President Barack Obama regularly tells Americans his health-care reforms will play a major role in reducing federal deficits and strengthening the U.S. economy. He may have to stop that — or get a new Congressional Budget Office director. CBO’s current head, Douglas Elmendorf, told the Senate Budget Committee this week reform measures being drafted by Democrats would worsen the federal budget outlook and increase deficits. Asked if current legislation would “bend the long-term cost curve,” which is Washington-speak for gradually erasing red ink, Elemendorf said, simply, “No.”
It’s a devastating assessment, given the CBO’s non-partisan status (although the party in control of Congress selects the director). The analysis likely will weaken support for the 1,018-page bill unveiled by House Democrat leaders last week while emboldening moderate Democrats and Republicans to demand new approaches to reform — or, at a minimum, a deceleration in the process. Obama wants Congress to finish up health care before the August recess in a few weeks. But Elmendorf’s negative assessment almost certainly helps those who want to slow the process down.