Obama, Democrats Lack Answers on How to Pay for Healthcare

The Obama administration's going to take spending advice from Pelosi? We're all in trouble now.

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

It doesn't sound like the Democrats have much interest in fiscal restraint when it comes to healthcare reform. Here are a reporter's questions for Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and his answers from the June 9 White House press briefing regarding the Democrats' healthcare proposals. Excerpted from the official transcript:

REPORTER: Peter, are you concerned about the fact that the House committees of jurisdiction on health care have put forward their ideas of how to spend the money but they still haven't said how they're going to pay for any of it?  

DIRECTOR ORSZAG: Well, I think if you saw the [Senate] Finance Committee's white paper, they have put forward ideas about how they could pay for it. I think many of the details will be forthcoming over the next—in the coming weeks. But I also think there is widespread agreement and recognition that the package will have to be deficit-neutral in order to be enacted.

REPORTER: Right, but I'm talking about specifically the House side at the moment. Wouldn't it have been more responsible to come and up say, if you're going to talk about spending money, talk about how you're going to pay for it?

DIRECTOR ORSZAG: Again, I think there's recognition that in the legislation as it emerges from the committees—and you, again, have committee jurisdictional issues with different committees being responsible for different parts of the overall legislation, it will come together with both the coverage aspect and the offsets aspect being joined. And then, again, I want to emphasize we not only have to make sure that we are expanding coverage in a fiscally responsible way, but if that's all we did, we would be perpetuating a system that has some issues with it where we could be doing a lot better.

If you ask me, that's not really an answer in terms of how the White House wants to pay for it. It sounds like they'll wait and see what the House Democrats and Nancy Pelosi come up with in terms of spending cuts—which isn't something they have a lot of credibility on, judging from the massive federal budget and the unprecedented size of the stimulus package. Complicating this is that most of us need a translator to understand what he's saying (BTW, "offsets aspect" means how they'll offset the new spending with cuts elsewhere). Maybe they could start by repealing the free Medicare prescription drug program that the Republicans passed without a thought as to how to pay for that, either.

Do you think they'll ever have a plan for paying for healthcare—or will the deficit continue to grow until we all collapse under the weight of it?

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