The Health Care Repeal Rorschach

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Any post about the GOP's efforts to repeal health care reform this week should begin with the following caveat: Health care reform will not be repealed, not ever, so long as Democrats control the White House and half of Congress; so this is a symbolic vote and an academic debate.

That said, a letter today from the Congressional Budget Office summarizing the effects of repealing the health care law offers an important glimpse into how Republicans and Democrats think differently about entitlements.

Over the 2012-2021 period, the effect of [repealing health care reform] is likely to be an increase in deficits in the vicinity of $230 billion...

CBO anticipates that enacting H.R. 2 would probably yield, for the 2012-2021 period, a reduction in revenues in the neighborhood of $770 billion and a reduction in outlays in the vicinity of $540 billion

Liberals react: Repealing health care adds $230 billion to our debt. Conservatives react: Repealing Obamacare would shrink the size of government by $770 billion. One report, two very different interpretations that are both basically true. The bill does create a new entitlement, and it does reduce the deficit.

Some commenters see health care repeal as a litmus test: if you support the bill, you're a budget hawk, and if you're for repeal, you're a deficit peacock. To me, it's more like a Rorschach test -- the difference isn't a matter of honesty, but interpretation. Roughly half of Congress sees the creation of new entitlements as anathema to necessary entitlement reform, the keystone of deficit reduction. The other half sees health care reform as both building a new social net and reforming the foundation of our health care system.

Regular readers of this blog know that I lean much closer to the latter. But I'm consistently surprised to see writers accuse conservatives of hypocrisy when their stance on entitlements and the deficit has been pretty simple and consistent in the last two years: No new entitlements, period.

Now, don't get me started on Republicans' support for Medicare D and the party's opposition to Medicare cuts, but I guess that's another post...


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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