans, yes! Of course, you might feel differently about accepting those free goodies when, a few years down the road, you find out you actually have to pay for them — and that the cost will be so high you'll either have to start working weekends or forgo some other things you really wanted to do (vacations, remodeling your kitchen, finally enrolling in yodeling school). The point is, it's tough not to take a handout when it's dangled in front of you.
So it's not surprising in the least that even GOP polls show that a majority of Americans want government to provide health insurance, and that there's wide support for a "public plan." Nor is it surprising that increasingly frustrated reform advocates like Paul Krugman essentially seem to be calling for legislators to dismiss concerns about costs. Indeed, for months, many health reform advocates have pointed to Massachusetts as a model for how to achieve consensus about reform. Of course, that only happened because the parties involved tacitly agreed to postpone cost concerns and spend their energies bargaining for handouts. Naturally, costs have skyrocketed.
Americans want all sorts of things they can't afford and, even when asked vague questions about whether or not they'd support a tax to pay for something, rarely factor in long- and medium-term costs when pollsters interrupt their dinners to ask if they'd like the government to provide health insurance. But as the CBO has been busy reminding Congress, policies that expand health insurance are hardly cost-free; as every child (and Californian) must eventually learn, "Ooh, shiny, I want that" isn't exactly the sort of guiding principle that leads to effective governance.
Further reading: Last week, Steve Chapman wrote about why, when it comes to health care, you can't have it all.