At a recent press conference, President Obama delivered a reassuring announcement to the millions of Americans who are wary of the upcoming deluge of ObamaCare’s full implementation: “For the average American out there, for the 85 and 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, this thing’s already happened. And their only impact is that their insurance is stronger, better and more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Well. “Full stop.” So that solves it. Is everyone happy now?
The theatrics from the president are appreciated; they lighten the mood a bit. But they’ll fall short when you don’t have health insurance and are faced with either being uninsured or joining the Medicaid rolls. “Full stop” is actually less of an authoritative command than an indication of what will happen to many people’s insurance coverage once ObamaCare is fully implemented. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out earlier this year, the entirety of ObamaCare’s regulatory framework will likely raise premiums in thirteen states “somewhere between 65% and 100%.” This includes my home state of Virginia, which, even at the lowest end of the scale, would find me paying a little over $250 a month for health insurance after ObamaCare goes into high gear. “Full stop” is what will then occur with my premium payments; but once I cancel the plan, I won’t have to worry about anything else. So it turns out that the president is partly right.
It’s instructive to witness the inability of politicians to accurately predict their own legislative outcomes. In 1967, Congress predicted that Medicare spending would equal only $12 billion per year by 1990 — a paltry sum. Actual spending for that year was $110 billion, so they were slightly off the mark. But of course, by that point, Medicare was fully entrenched in the American political system, and the notion of even modestly reforming it was off the table (it evidently continues to be off the table today). Thus stands the ossified character of American government, and thus will likely stand ObamaCare twenty-five years from now, too. Full stop.
It’s not just the left of the political spectrum that has dismal results in predicting its own spending habits. Years ago, Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon predicted that the Iraq war would cost between $2 billion and $4 billion a month. The actual result was nearly $8 billion a month. Rumsfeld also expressed doubt that the war would last even six months. Well, it lasted a little longer than that; coupled with the grossly underestimated price tag, we’ve spent a lot more in Iraq than we thought we would, and for a much longer time than we thought we would have to. So the government is as bad at predicting outcomes of war as it is at predicting outlays of medical spending.
Even the so-called nonpartisan government officials (an hilarious paradoxical idea, but we’ll allow it) aren’t good at the business of fortune-telling. The CBO estimated in 1999 that the federal government would have a budget surplus of $388 billion in 2009, ten years down the road. The actual number was somewhat closer to adeficit of one-and-a-half trillion dollars. Ah, well, it’s a simple matter of arithmetic. And in any case, the report had its bases (or its baseline, if you like) covered: “CBO’s economic projections assume that no legislative action is taken that would affect the projections of revenue and spending.” So that’s all it takes!
The history of dismal government projections should be sobering for the politicians we elect to represent us. The Great Society legislators were all but certain that their old-age insurance program would be manageable and prudent; it now stands as perhaps the chief threat to the financial stability of the United States government. Decades later, our leaders thought we could be in and out of the Middle East in half a year, tops — yet there are children in this country who know nothing other than the reality of our country’s being at war with Iraq. A hundred other examples of failed conjecture are readily available. And still there is a political class that believes that it can enact massive pieces of legislation and accurately predict how they will end up.
So who believes President Obama regarding ObamaCare, anyway? Ditto Nancy Pelosi, who even openly confessed to not knowing the bill’s contents when she voted for its passage. Ditto everyone who continues to support the behemoth law as it trudges towards full implementation.