WaPo Columnist Smears GOP as 'Political Terrorists' on Health Care, But His Own Data Is Dubious

In Friday’s Washington Post business section, columnist Steven Pearlstein — who last week condemned the conservative “fantasy” that raising taxes is damaging to the economy — blasted Republicans as “political terrorists” who are “poisoning the political well” by peddling “lies” about liberal health care plans, lies that are “so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage.”

"As a columnist who regularly dishes out sharp criticism, I try not to question the motives of people with whom I don't agree," Pearlstein claimed before warning: "Today, I'm going to step over that line."

But the “facts” Pearlstein uses to slam the anti-ObamaCare “terrorists” line up better with Democratic talking points than the analysis of non-partisan sources such as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). For instance, Pearlstein claims it is a lie that the Democratic bills would push people out of private insurance, that it is a lie that the price tag is $1 trillion, and trumpets “offsetting savings” as bringing the cost down to “less than 1 percent of a national income that grows at an average rate of 2.5 percent every year.”

Going in reverse order, Pearlstein's “cost savings” argument is highly dubious. As ABC’s “The Note” blog reported July 16, the head of the CBO, Doug Elmendorf, “does not see health care cost savings in either of the partisan Democratic bills currently in Congress.”

And looking at the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the annual cost, which Pearlstein claims would average “about $140 billion [a year], when things are up and running,” the CBO analysis reveals that average is artificially low because the plans wait until 2013 for the big spending to kick in; later years show the cost soaring to $250 billion per year and growing.

As for the idea that “the vast majority of Americans who are not old or poor will continue to buy health insurance from private companies,” the Lewin Group’s mid-July review of Democratic legislation estimated that the changes would push more than 80 million people — about half of us — from private insurance to the public plan:

“If fully implemented in 2011, we estimate that about 103.9 million people would become covered under the newly established public plan. Coverage under private insurance would decline by 83.4 million people. This is a 48.4 percent reduction in the number of people with private insurance (currently 172.5 million people).”
Maybe Pearlstein comes up with different numbers when he analyzes the data, but to smear Republicans as liars and political terrorists speaks to a thuggish mindset of someone who refuses to debate the data, but would rather discredit the critics.

Some excerpts from the hyperbolic August 7 piece, “Republicans Propagating Falsehoods in Attacks on Health-Care Reform”:
As a columnist who regularly dishes out sharp criticism, I try not to question the motives of people with whom I don't agree. Today, I'm going to step over that line.

The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.

There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress -- I've made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation.

Under any plan likely to emerge from Congress, the vast majority of Americans who are not old or poor will continue to buy health insurance from private companies, continue to get their health care from doctors in private practice and continue to be treated at privately owned hospitals....

By now, you've probably also heard that health reform will cost taxpayers at least a trillion dollars. Another lie.

First of all, that's not a trillion every year, as most people assume -- it's a trillion over 10 years, which is the silly way that people in Washington talk about federal budgets. On an annual basis, that translates to about $140 billion, when things are up and running.

Even that, however, grossly overstates the net cost to the government of providing universal coverage. Other parts of the reform plan would result in offsetting savings for Medicare: reductions in unnecessary subsidies to private insurers, in annual increases in payments rates for doctors and in payments to hospitals for providing free care to the uninsured. The net increase in government spending for health care would likely be about $100 billion a year, a one-time increase equal to less than 1 percent of a national income that grows at an average rate of 2.5 percent every year....

Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off. Republican leaders are eager to see us fail that test. We need to show them that no matter how many lies they tell or how many scare tactics they concoct, Americans will come together and get this done.

If health reform is to be anyone's Waterloo, let it be theirs.
On the same topic, check out Dan Gainor from the MRC's Business & Media Institute: Post Pulitzer Prize Winner: GOP "Political Terrorists."
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes is the Senior Editor for Newsbusters