September 21, 2014

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Friday, September 11, 2009 - 3:42 PM

After President Obama's big health care speech this week, we have been talking here at Concord about how he makes it sound as if all we have to do to cut health care costs is cut the “waste” and “abuse” that no one should want anyway. That’s how he can claim his plan would reduce federal health spending without cutting any federal health care “benefits” -- because it wouldn’t cut any spending that actually “benefits” people.

The problem often in Washington however, is that one man’s “waste” is another man’s precious benefit. And when politicians traditionally talk about cutting "waste, fraud and abuse," they do so, in part, to duck the hard choices required to make real progress on the nation's long-term fiscal problems. That is why one of the foundational agreements among all of the members of the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour is that we can't solve our problems simply by cutting those items. (By the way, you can now watch a special set of videos on our website featuring the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour panelists speaking about health care reform.)  

When talking about health care and waste, the term does...

Friday, September 4, 2009 - 12:16 PM

Ezra Klein has a good post today discussing the problem with the costs of health care reform and how to pay for them. His point is that the structure of the bills being discussed so far lead them to not do enough to control long-term costs, and that efforts to scale them back further either achieve a lower price by delaying implementation--which just allows cost to dramatically diverge from the "pay-fors" outside the budget window--or they simply leave the currently unaffordable system relatively intact.  As David Brooks seconds in the New York Times, the effort to make reform politically palatable--in that it didn't try to dramatically change how most Americans get their health care--instead left us with proposals that are not very popular, but also don't provide the change needed to begin to fix our health care cost problems.

In some sense this is because the problems with our health care system are so dramatic, that the broader in scope the reform, the greater the chance that reform has to actually cut costs. But it is also because members of Congress have a hard time doing the right thing from a policy...

Friday, August 28, 2009 - 9:52 AM

Perhaps even more than most of Concord’s Fiscal Wake-Up Tour programs, the one in Maine this week underscored the need for a really big alarm clock.

The recession has sliced into the government's revenue while putting its spending on steroids. Concord Executive Director Robert L. Bixby offered the Wake-Up Tour audience of more than 200 in Kennebunkport a troubling factoid: last month’s federal deficit of $180 billion was larger than the deficit for all of 2007.

And on the same day, the Obama administration released a grim projection of $9 trillion in deficits over the next decade, $2 trillion higher than its previous estimate. When this was reported in Kennebunkport, fretful murmurs swept through the room. 

Even the $9 trillion figure is probably too optimistic, according to Concord’s analysis. So to borrow an analogy from David M. Walker, president and CEO of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation: Watch out for the "tsunami" that’s on the way.

Then there’s the current status of the health care debate: High interest in new government services and assistance, considerably less enthusiasm for proposals to pay for them. And not all that...

Thursday, July 23, 2009 - 9:19 PM

While the President's press conference Wednesday night got a lot of attention and focused substantially on health care, he also did an interview with Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt earlier in the day. The wide-ranging interview touched on health care reform, but also on a lot of the other subjects Concord Coalition members are interested in -- like deficits, debt, Social Security reform and a BRAC-like fiscal commission. It is worth a read.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 - 2:25 PM

Health Care reform is moving quite quickly on the Hill and it is almost impossible to keep up with all of the developments in Congress and all of the great reporting in the media on what is needed for fiscally responsible health care reform. So, over the next 90 days as health care dominates the political agenda, we are going to try to briefly highlight developments as they occur by linking to other sources and throwing in Concord material as it is published.

The links brought to you today cover the fundamental cost control issues being discussed (or unfortunately not discussed) as legislation makes its way through the House and Senate Committees.

  • The big news today, as reported in The Washington Post, CNN and elsewhere, is that CBO director Elmendorf testified in front of the Senate Budget Committee and proclaimed that the legislative developments he has seen (the House bill and the Senate's HELP committee bill) seem to "significantly expand the...
Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - 12:30 PM

The Concord Coalition is currently engaging in a Fiscal Stewardship Project that takes us to select cities across the country. This project is designed as a follow-up to our Fiscal Wake-Up Tour visits in those cities and as part of that we have created local Fiscal Advisory Councils (F.A.C.'s) -- groups of local citizens interested in doing more to promote and discuss fiscal responsibility. These councils meet regularly and are focused not only on talking about our fiscal future, but also in discussing possible solutions to our long-term budget challenge.

One of the event types we conduct in conjunction with these F.A.C. meetings is called a "Choice Dialogue." These are day-long public forums where randomly selected individuals, from the cities where the F.A.C.'s are located, come together to work through the information about our fiscal challenge and coalesce around common values and solutions. The goal is for the conclusions they reach to then be presented to the F.A.C. members, who then undergo a lengthy dialogue of their own, so that the ideas and solutions the F.A.C. coalesces around can truly be said to be informed by community thoughts...

Friday, May 15, 2009 - 10:23 AM

While fielding a question from the audience during his town hall meeting on credit card reform, President Obama took an opportunity to emphasize the need for policymakers to focus on restoring fiscal responsibility within the federal government:

"What I'd like to do is just shift off -- pivot off your question to talk about this issue of debt and deficits one more time. During a recession of this severity it is important, as I explained, for the government to step in and fill the hole in demand that was created by consumers and by businesses, to get the economy kick-started.

But the long-term deficit and debt that we have accumulated is unsustainable. We can't keep on just borrowing from China, or borrowing from other countries -- (applause) -- because part of it is, we have to pay for -- we have to pay interest on that debt. And that means that we're mortgaging our children's future with more and more debt, but what's also true is that at some point they're just going to get tired of buying our debt. And when that happens, we will really have to raise interest rates to be able to borrow, and that will raise...

Monday, May 4, 2009 - 3:36 PM

Now that the Congressional Budget Resolution has passed, there has been a lot of talk about how the reconciliation instructions included in the resolution will make it easier for a health care reform effort to pass.  Particularly since the mechanics of reconciliation provide for a simple majority vote for approval -- instead of the 60 votes that might be needed to overcome a filibusterer in the Senate.

Ironically, considering political motivations, it might be easier to round up 60 votes for a fiscally irresponsible health care reform bill, than to attain the 51 votes for a fiscally responsible bill -- which would be needed to utilize the reconciliation fast track procedure. 

Let me explain. When the modern budget process was established, the idea behind including a lower procedural bar under reconciliation was to facilitate legislation that contained difficult choices resulting in deficit reduction. Only in recent years have legislators deviated from this intention, most notably by the usage of reconciliation to pass large, deficit-increasing tax cuts.

The guidelines put in place by the budget resolution for reconciliation -- in a sense -- navigate this budget procedure closer to its original purpose. Specifically, for Congress to consider any health care reform bill, it must contain...

Friday, April 3, 2009 - 10:40 AM

As we previously noted, President Obama released the outline of his first budget at the end of February.  Those details have been scored by the Congressional Budget Office and included in the March update to their Budget and Economic Outlook. Now, the proverbial "budget ball" now rests in Congress as they work towards agreeing on a unified budget resolution.   

Both the Senate and House held votes last evening after marking up their respective resolutions last week. The House approved its resolution by a vote of 233-196 while the Senate's resolution passed by a vote of 55-43.

The two resolutions are not that different on the surface: they both follow the administration's leads on attempting to cut the deficit in half over four years, establishing health care reserve funds, and addressing...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - 2:40 PM

As you recover from what was hopefully a fun-filled St. Patrick's Day, it might be helpful if I were able to convert our latest issue brief into a fun, bite-sized and easily digestible, bullet list of the most interesting things we found in President Obama's first budget submission to Congress.

First some background: in general, every presidential budget is significant because it establishes the priorities and issues which the administration perceives to be most important and how they plan to address and resolve them. The first budget of a new administration is even more important in that it sets expectations for the coming years and how these policies reconcile with the promises made during the campaign. The submission the Obama Administration made at the end of February was just an outline of the larger budget they will present later in the year, but with enough information that Congress can turn towards creating the Congressional budget resolution in the next month or two.

Unlike the iconic shamrock used on St. Patrick's Day, our issue brief contains more than "three leafs" of knowledge [and you should still read the issue brief!]:

  • The...