Winter Storm Stella has nothing on the Congressional Budget Office. The former may have buried the Northeast in ice and snow, but the latter may have just deep-sixed Trumpcare and the whole cold-hearted "repeal and replace" Obamacare movement, leaving Republicans to dig themselves out of their predicament for months to come.
Let's review the numbers, shall we? The big one is that the misleadingly-named American Health Care Act will leave 24 million more Americans without health insurance by 2026. That's like leaving all the residents of Utah, Mississippi, Arkansas, Nevada, Kansas, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Montana, both Dakotas, Alaska and Wyoming drifting on an ice floe instead of letting them get a little preventive medical care once in a while.
Meanwhile, let's not forget the extraordinary transfer of wealth the measure represents. The working poor will lose much of their subsidies while the elderly may face substantially higher premiums. The rich, on the other hand, actually come out ahead thanks to the Trumpcare tax credit, making this the reverse-Robin Hood of health insurance plans.
But wait, let's also be fair. The proposal reduces the federal deficit. The CBO estimates Trumpcare will reduce the government's budget shortfall by $337 billion over 10 years, mostly by bumping millions of Americans from Medicaid. The health insurance program for the poor is slated to be cut by $880 million during that time; the only reason the federal deficit reduction number is so low is because the legislation slashes taxes for the rich, too.
Small wonder that President Donald Trump and certain Republican leaders were busy bad-mouthing the CBO even before its report came out. The last thing they needed is for nonpartisan number crunchers to offer an informed view instead of the usual political caterwauling about the "failings" of the Affordable Care Act. And this is particularly rich: Republicans say the CBO blew Obamacare estimates years ago when it was circumstances well beyond the CBO's control that caused analysts to incorrectly predict Obamacare enrollment. Should analysts have expected the Supreme Court to deem the Medicaid expansion optional and GOP-controlled states to refuse to accept it? Were they mistaken to assume Congress would actually follow the law and fund programs to stabilize state insurance exchanges?
Might the CBO be off-target again? Absolutely. But it's at least as likely that the office is low-balling the most damaging effects of Trumpcare as it is potentially over-stating the harm. The Congressional Budget Office is as close to an umpire as exists in Washington, and it's certainly been a lot more on target than the Trump administration, which has consistently misled Americans on almost everything from the definition of "wiretapping" to the claim of "millions of illegal voters" casting ballots in the last election. Even those overstated Obamacare enrollment estimates were closer to being on the nose than those produced by the CBO's fellow forecasters at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the RAND Corporation.
Once again, Mr. Trump and his minions have been caught making up facts. The president promised the Obamacare replacement would provide insurance for everyone and that it would be less expensive. Nobody can make that claim about Trumpcare. As the CBO points out, premiums will rise 15-20 percent overall for the first two years, and more for older Americans.
Mr. Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and others in their party counter that future reforms will make a difference. They point to the much-ballyhooed plan to allow health insurance to be sold across states lines as an example. It would be in their bill now, the say, except that the "repeal and replace" measure must be passed through the budget process which limits such add-ons if it is to avoid a certain filibuster in the Senate. The problem with that claim (aside from its dubious premise, given that states that already allow in out-of-state insurers aren't seeing lower premiums) is that there's no reason to believe Democrats in the Senate will behave any differently than Republicans who blocked reforms to Obamacare for years.
Hour by hour, day by day, Americans are growing wise to the lies Republicans told about the Affordable Care Act. They can't just strip away health insurance benefits from millions of people without awful consequences. It's no exaggeration to point out that lives are at stake. Remember when the biggest criticism Republicans could muster about President Barack Obama was his broken promise that health care reform would allow people to keep their own doctors? Well, Trumpcare doesn't allow 24 million people to keep any doctor. Surely, even Mr. Trump's most ardent supporters can't be too proud of that.