Will Health Care Reform Break the Budget?

Washington Matters

Will Health Care Reform Break the Budget?

Critics of health care reform come at it for all sorts of reasons, but one issue that unites Republicans and conservative Democrats is cost. They contend that with the national debt at almost $12 trillion, and with deficits soaring, now is not the time to be spending big bucks to expand health care.

To win over the critics, President Obama promised in his congressional address that the bill he signs won't add anything to the deficit, and in fact, the latest version would theoretically save $49 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, because the new programs are offset with spending cuts and new revenues. But that won't convince those who say we're just spending too much.

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The real question is, how much is too much?

It all depends, of course, on what you get for your money and whether the cost is worth the payout. The new bill, which was mostly drafted by a bipartisan group on the Senate Finance Committee (but unacted on as yet), has a price tag of about $774 billion over 10 years before the offsets are considered, and that number is already drawing a lot of criticism. It is a big number. No doubt about that. But is it really that big when you consider how it stacks up against other big ticket items -- and what taxpayers got for that money? Consider, for example:


It cost $787 billion for the two-year stimulus bill passed by Congress in February. The jury is still out -- and will be for a long time -- on how big an effect it had on the economy and whether many of the funds are well directed.

There's already a $683 billion price tag on the war in Iraq, and it's growing daily. Add the war in Afghanistan, and the cost is more than $910 billion.

The first installment of the financial market bailout cost $700 billion, and it has grown exponentially since then. Estimates vary widely and the total cost is still an unknown, but many experts put it at $4 trillion so far.

President Bush's tax cuts in 2001 cost $1.3 trillion over 10 years, with another $96 billion added in 2002 and $330 billion in 2003.

And President Obama's plan to extend those tax cuts just for the low and middle class taxpayers will cost $3 trillion over 10 years.

So maybe in deciding whether $774 billion over 10 years is too much to spend on health care, the real question is, compared to what?