Further proof comes in Jonathan Cohn's recent New Republic critique of "The bean counters who could kill health care reform":
[I]f you talk to senior staff in the administration or on Capitol Hill, you'll detect anxiety over one tiny agency--an agency that helped kill health care reform in 1994 and has the power to do so again.As Nick Schulz observes on the American Enterprise blog, "Real Detectives Have to Worry About That Little Thing Called Evidence":
That agency is the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is just now weighing in on the debate. When Congress writes a bill, the CBO is the agency that determines how much implementing it will likely cost. And that's no small matter. For every extra dollar in new expenditures that the CBO projects, Congress must find a new dollar in revenue--or learn to live with a new dollar in deficits. Back in 1994, the CBO decided that paying for universal health insurance under the Clinton plan would cost more than the administration thought it would. That forced Bill Clinton and his allies to propose additional regulations on insurance prices, incurring a political liability that helped seal the plan's fate.
The CBO hasn't rendered an official verdict on health care reform this time around, because, officially, there's still no plan on which to render a final verdict. But the CBO began producing preliminary projections about three weeks ago, based on rough proposals that congressional staff have submitted. And, according to several sources familiar with the estimates, the news isn't quite what Obama and his allies were hoping to hear.
The good news for reformers is the CBO's determination that expanding health-insurance coverage would cost a lot less than many outside experts had predicted. Instead of a politically daunting $1.5 trillion, the CBO figures the price tag will be closer to $1 trillion, at least under certain parameters. But the reason for the lower estimate is a bit unsettling. Even with a requirement that everybody obtain insurance--a so-called individual mandate--the CBO assumes a that between a quarter and a third of the uninsured still woulnd't have coverage. That would leave the country short of universal coverage, the goal Obama and his allies have repeatedly cited.
Other preliminary judgments from the CBO are causing more consternation. To help defray the cost of expanding coverage--and to help make medical care more affordable generally--reformers have proposed creating electronic medical records, studying which treatments work best, and taking other steps that would make the business of health care more efficient while cutting down on unnecessary medical treatments. The CBO is less optimistic these moves will save money. What's more, the CBO may determine that, for accounting purposes, the money individuals spend on health insurance--or, at least, some portion of it--should count as part of the public revenue stream. That would give critics more grounds for labeling the Democrats' plan a costly expansion of government. . .
Nobody disputes that there is room for honest intellectual agreement; plenty of smart people dispute claims about savings that reform will generate. But it's an open question whether the CBO takes skepticism too far--and whether such a super-strict reading of the evidence really serves the public interest.
Cohn’s argument is notable for two reasons. First, the New Republic has long pummelled supply-side economists who wanted the government’s green-eyeshade guys to take a "dynamic scoring" approach to tax cuts. Now that The New Republic wants universal health care, they’d like a little of that dynamic scoring voodoo, too.See also Ezra Klein at American Prospect.
Moreover, it is interesting that the reality-based Obama crowd, which promised to roll back the "Republican War on Science" is now arguing against what Cohn calls "a super-strict reading of the evidence."
The Corner's Mark Krikorian quips, doesn't this signal "that the Democrats. . . have launched a 'war on math'?"