Romer: Health Reform Can Save Us From Bush

Christina Romer, the chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, will push for health care reform in a speech at the Center for American Progress today, and excerpts of the speech have been released. In it, she poses health care as a long-term fiscal necessity--something government must do in order to address federal deficits.

She also hits a note that administration officials have struck since taking office in January--that economic troubles were caused by the previous administration's policies. As she presents it, health care costs and the Bush administration are the two enemies of deficit reduction:

(Economists) Auerbach and Gale calculate that roughly half of the long-run deficit is due to the policy actions of the past 8 years.  According to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, just 3 percent of the long-run fiscal problem is due to the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus].  The rest of this yawning gap is due to projected rises in spending on entitlement programs, primarily Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Some of this is the result of the aging of the population.  But the far greater source is the fact that health care costs, both public and private, are rising much faster than GDP...

Obviously, we can't go back eight years and make more responsible choices.  And, we can't take short-run contractionary actions that could endanger the recovery.  We need to look forward and begin to put the nation on a more sustainable long-run fiscal path.  Given the central role of rising health care expenditures, any solution to our long-run budget problem will simply have to include slowing the growth rate of health care costs.

Romer gets two birds with one stone. Government spending is the argument of choice for many of the administration's critics. But in Romer's pitch, it's the fiscally careless ne'er-do-wells of the Bush years who are to blame...and only health care reform can save us.