Enough Preemptive Freakouts

(By NCrissie B)

The Preemptive Freakout du Jour is, of course, whether President Obama is about to “cave” in tax and budget negotiations with House Republicans. Last weekend, senior White House advisor David Plouffe said that successful negotiations would require concessions from both Republicans and Democrats:

The only way that gets done is for Republicans again to step back and get mercilessly criticized by Grover Norquist and the Right, and it means that Democrats are going to have to do some tough things on spending and entitlements that means that they’ll criticized on by their left.

Cue the Angst Mongers:

Okay. Deep breath.

Note the speculative scare words, such as “could be a raw deal for the middle class,” and “We have a lot of questions here about where this is going to end up, don’t we?”

Never mind that President Obama has plainly stated that Social Security is “off limits” in these negotiations. Never mind that the math is the math and, despite the chart Ed Schultz showed about the current deficit, a new report by the Congressional Budget Office shows that our long-term deficit is driven almost entirely by rising health care costs for seniors:

The aging of the baby-boom generation portends a significant and sustained increase in coming years in the share of the population that will receive benefits from Social Security and Medicare and long-term care services financed through Medicaid. Moreover, per capita spending on health care is likely to continue to grow faster than per capita spending on other goods and services for many years.

If progressives criticize conservatives for ignoring data they don’t like – and we should – then we can’t ignore data we don’t like … and the CBO’s data are very solid.

To solve our long-term deficit problem, we must flatten the growth curve on health care costs, and President Obama began working on that with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included funding for computerized medical records and comparative studies of treatment outcomes. The Affordable Care Act also includes provisions to reduce Medicare costs, but Christina Romer – former head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers – wrote in June that Obamacare was only the first step in addressing the health care cost curve:

A natural approach is to strengthen measures already enacted. Once the payment advisory board has a track record, for example, perhaps it could be empowered to suggest changes in benefits or in how Medicare services are provided – say, along the lines of successful demonstration projects.

Likewise, the Bowles-Simpson bipartisan fiscal commission recommended, as part of overall tax reform, limiting the amount of health insurance benefits excluded from taxation. Like the excise tax on high-priced plans, this change would probably increase pressure to keep costs down.

Even larger departures from the current system may be needed. The law creates health insurance exchanges where individuals and small businesses can buy coverage. Including a reasonably priced public plan as an option could exert downward pressure on the price of private health insurance policies by increasing competition.

Yet Dr. Romer did not expect progress anytime soon, concluding:

Sadly, serious debate over further cost-savings measures may be a long way off. Some Republicans seem more interested in just limiting the government’s share of health care expenditures than in slowing overall spending. And some Democrats seem more interested in just preserving existing government programs than in making the entire health care system more efficient.

For the sake of the nation’s fiscal health, and the health and economic security of American families, it’s time to embrace cost containment in health care as the next great legislative challenge.

These are real challenges that demand serious discussions of alternatives and their benefits, costs, risks, and tradeoffs. President Obama and leaders in Congress will debate those. I don’t like all of the options currently on the table. I may or may not like all of the solutions eventually adopted. It’s too soon to know.

But it’s a whole lot more entertaining to have a Preemptive Freakout because … well … President Obama always caves in to Republicans anyway, right? Except he doesn’t:

In policy terms, Obama clearly had gotten the better deal. The trouble was that the political world and the public had been conditioned to see this episode as primarily a clash over the top-tier tax cuts – and on that Obama had not gotten what he wanted. Consequently, the media depicted the compromise as a loss for Obama, and progressive Democrats squawked mightily about the continuation of the tax cuts.

As Corn concludes:

In a recent White House meeting with labor leaders and progressive activists, Obama signaled he is ready to fight the GOPers – and this time dare the Republicans to block continuing the tax cuts for the middle class. But no one ought to forget that Obama, a progressive in his policy preferences, remains a pragmatist. What happened two years ago is not an indication that Obama is likely to yield in the new face-off, but that he will be assessing the political dynamics in gridlocked Washington and be willing to bargain hard for a good deal with true benefits. That’s not caving in. It’s governing.

Yes, it’s governing. But governing is messy, and full of compromises and deals that look icky as we watch them happen. As John Godfrey Saxe famously said: “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”

Or Saxe would have famously said that, if so many people didn’t wrongly attribute his quote to Otto von Bismark and Mark Twain. Those mistakes happen when people substitute ‘sounds true’ rumors for actual facts. Just sayin’.

And yes, Ed Schultz, I’m sayin’ it to you, and the others who are busy with their Premptive Freakout. Enough. Go climb a tree and nibble on a macadamia. It’s a lot better for your blood pressure. And mine.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))

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