Friday, March 19, 2010

Number Crunching

The New York Times reports on how the Democrats got the healthcare bill budget numbers to work out.

Love it or hate it, one thing that is indisputable about the Democrats’ big health care legislation is that the cost figures are going to come out right where President Obama said he wanted them.

When the president finally came forward with an outline of his own proposal, aimed at bridging differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation, he said it would have a 10-year price tag of about $950 billion and would reduce federal deficits over that same time period by more than $100 billion.

A preliminary cost estimate of the final legislation, released by the Congressional Budget Office on Thursday, showed that the president got almost exactly what he wanted: a $940 billion price tag for the new insurance coverage provisions in the bill, and the reduction of future federal deficits of $138 billion over 10 years.

So how did the numbers come out just right? Not by accident.

Congressional Democrats have spent more than a year working with the nonpartisan budget office on the health care legislation, and as they fine-tuned many of the bill’s various provisions in recent weeks, they consulted repeatedly with its number-crunchers and the bipartisan staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

In other words, the overall numbers were never going to miss the mark. Whenever the budget office judged that some element or elements of the bill would cause a problem meeting the cost and deficit-reduction targets, Democrats just adjusted the underlying legislation to make sure it would hit their goal.

Not to take anything away from the hard work and bargaining that the Democrats have done on this over the last year, but this kind of budget management — on a much smaller scale, obviously — is what I do all day, and it is not that hard. Give me a budget amount and the categories you need to spend it in and a narrative of how you want to spend it and I can make the salaries, fringe benefits, contracts, travel, equipment and other costs balance out to the penny. (Mrs. Burget, my Grade 8 math teacher, would be so proud.)

The hard part isn’t the budgeting. It’s sticking to it and spending it the way you said you would. That’s the hard part.

Okay, now that the budget numbers have been worked out, pass the damn bill already.