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Waiting for Godot. . . er. . .Obama

You can sense the Washington Post editors’ growing irritation with Obama. With arms crossed and feet tapping, they want to know when he’s going to get to the hard part: figuring out how to achieve his lofty goal of universal health-care coverage, or at least expanded coverage, without breaking the bank. They write:

When politicians start talking about paying for programs by cutting “waste and abuse,” you should get nervous. When they don’t provide specifics—and when the amounts under discussion are in the hundreds of billions of dollars—you should get even more nervous.

And they then nervously proceed to list the unanswered questions that boil down to one: how’s he going to pay for it? They aren’t impressed, nor should they be, with the promise to cut out “waste, fraud and abuse.” We’ve heard that before. Moreover, one bureaucrat’s “waste” may be a hip replacement for an 80-year-old. They remind us:

The president has staked out two principles with admirable firmness: Health reform must not add to the federal deficit, and it must slow the rate of health cost inflation. Now he needs to support the detailed measures that will fulfill both pledges.

But in their frustration at the president’s vacuity, the Post editors overlook a key problem. There isn’t a way to do the things he has promised (avoid adding to the deficit and slow down health-cost inflation) with the sort of government-run system Obama is wedded to. You can’t do it unless you massively ration care, which, if we have learned anything in the past month, is not going to be an easy sell to the public. If you want to try to do these things, you can’t get there through a government-centric plan. What may get there is expanding the health-care insurance market, spurring individual health-insurance purchases, and real tort reform.

So it is not as if Obama is holding out on us or has some super-duper solution tucked in Larry Summers’s filing cabinet. The answer is that there isn’t any answer. Obama will either have to lie about the financial ramifications of the plan he is pushing and run roughshod over the CBO and private analysts, or he’ll have to try another sort of health-care reform. If his speech this past week is any guide, I’m betting he’ll lie.



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