Witcover: CBO lobs a cannonball into Trumpcare

Witcover: Trump may succeed in "repealing and replacing Obamacare," but likely not without smoke and mirrors.

The Congressional Budget Office has forecasted that 24 million Americans will lose government-overseen health care insurance in the next decade if the Republican bill to replace Obamacare is enacted.

The CBO calculation, which also estimates a $337 billion cut in the federal deficit and lower taxes for the rich, had been fearfully anticipated by the White House, calling into question as it does President Trump's campaign promise to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better. Thus, in advance of the CBO scoring, administration officials verbally trashed the agency that is designed to provide the government nonpartisan guidance.

Mr. Trump's new budget director, Mick Mulvaney, called the report of his own crystal-ball bureau "absurd," and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, just confirmed, said: "We disagree strenuously with the report. ... It's just not believable. ... The CBO simply has it wrong."

Earlier, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary and principal administration goaltender against incoming fire, had said, "If you're looking at the CBO for accuracy, you're looking in the wrong place."

If the Republican bill, known as the American Health Care Act, becomes law, its most politically risky element may be the elimination of Obamacare's mandate: the requirement that Americans sign up for coverage or pay a fine. Under Trumpcare, millions of people insured under the Affordable Care Act will probably drop their policies.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas offered this no-brainer: "When you give people the freedom to choose what they think is good for them and their family ... some of them are not going to choose to buy it."

Speaker Paul Ryan, the principal advocate of the House Republican plan, said: "Our plan is not about forcing people to buy expensive, one-size-fits-all coverage. It is about giving people more choices and better access to a plan they want and can afford."

But some Senate Republicans expressed readiness to put the brakes on the plan, and to have their input on it if or when it moves to the other side of the Capitol. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine declared that the CBO forecast "should prompt the House to slow down and consider certain provisions of the bill. We need to spend the time necessary to get this right."

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said of the pushback of fellow Republicans against the CBO forecast: "We like the CBO when they agree with us. When they don't, they're a bunch of losers. We should pause and try to improve this product in the light of the CBO analysis, rather than just rejecting it."

The Trump administration attitude toward the CBO has been consistent with its now-familiar practice of assailing the credibility of any comment, from friend or foe, that disagrees with the president or any major spokesperson. When the highly respected Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier reported that nationwide unemployment had dropped to 4.7 percent under President Obama, Mr. Trump called it "a phony number" and insisted the real number was a whopping 42 percent,

Mr. Mulvaney said at his Senate confirmation hearing: "The credibility that I think I bring to this job is that I believe very firmly in real numbers. My job is to tell the president the truth. I can't imagine the President of the United States will tell me to lie."

But Donald Trump's track record with the truth so far is clear, as is his willingness to flaunt it at the highest levels. Currently, his contention that President Obama had Mr. Trump or his campaign offices at Trump Tower "wiretapped" is under congressional investigation, at Mr. Trump's own instigation.

At any rate, once again Mr. Trump has promised swift and reliable action on his major campaign pledges, and then played with the truth to claim success, with his assorted toadies ready and willing to go along. He may yet succeed in "repealing and replacing Obamacare," but probably not without smoke and mirrors.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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