Voices

It takes money

And we don't have enough to pay for grand healthcare ideas

Issue: "O Jerusalem," April 10, 2010

"Talk is cheap," I heard the old man tell my father, a little gruffly. "Takes money to buy land."

George Storey was a real estate broker in Peoria, Ill. I was in my early teens, listening in on a conversation the two men were having about a venture that my dad thought was obviously worthwhile. So did George Storey-except that he was a little less visionary and a good bit more practical.

I couldn't help thinking about that exchange last week as I sat up late listening to all the final arguments for and against nationalized healthcare. "Talk is cheap," I remembered. "Takes money to buy land."

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That's the stark reality we all now face. For months on end, we've jabbered on about the grand vision of universal health coverage, no worries about pre-existing conditions, no cancellations of coverage, portability between employers, no limits on quality of care, etc. Now, with 2,700 pages of glib pretense and the stroke of a visionary's pen, we have it all.

All we have to do now is pay for it.

Given his experience in real estate, George Storey had seen his share of folks who walked through million-dollar mansions, talking confidently and pretending that if fancy struck them, they were prepared to make an offer. Seasoned sales people, though, know the difference. They know when they're dealing with a bluffer.

Too bad that American voters weren't just three or four votes closer to knowing they were dealing with big-time bluffers. For there's no way Congress and President Obama can make good now on the promises they've made. Takes money to buy land-and it takes big money to do all the incredibly expensive things that "healthcare reform" claims it will do. Takes money, we all need to understand, that isn't close to being there.

Set aside, if only for the moment, all the other arguments you might have against the big bill so narrowly approved late on March 21. Forget all the principled differences you have with governmental control and oversight of a full sixth of our nation's economy. Forget the wishful thinking (at best) and the deceit and corruption (at worst) that surrounded the haphazard development and construction of the bill.

Forget all that and simply ask yourself: Where's the money to pay for it?

As you pursue an answer, don't ask the bill's opponents. Ask Congress. Ask Mr. Obama himself, and all his experts. Take a look at the simple but frightening chart on this page, whose sources are the Congressional Budget Office (in red) and the White House itself (in yellow). What they're reporting is the best possible scenario-the most optimistic projection anyone can come up with. Even so, it is, to our national economy, what Katrina was to New Orleans or what 9/11 was to the World Trade Center.

Here's what the graph summarizes: The Bush administration inherited a surplus from the Clinton years. But tax cuts, the response to 9/11, and foolish and profligate spending by the Republican Congress of the mid-'90s drove the federal government into successive deficits of around a third of a trillion dollars annually.

The Democrats' first year in charge of Congress took the deficit back up toward half a trillion (in 2008). Then came the unprecedented deficit of 2009-the first year Democrats enjoyed control of the presidency as well as of Congress. All that follows has to be claimed as the fruit of their policies.

The projections, mind you, are what the sponsors of "health reform" say will happen if everything goes right for the next 10 years-if all the optimistic assumptions work just the way they hope they will.

By their own forecasts, the money isn't there. It will all have to be borrowed, printed, or counterfeited.

In his heyday in real estate, George Storey knew how much easier it was to talk about grand ideas than it was to finance them. He had learned his lessons. I just wish he had been around the last few months to pass those lessons on to Congress-and to the American people.
If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to jbelz@worldmag.com.
To hear commentaries by Joel Belz, click here.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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