Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009 Democrats Need to Learn Lessons of 1960s Democrats: Lie

NPR recently interviewed James Morone, who co-authored a book entitled, "The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office." The interview centered on how President Lyndon Johnson pushed Medicare through Congress until its ultimate passage. Mr. Morone and Renee Montagne, who interviewed him for NPR, both assume great current public support for Medicare, and this assumption is what allows them to reveal a remarkable fact about how Medicare was sold to the public all those years ago. Morone obtained tapes of phone conversations President Johnson had with members of Congress as he guided Medicare through the political process, including one such conversation with noted public health care advocate Ted Kennedy,
"Johnson maneuvered every step of the way, getting this bill through Congress. And one of the things he did - and this is a little dicey in today's climate. One of the things he did was suppress the costs. So this young kid gets elected from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, in 1962. And Johnson is explaining to him how you get a health bill through. And what he tells him is don't let them get the cost projected too far out, because it'll scare other people.

Pres. JOHNSON: A health program yesterday runs 300 million, but the fools had to go to projecting it down the road five or six years. And when you project the first year, it runs 900 million. Now I don't know whether I would approve 900 million the second year or not. I might approve 450 or 500. But the first thing Dick Russell comes running in, saying my God, you've got a billion dollar program for next year on health, therefore I'm against any of it now. Do you follow me?

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Yes, right.

Mr. MORONE: We believe after looking at the evidence - my co-author and I -that if the true cost of Medicare had been known, if Johnson hadn't basically hidden them, the program would never have passed. America's second-most beloved program would never have happened if we had had genuine cost estimates. "
Now, the title of this post is written somewhat in jest. Democrats don't really need to learn the lessons from their 60's counterparts. They're well on their way to upping the ante.

Putting aside for the moment many of the lies and misrepresentations regarding health care reform we've seen in the last couple of months (from a public option not leading to single payer, or that you'll get to keep your current insurance if you want to, to the President's fact-bending health care speech to Congress), we can focus on and find parallels to President Johnson's cost concealing Medicare push with what President Obama has done with the costs of the proposals we've seen so far.

The original bill making waves in Congress had a Congressional Budget Office price tag of over $1 trillion. Having learned the lessons of Medicare, Democrats couldn't allow that number to be taken seriously, so they went about trying to discredit the CBO's numbers,

Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

"it's always been a source, yes I will say frustration, for many of us in Congress that the CBO will always give you the worst case scenario"

Senator Tom Harkin:

"The way CBO scores some things sometimes doesn't make a whole lot of sense -- I mean, real-life sense,"

Senator Chris Dodd:

"One of the things that's disappointing about CBO -- and frustrating -- is all the work…done on prevention" that the CBO doesn’t factor in"

The President also voiced his "concern" over CBO numbers, saying the CBO doesn't give him credit for all the savings included in the bill which would offset many of the costs. What he neglects to mention is that the CBO did in fact account for those measures, and found they wouldn't save money at all. In fact, they likely will add to the costs. But no matter, these statements from Democratic stalwarts aren't meant to be used in factual debates; rather, their purpose is to cast enough doubt on the CBO numbers so that they can more readily ignore the independent group's cost projections.

Cost projections which could very well be on the low end. By law, CBO projections only go out ten years. So other groups have projected beyond that horizon and found significantly higher costs. Which is not surprising, considering recent studies showing government consistently underestimates the true costs of programs. So consistently, in fact, that it's apparent this underestimation is not done by accident. No, it would seem politicians have all learned President Johnson's lesson very well.