Why $1 Trillion? Why Not!


Did health care reform just get a lot cheaper? Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus says yes! The Politico is reporting that, after an initial draft of the committee's reform bill was scored at $1.6 trillion by the Congressional Budget Office, Baucus and his fellow committee members have found a way to drop that score to a far-more-reasonable sounding $1 trillion.

Why the $1 trillion target? Um, why not? Wait a minute, you say, that number has to come from somewhere! It has to correspond to something! But as far as I can tell, it's a totally meaningless figure. Earlier this week, when I asked Cato health policy expert Michael Cannon why legislators have keyed in on the $1 trillion mark, he responded, "I don't know… because one is smaller than two?"

Talking about ways to reduce the cost of the bill, Cannon also pointed out some of the tricks that legislators would likely use to bring the CBO score down. In particular, he urged skepticism of any effort to delay implementation of subsidies. That would lower the "cost" of the bill for the ten-year window the CBO scores, but would do so by essentially kicking the costs down the road. Delaying a subsidy till later doesn't mean it won't eventually have to be paid for.

According to the Politico write-up, Baucus and his staff haven't made the actual text of the revised bill available, so it's not exactly clear what measures they're taking to bring down costs. But I wouldn't be surprised to see them play kick the can with some of the subsidies in order to get a more favorable score from the CBO, and, perhaps even more frustratingly, to see them congratulated for bringing down costs when they do so.