The numbers add up on paper, at least according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Its estimate for the 10-year cost of reform is $940 billion, with cost cuts elsewhere and new taxes turning that into a $138 billion net reduction in the projected federal deficit over a decade. Go out another 10 years, and the plan racks up another trillion or so in projected savings.
One problem is that despite being nonpartisan, the CBO’s methods are still dictated by Congress. That means Capitol Hill can get away with financial chicanery such as front-loading some tax increases and delaying spending plans — something that can help the numbers work because, in a fixed 10-year period, the tax income is counted for more years than the spending.
And then there are the promised but politically unpalatable fiscal fixes that fall to a future president and Congress. Proposed cuts in federal payments to hospitals, for instance, are delayed a decade. If today’s lawmakers are punting such measures, it’s hard to have any confidence their successors will show any more mettle.
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