Budget Matters

For most people, deficit reduction is a side issue.  Oh, they say they care--especially when The Other Guys are in charge of the public purse.  But when it comes down to a choice between deficit reduction, and all the other stuff they want to do, deficit reduction almost never wins.

Nonetheless, it can be politically useful.  It is, as aforementioned, often a good way to stop The Other Guys from cutting taxes or increasing spending.  It can also be used to sell otherwise unpopular bills.

However, it does have some drawbacks.  The CBO process can be gamed, but not infinitely.  And as Philip Klein reports, the deficit reduction instructions seem to be causing House Democrats some trouble:

Yet the delay in releasing the bill and CBO score (which was initially supposed to come out as early as last week) has suggested something else - that early estimates from the CBO were bad, and they're making changes to get the score that they want.

It now appears that this is precisely the case . . . 

There are several things that Democrats are up against when it comes to the CBO score. The most important is that, based on reconciliation instructions, the "fix" bill must be shown to reduce the deficit by at least $1 billion. The challenge is, that's after assuming that the Senate bill is law. In other words, the reconciliation bill can't claim any of the deficit reduction from the Senate bill, but rather it must reduce the deficit relative to the Senate bill. Yet the changes that are being talked about will cost a lot of money. This includes eliminating the "Cornhusker kickback" and offering enhanced Medicaid subsidies to all states, increasing subsidies for the purchase of insurance, eliminating the so-called "donut hole" on Medicare prescription drug benefits, and whatever else they put in the bill. At the same time, delaying until 2018 the enactment of the "Cadillac tax" would be scored as a reduction in revenue, and thus add further to the deficit. They'd have to make up the gap through tax increases as well as try to siphon "savings" away from the student loan bill. (More on that here.) But evidently it seems like they're running into trouble on this front. 

Another issue to keep in mind is President Obama's pledge that the health care bill would cost "around $900 billion" The changes he's proposed to the Senate bill would bring the total cost of health care legislation to $950 billion, according to the White House. Every dollar exceeding that will make it easier for Republicans to argue he broke his pledge, and at some threshold even the media will have to call him out on it. That isn't a fight that Democrats are going to want to get into. 

Also, Democrats need a CBO score that's positive enough to help give Blue Dogs who claim to be fiscal conservatives an excuse to vote for the bill. 

So this is why it's Tuesday afternoon and we still haven't seen a final bill or CBO score.

Having promised to post the bill online for 72 hours before they vote, the Democrats now have about a day to get a good score if they want to vote by Saturday.