Paul Ryan Flip-Flops on Fiscal Responsibility to Prop Up Obamacare

What a difference eight years makes. In February 2010, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), then Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, spoke at the White House health care summit decrying Obamacare as “a bill that is full of gimmicks and smoke-and-mirrors.” His comments became a viral sensation, so much so that the Wall Street Journal published a condensed version of his remarks as an op-ed. (Here’s the video.)

Reporters confirmed as much on Monday, when an article claimed that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) believes appropriating funds for cost-sharing reduction payments (CSRs) for three years would save the federal government $32 billion, when compared to a scenario in which Congress does not appropriate CSR payments. Not coincidentally, the article noted that a separate bill by Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) — “which House leaders have embraced” — would create a $30 billion “Stability Fund” for insurers, purportedly paid for by the $32 billion in “savings” caused from appropriating CSRs.

The article doesn’t say so outright, but it’s not hard to figure out what happened behind the scenes:

  1. House Republican leadership directed CBO to score the fiscal effects of making CSR payments to insurers compared to not making the payments.
  2. House Republican leaders leaked results of the score to insurer lobbyists.
  3. Those insurer lobbyists then leaked the results to reporters — to claim their bill would generate “savings” for the federal government.

The end result sounds like a Broadway musical: “How to Spend $60 Billion in Taxpayer Funds without Really Trying.” If insurers have their way, Congress would spend roughly $30 billion in CSR payments for the next three years, and that $30 billion in spending would “save” another $32 billion — which Congress would turn right around and send to insurers, via the $30 billion “Stability Fund.”

Compare this maneuver to Obamacare — or, more specifically, Paul Ryan’s 2010 critique of Obamacare. At the White House health care summit, Ryan told President Obama in regard to Obamacare’s proposed reductions to Medicare: “You can’t say that you’re using this money to either extend Medicare solvency and also offset the cost of this new program. That’s double counting.” If claiming that Medicare savings both enhance Medicare’s solvency and pay for Obamacare constitutes double counting — and it does — then what exactly is jiggering the budgetary baseline solely to generate “savings” that Republicans can turn around and spend…?

There’s another problem too: The fraudulent “savings” are also illegal. As I previously noted, the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings statute requires CBO to assume full payment of CSRs — meaning the scenario that House Republicans asked CBO to score violates the statutory requirements.

Some might claim that, since President Trump stopped making CSR payments last October, a scenario in which CBO does not assume the federal government makes those payments represents a more realistic fiscal approach than that currently required by Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. To which I have one simple retort: If you don’t like the law, then Change. The. Law.

Ryan and House Republican leaders don’t want to change the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law — just like they don’t want to pay for the insurer bailout. Such efforts would take time and effort, necessitate legislative transparency — as opposed to closed-door meetings and selective leaks to K Street lobbyists — and require difficult decisions about how to pay for new spending. Why make those tough choices now, when Republicans can just charge the tab for the insurer bailout on to the national credit card, and let the next generation pay the bill instead?

Congressional Republicans spent eight years decrying Obamacare’s fiscal gimmickry, and President Obama’s executive lawlessness. If they follow the example of the House Republican leadership, and engage in their own illegal budgetary gimmicks, they will have no grounds to complain about Democrats’ spending sprees or overreach. And they shouldn’t be surprised if no one believes their claims of fiscal responsibility come November 6.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Obamacare, Health Costs, and Jobs

Yesterday, the Brookings Institution released updated statistics on the role of health care jobs in the broader economy. The study’s findings provide interesting grist for the ongoing debate about Obamacare’s impact on jobs. Three theories follow from the data.

1. Obamacare Has Not Affected Health Care Jobs

The chart showing a steady-state rise in health care employment over the past decade illustrates this point perfectly. As costs continue to rise, and our society continues to age with the impending retirement of the baby boomers, health care employment has steadily grown.

But the fact that health care hiring has increased at virtually the same pace since 2003 demonstrates the law’s minimal to nonexistent effect on employment trends that preceded its enactment.

Brookings Institution

Brookings Institution

2. Obamacare: Little Effect on Health Care Jobs, Little Effect on Health Care Costs

Labor costs comprise one of the major components of health care spending. A report from the American Hospital Association last year found that labor costs were the largest single driver of health cost growth, accounting for more than one-third of the overall rise in hospital prices—a percentage that has remained fairly constant over time.

It’s therefore difficult to assert that Obamacare has permanently “bent the curve” on health costs if the largest driver of health costs—the labor force—has grown unabated. Rather, it seems more likely that the recent slowdown in costs stems largely from the recession and struggling families forgoing health expenses, as a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study concluded.

3. Not Reducing Health Costs = Reducing Non-Health Jobs

Nancy Pelosi’s infamous claim at the White House health summit that Obamacare would “create 4 million jobs–400,000 jobs almost immediately” wasn’t based on the health sector creating more jobs—in many respects, it was based on the sector creating fewer new positions.

A 2010 Center for American Progress report, the basis for Pelosi’s claim, asserted that Obamacare would create more jobs outside the health sector by slowing the growth of costs within the sector—essentially, a rebalancing of costs and jobs away from health care and toward other industries.

Of course, as other analysts have noted, the converse is also true: If health care jobs continue to grow—as they have since Obamacare’s enactment—those growing health costs will hinder the competitiveness of non-health industries, to say nothing of our massive entitlement deficits.

It’s why anyone who wants to preserve American economic preeminence should want health care growth to slow, even if it means that some new health care jobs aren’t created. It’s also why analysts should be worried that Obamacare hasn’t fixed that problem in the slightest.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.