Fox's Garrett distorted CBO findings on long-term savings under Senate health bill

On the March 8 edition of Fox News' Special Report, chief White House correspondent Major Garrett falsely claimed that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had not found projected savings under the Senate health bill to be “meaningful” in its second decade. In fact, CBO estimated that the bill would reduce the deficit in its second decade.

Garrett falsely claimed CBO found savings from health bill's second decade “would not be meaningful”

From the March 8 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

GARRETT: Even as the president pushes harder on the road, his talking points have begun to fray around the edges. Listen to this description of the Senate bill.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: [video clip] It brings down our deficit by up to $1 trillion over the next decade because we're spending our health care dollars more wisely. Those aren't my numbers; they are the savings determined by the Congressional Budget Office.

GARRETT: In fact, the nonpartisan budget office estimates the Senate bill will save $132 billion in its first 10 years. The White House said later Mr. Obama meant $1 trillion could be saved in the bill's second decade. CBO has projected savings of that magnitude, but cautioned this estimate, quote, “would not be meaningful because the uncertainties involved are simply too great.”

In fact, CBO reported that year-by-year cost projection “would not be meaningful”

CBO: A detailed year-by-year projection ... would not be meaningful because the uncertainties involved are simply too great." From a December 19, 2009, report:

Although CBO does not generally provide cost estimates beyond the 10-year budget projection period (2010 through 2019 currently), Senate rules require some information about the budgetary impact of legislation in subsequent decades, and many Members have requested CBO analyses of the long-term budgetary impact of broad changes in the nation's health care and health insurance systems. A detailed year-by-year projection for years beyond 2019, like those that CBO prepares for the 10-year budget window, would not be meaningful because the uncertainties involved are simply too great. Among other factors, a wide range of changes could occur -- in people's health, in the sources and extent of their insurance coverage, and in the delivery of medical care (such as advances in medical research, technological developments, and changes in physicians' practice patterns) -- that are likely to be significant but are very difficult to predict, both under current law and under any proposal.

CBO: Over second 10 years, health bill would save “between one-quarter percent and one-half percent of GDP.” In a December 20, 2009, letter amending the December 19 report, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf wrote:

All told, CBO expects that the legislation, if enacted, would reduce federal budget deficits over the decade after 2019 relative to those projected under current law -- with a total effect during that decade that is in a broad range between one-quarter percent and one-half percent of GDP.

Michael F. Burns is an intern at Media Matters for America.