Earlier this week, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its estimates of how many people will be affected by the GOP’s plan to repeal Obamacare, and the cost of the replacement Republican plan. For those of you who haven’t been tuned in or have tuned out, that’s the job of the CBO; i.e. to “score” (estimate) the most critical effects of any piece of legislation that is drafted in either house of Congress.
Now, it stands to reason that any estimate is at best, an educated guess that is almost guaranteed to be off-the-mark one way or the other. That variability is not a product of CBO bias and/or some flaw in the Office’s predictive methodology. No, to a very real extent, the variability arises out of the impact of unforeseen that materialize after the CBO’s forecast has become public.
In the present case of the GOP’s repeal and replace legislation, the CBO has come forward with a mixed bag of predictions. On the negative side, there is the estimate that with the repeal of Obamacare, as many as 15 million Americans will lose their healthcare by the end of 2018. Many millions more will have to deal with the same harsh reality across the ensuing ten years. While some age groups will see a drop in their insurance premiums, some will face rises; notably seniors (1). On a positive note, the GOP plan is predicted to lower the federal spending deficit.
Against this background, it is instructive to examine how conservatives in and out of government have responded to the CBO report: By and large, they have blasted it, saying that the numbers therein are “not to be believed” because the CBO has such a poor record as a predictor. To buttress this claim, conservatives refer to the CBO projections that were overly optimistic vis a vis how many people would sign up for Obamacare.
Notice that there is no claim of bias; no claim that the CBO is using a corrupted predictive methodology. Nor is there the slightest acknowledgement by conservatives that they had a major hand in driving down enrollments in Obamacare. Specifically, they worked to turn potential enrollees away by saying that Obamacare was a “government take-over of the healthcare industry” and as such, involved “socialism”. Then, there were more than two dozen Republican governors who refused to allow for the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid into their states (2). Both the rhetoric and the obstruction had the unquestionable impact of suppressing Obamacare enrollments and in retrospect, making the CBO projections about it look bad, something that is currently making conservatives’ criticism of the CBO look valid.
End note: Congressional Democrats and Progressives in general are responding to all this by tearing a page out of the GOP playbook that was described above. They are doing their best to discourage potential enrollees in the Republican plan from actually doing so, paying particular attention to the threat of a loss of coverage or to higher out-of-pocket costs in the forms of larger premiums and deductibles. How this all plays out is going to be fascinating theater for those among us who are political junkies.
And then there’s that: Fantasy vs. reality
Imagine that you are a fly on the wall in the Oval Office, listening to Trump bark orders to his two favorite spinmeisters Sean Spicer and Kelleyeanne Conway, and his Attorney General, the very toady Jeff Sessions. Trump is reacting in a fury to the firestorm of push-back he has received in response to his claim that then-President Obama had him “wire-tapped”.
Trump: “You know me; I never back down and never apologize or admit to mistakes. So, here is what you three are going to do. Kelleyanne, I want you to capitalize on the recent Wikileaks document dump showing that the CIA has developed the means of turning such everyday gadgets as smart phones, i-pads and common household appliances into spying devices. Don’t go so far as to claim that Obama had the CIA do this to me; just “plant the seed”. Sean, I’ll leave it to you to follow up by noting that beyond what a “wire-tap” is commonly known to involve, there are now other means of surveillance and make clear that when I tweeted “wire-tap” in quotes, that meant that I was referring to that broader range of possibilities. Jeff, I’m tasking you with the job of stonewalling any and all claims for evidence that I possess on being surveiled.”
Of course, we will never know if the foregoing fantastical directive ever issued from Trump’s mouth. What we do know, for a fact, is that all three components of his counter-attack came to pass. Conway planted the seed, Spicer melded neatly with it, and Sessions has obstructed. Fortunately, that has not stopped congressional investigating committees from moving forward. In so doing, they have ratcheted up the pressure on both Trump and Sessions to hand over any evidence that either or both possesses.
End note: This is not going to end well for Trump though it is hard to predict if a negative outcome will do him any lasting political damage. It certainly won’t with his diehard supporters who behave towards him like worshipful cult members.
1. It is ironic that the GOP plan is going to have the worst impact on White, high-school educated, semi-skilled males who comprised the single most devoted bloc among Trump voters.
2. My thanks for “DK” and “Carew” for their insightful and informative comments on why the CBO numbers for Obamacare were so out of whack.