Conservative media attack health-care reform in budget without addressing admin. response

››› ››› CHRISTINE SCHWEN & MORGAN WEILAND

Numerous media outlets and personalities have claimed or suggested that given the size of the current and projected U.S. federal debt, the Obama administration's health-care reform proposal is untenable, but did not address the administration's argument that health-care reform is essential to the long-term economic health of the country.

Many in the media have claimed or suggested that given the size of the current and projected U.S. federal debt, the Obama administration's health-care reform proposal is untenable. For instance, Fox News host Sean Hannity said on March 26 that "[President] Obama wants to expand government. We've got health care, unbelievable amounts of spending -- we're gonna bankrupt the country." However, in making such statements, neither Hannity nor other media figures addressed the argument President Obama has repeatedly raised in response to such claims: that health-care reform is essential to the long-term economic health of the country.

For instance, in remarks at a March 25 Democratic National Committee fundraiser, Obama said:

[B]ecause we know that the crushing cost of health care is punishing families and businesses, and bankrupting the federal and state governments, we're going to invest in reforms that bring down those costs while improving care and guaranteeing Americans their choice of doctors and hospitals. The choice isn't between health care reform and fiscal discipline; we have to invest in health reform in order to achieve fiscal discipline. ... That's what an efficient health care system can do. That's how we're going to control costs of entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid. That's why this budget is inseparable from this recovery -- because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity; the groundwork for a future that reflects what we know this country can be. [emphasis added]

Similarly, during the question-and-answer session following his March 24 press conference, Obama said: "What we have to do is bend the curve on these deficit projections. And the best way for us to do that is to reduce health care costs. That's not just my opinion; that's the opinion of almost every single person who has looked at our long-term fiscal situation." Indeed, Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, who formerly headed the Congressional Budget Office, said in March 4 testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee about the administration's 2010 budget that "[t]he principal driver of our Nation's long-term budget problem is rising health care costs." Orszag continued:

If costs per enrollee in our two main Federal health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid, grow at the same rate as they have for the past 40 years, those two programs will increase from about 5 percent of GDP today to about 20 percent by 2050. (As the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and others have noted, there are reasons to expect cost growth to slow in the future relative to the past even in the absence of policy changes. But the point remains that reasonable projections of health care cost growth under current policies shows that they are the central cause of the Nation's long-term fiscal imbalance.) Many of the other factors that will play a role in determining future fiscal conditions -- including the actuarial deficit in Social Security--pale by comparison over the long term with the impact of cost growth in the Federal government health insurance programs. Health care is the key to our Nation's fiscal future, and health care reform is entitlement reform. [emphasis added]

Orszag also addressed those who argue that investing in health reform is inappropriate given the economic crisis, saying that he "share[s] their concern about the fiscal health of our Nation -- and the President does as well." Orszag continued:

But the bottom line is that that we simply cannot afford to stay on the course that we've been on. If we do not begin to address the high costs of health care, our families will continue to be squeezed, our businesses will have trouble competing, and our Nation will remain on an unsustainable fiscal path. If we do not invest in education and clean energy, our prospects for long-term economic growth will be diminished. And if we do not make government more efficient, we will continue to waste the precious resources we do have. [emphasis added]

Examples of media figures claiming that heath reform is not feasible given the federal government's long-term fiscal outlook, while ignoring the administration's comments that address that point, include:

  • On the March 26 episode of Fox News' Hannity, Fox News contributor Karl Rove stated that "Barack Obama wanted the country to turn to the issue of green jobs, education, health care, and instead, people are looking at these huge deficits and the huge power grab and the huge spending, and saying, really, what I'm concerned about is taxes, deficit, and spending. And he's succeeded in putting the agenda back on to terms that are -- that are more convenient and comfortable for conservatives, and he's done so through a very radical budget." Later in the show, Sean Hannity stated: "All right. Obama wants to expand government. We've got health care, unbelievable amounts of spending -- we're gonna bankrupt the country."
  • A March 24 Washington Times editorial stated: "A major problem with the Obama budget is that it focuses on a number of costly administration legislative priorities whose timing should be questioned given the state of the economy and the massive level of stimulus spending already implemented this year. These include overhauling health care, implementing a cap-and-trade greenhouse gas emissions program, and shifting federal student loans into the Education Department's direct-loan program."
  • In a column published in the March 10 Washington Times, syndicated columnist Tony Blankley wrote: "But vastly more dangerous to the Obama presidency (and the nation) was his decision to go full steam ahead to immediately start to transform health care, fight carbon dioxide energy sources with new taxations that will increase the cost of all energy, goods and services, and increase new expensive education entitlements as part of federalizing American education. It is this decision to not postpone those multiyear, multitrillion-dollar programs until the economy and the financial system is revived that exposes Mr. Obama's presidency to a possible catastrophic meltdown in its first term."

Examples of media figures reporting on Obama's critics calling his health-care plan untenable given the current and projected federal budget deficits, without noting Obama's reasoning for doing so include:

  • On the March 25 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, congressional correspondent Dana Bash stated: "CNN is told that some conservative Democrats used their private Obama meeting to question the wisdom of his plans for big spending on health care, education, and energy in difficult economic times. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to exploit differences among Democrats."
  • In a March 23 Washington Times article, reporter Tom LoBianco wrote: "As Congress weighs Mr. Obama's first budget, with $1.5 trillion in deficit spending, Republicans and moderate Democrats have become wary of the White House's long-term plan, which includes an ambitious overhaul of health care and a plan to raise nearly $2 trillion through a greenhouse gas emission measure."

From the March 26 edition of Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: Republicans are tearing their hair out about President Obama's socialist policies, but could there be a silver lining to all of this? Now, Karl Rove says the president's inability to bring about the change that he promised could send Americans running back to the Republican Party, and he joins us now.

Karl, good to see you. Read your piece in The Wall Street Journal -- agree with a lot of it. How does this send America, with all this move toward socialism, all this power grab, all this -- all these bad nominees and bad governing -- how does it send people back to the Republican Party?

ROVE: Well, Barack Obama, first of all, is governing very much different than Barack Obama campaigned, and so the divide between those two -- the sort of moderate centrist who campaigned, and the very radical agenda that is being pursued by the president once he got into office, are causing people to examine what's going on.

And Barack Obama wanted the country to turn to the issue of green jobs, education, health care, and instead, people are looking at these huge deficits and the huge power grab and the huge spending, and saying, really, what I'm concerned about is taxes, deficit, and spending.

And he's succeeded in putting the agenda back on to terms that are -- that are more convenient and comfortable for conservatives, and he's done so through a very radical budget.

[...]

HANNITY: All right. Well, Winston Churchill said --

ANN COULTER (right-wing pundit): And he's making up for what he did.

HANNITY: Yeah, exactly. All right. Obama wants to expand government. We've got health care, unbelievable amounts of spending -- we're gonna bankrupt the country.

From the March 25 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. President Obama took his budget sales pitch to Capitol Hill. Today, he met with Democrats in the House and Senate, trying to persuade them to go along with his $3.6 trillion spending plan. Already, Democratic leaders are scaling back the president's domestic programs and his middle-class tax cut. Republicans tonight are calling upon the American people to rise up against the president's spending plan. Dana Bash has our report from Capitol Hill.

[begin video clip]

BASH: A trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to rally support for his budget, going behind closed doors with fellow Democrats, wary of big spending and soaring deficits.

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D-ND): He asked the caucus what he asked me: Preserve my priorities -- education, energy, health care. Reduce the deficit substantially.

BASH: But even as President Obama made his case, Democrat-led House and Senate committees were writing their own budgets and scaling back some of the president's plans. Most prominently, the signature tax cut he campaigned on -- $400 for most individuals, $800 for couples.

The Senate budget would eliminate funding for that in two years, unless the White House finds a way to pay for it. Congressional Democrats are also slashing $250 billion the White House set aside for more Wall Street bailouts. The Democratic budget chairman called the changes critical to taming the exploding deficit.

CONRAD: In light of the new reality, those are the fundamental differences. We have had to insist that things be paid for, and I make no apology for it.

BASH: CNN is told that some conservative Democrats used their private Obama meeting to question the wisdom of his plans for big spending on health care, education, and energy in difficult economic times. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to exploit differences among Democrats. Listen to this GOP appeal to conservative Democrats.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI): You hold the cards. You have the votes that can make the difference in this. You can stop this. I'm asking you: Join us to stop this fiscal train wreck.

[end video clip]

BASH: Now, one of the major changes congressional Democrats are making is, Lou, they are taking out the $600 billion-plus that the president set aside to reform health care. That, of course, is one of his top priorities. Now, Democrats say that they still, of course, vow to tackle this issue. But now they're going to have to find a way to pay for it. And everybody agrees it is going to be a mind-blowing price tag.

DOBBS: Well, the mind-blowing price tag may be coming down if people like Congressman Paul Ryan, as you just reported, opposing directly, publicly, and with some passion, the president's proposals. We know 16 Democrats in the Senate doing the same thing. This president has a real battle on his hands on Capitol Hill with this budget, doesn't he?

BASH: He absolutely does. It's -- he's unlikely to get any of those House Republicans. He doesn't need them in the House, but with regard to those Senate Democrats, I talked to a lot of them going in and out of the meeting with President Obama today. Many of them did tell me that they feel a little bit more comfortable with the budget that's going through the Senate now because of those changes. They weren't major changes, but changes enough for some of them that they feel more comfortable with the fact that Congress is trying to tackle the deficit issue, at least better than -- from their perspective -- better than the president has.

DOBBS: "Better" is as it implies, a relative term. I mean, these are huge deficits and additions to the national debt -- extraordinary. Thank you very much, we appreciate it. Dana Bash.

BASH: Thanks, Lou.

From a March 23 Washington Times article:

One of President Obama's top economic advisers said massive increases in domestic spending can't wait - even as federal spending continues to mount, with new plans to spend $1 trillion to buy toxic bank assets and an independent report that the White House undershot the nation's debt by $2.3 trillion.

But Republican lawmakers have become increasingly skeptical of Democratic spending plans, presenting some of their most dire forecasts Sunday.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican and one-time Obama pick to lead the Commerce Department, said the combination of new spending could cause the nation to go bankrupt.

Christina Romer, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Mr. Obama's domestic budget priorities, including major reforms in health care, education and the environment, must be kept in the budget as Congress takes control of the spending document.

"All three of those [Mr. Obama] said are just too big to wait," she said on "Fox News Sunday."

As Congress weighs Mr. Obama's first budget, with $1.5 trillion in deficit spending, Republicans and moderate Democrats have become wary of the White House's long-term plan, which includes an ambitious overhaul of health care and a plan to raise nearly $2 trillion through a greenhouse gas emission measure.

"I think maybe the president's trying to take on too much," Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said on CBS' "Face The Nation."

"You know, he wants to emulate Franklin Roosevelt."

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