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EDITORIAL: Obamacare’s message of change

Health care law’s deficit-fighting powers prove imaginary

Once upon a time, the president of the United States promised his new government-run health care entitlement would bring wonderful new benefits to the people without costing a penny. In fact, it would save money, claimed President Obama and congressional Democrats. "This represents the biggest deficit-reduction plan since the 1990s," Mr. Obama said of his government health care power grab a month after he signed it into law.

Yet Obamacare's deficit numbers have kept the green eyeshades at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) up at night. "The rising costs of health care will put tremendous pressure on the federal budget during the next few decades and beyond," said CBO Director Douglas W. Elmendorf in May. "In CBO's judgment, the health legislation enacted earlier this year does not substantially diminish that pressure." The agency's latest projections suggest that the net increase in the deficit attributable to the federal health care law will exceed a quarter-trillion dollars over the next decade.

Despite the best efforts of the administration's spin doctors, which included a television advertising blitz headlined by washed-up old actor Andy Griffith, the public realizes the White House's promises are empty. In a Rasmussen Reports poll released Monday, 56 percent of likely voters expressed a wish to see Obamacare go away. Just 36 percent said they actually believed the plan would be good for the country. Numbers like this have turned up the heat on Democrats, who face increasingly disenchanted voters in the fall elections.

That's why a trio of left-leaning pollsters last week urged Democrats to change their tune on health care. Research firms headed by John Anzalone, Celinda Lake and Stan Greenberg helped create a strategy presentation discussed in a conference call Thursday, led by the pro-Obamacare group Families USA. The document, obtained from a participant by Politico, offered a helpful checklist of things Democrats should avoid, including not to "say the law will reduce costs and deficit."

The reason for the course reversal is more than simply that the original deficit-reduction claim was obvious hokum. Instead, the left's big thinkers counseled that the environment is challenging and the "Public is disappointed, anxious and depressed by current direction of country - not trusting. ... Many don't believe health reform will help the economy."

The best that can be done given the widespread discontent is a jettisoning of the grandiose claims used to enact the legislation in favor of new promises of future benefits that happen to be "small and credible." The law that once had to pass as an urgent necessity without being read or understood now is admittedly "not perfect," and Democrats will "improve it." It's no longer a "big [expletive] deal," as Vice President Joe Biden crudely put it. It's just something else Democrats hope to hide from until the elections are over. This leaves voters with one thing they can believe in: The administration's message on health care will keep changing.

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