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The Political Perils of the False Argument

POSTED:

President Obama is suffering blowback of his own making on health care reform.

The head of the Congressional Budget Office is now arguing -- based on arguably incomplete data -- that the health care bills presently on the table will not reign in health care costs as promised, and will instead increase federal health obligations by a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next decade.

Of the many reasons to overhaul our health insurance system, reducing cost is a decidedly cold-blooded concern. The real reason to fight for universal healthcare is to ensure 47 million uninsured Americans have access to a doctor, and won't be bankrupted if they get sick. There's human emotion, drama and heartache there that every American can relate to.

But president Obama and his team have insisted on framing health care reform not as an end unto itself -- doing the right thing by millions of our countrymen -- but as a salve for our longterm economic and deficit woes. It's a secondary and perhaps even tertiary concern. And now this thin rationale appears to have shaky foundation.

I caught some of David Gregory's Meet the Press interview with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. It was devastating:

MR. GREGORY: But wait, but this is a huge blow, it seems like, on the face of it. If the priority is lowering costs, you've got the person who's in charge with a nonpartisan way of looking at these saying it's not going to contain costs. That was goal number one. It doesn't appear to be getting achieved through this.

SEC'Y SEBELIUS: Well, I think, I think, first of all, it's clear that this will bring costs down to a degree. It won't do enough over time, and I think we'll incorporate that....

MR. GREGORY: ... But you want to spend a trillion dollars to bring costs down, and that the CBO is saying you won't bring costs down. And all you're saying in response to that is, "Well, no, they actually will"? I don't understand the disconnect here.

Six months into his presidency, with the self-imposed timeline for reform busted, Obama and his team are now being forced to buttress the wrong argument -- on "fiscal-discipline" terrain that Republicans (all recent hypocrisy aside) are more than comfortable defending.

And they've go no one to blame but themselves.

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