130 Billion More Reasons to Vote for Health Care Reform

The numbers are in. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) finally released its much-anticipated estimate of how much of the amended version of the health care bill would cost today.  And it's great news for the Democrats.

According the CBO, the bill would cost $940 billion over ten years. That's a lot of money taken as a lump sum, but it probably amounts to just 2% of the yearly budget. And $94 billion a year doesn't seem that much when you consider that the Troubled Assets Relief Program cost $150 billion dollars last year alone. More significant is the fact that the CBO figures the bill will actually reduce the deficit by $130 billion over the same period at the same time as it expands health care coverage to 95% of Americans. That's because it will increase federal revenues more than expenditures. As Republicans will point out, it does that in part by creating new taxes. Nevertheless, the fact that in addition to reforming the health care system it doubles as a huge deficit reduction program takes away one of the Republicans' key arguments against the bill. To top it all off, the CBO says the bill would slow the growth in Medicare spending by 1.4% annually, helping keep Medicare solvent for at least 9 more years.

That bodes well for the passage of the bill. The price of the Obamacare futures jumped on Intrade on the news, with traders now giving the bill a 77% chance of passing. Not only does expanding health care and reducing the deficit appealing on its face, the new numbers make it difficult for Democrats who were on the fence to vote against the bill. As Ezra Klein puts it, liberal Democrats would be voting against

Legislation that covers 32 million people. A world in which 95 percent of all non-elderly, legal residents have health-care coverage. An end to insurers rescinding coverage for the sick, or discriminating based on preexisting conditions, or spending 30 cents of each premium dollar on things that aren't medical care. Exchanges where insurers who want to jack up premiums will have to publicly explain their reason, where regulators will be able to toss them out based on bad behavior, and where consumers will be able to publicly rate them. Hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to help lower-income Americans afford health-care insurance. The final closure of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit's "doughnut hole."

For conservative Democrats, meanwhile, opposing the bill would mean voting against "the single most ambitious effort the government has ever made to control costs in the health-care sector." As Klein says, health coverage is wider in the fixed bill than in the original Senate bill, and it does more to reduce the deficit. Both liberals and conservatives can say they've gotten what they wanted.

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