The Washington Post’s Problem With Reality

The Washington Post ran two columns this morning coming down somewhere between disdainful and skeptical about costs associated with healthcare reform. Chait already did a good job dealing with Fred Hiatt’s column, but I’d prefer to engage the much worse column from (surprise!) Robert Samuelson. This seems to be the key graf from the column:

On the left, President Obama and Democrats have spent the past year arguing that, despite the government’s massive deficits and overspending, they can responsibly propose even more spending. Future deficits are to be ignored (present deficits, to be sure, partially reflect the economic slump). The proposal is “responsible” because it’s “paid for” through new taxes and spending cuts. Even if these financing sources were completely believable (they aren’t), the logic is that the government can undertake new spending before dealing with the consequences of old spending. Of course, most households and businesses can’t do this.

Politicians can, because it’s all make-believe. They pretend to deal with budget deficits when they aren’t.

First of all, it seems to me that if Samuelson is going to claim that the financing mechanisms for reform aren’t “believeable,” he really ought to go to greater lengths to say why that’s the case. The CBO has scored both bills as deficit reducing, and if Samuelson has some sort of reason to believe those reports aren’t accurate, then it seems to me that his station at a major newspaper obligates him to let us know about it. If nothing else, you’d think the vaunted editors that make newspaper so wicked awesome we keep hearing about might ask their main economics columnist to explain this to their readers. It’s not like it’s trivial, after all. Secondly, there’s the rather obvious point that that last sentence rather blatantly ignores the fact that the CBO says the healthcare reform bill would lower the long-term budget deficit. Passing legislation that reduces the long-term deficit definitely strikes me as “dealing with budget deficits,” and I’d be interested to hear why Samuelson thinks it isn’t. Of course, Samuelson is a big proponent of cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits, as is the Washington Post editorial board, so I suspect it’s mostly a matter of cutting the deficit in general not being as important to Samuelson as cutting social safety net benefits in particular, but that really doesn’t give him a license to lie about the effect reform would have on the deficit. Being a Washington Post columnist, on the other hand…

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