- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2010

On Thursday, Capitol Hill Democrats smiled. A lot. They walked with a spring in their step, some whistling a jaunty tune. Only Sen. John Kerry wore a long face, and yet even he was happy.

Meanwhile, Republicans loped along shadowy hidden hallways, their shoulders slumped. They huddled in conspiratorial conclaves, whispering, plotting. Some frowned; the rest scowled. They were angry little campers indeed.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, a number is worth a lot, too. I love numbers,” gushed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who grinned ear to ear throughout a gloating afternoon press conference - even, oddly, as retired D.C. school teacher Stella Johnson told how she often must choose between buying food or buying medicine.

The number that swept the speaker off her feet was the latest “score” from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Health insurance reform legislation, the CBO said Thursday, will save $138 billion in the first 10 years and $1.2 trillion in the second 10 years.

Rep. James E. Clyburn, who stood behind Madam Speaker in a packed room near the House chamber, pronounced himself “giddy” over the numbers.

Republicans, meanwhile, were in disbelief, even denial. At first, some called the numbers nothing more than chimeras.

“The Congressional Budget Office has confirmed that there is currently no official cost estimate. Yet House Democrats are touting to the press - and spinning for partisan gain - numbers that have not been released,” said the House Budget Committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

By noon, though, the mythical creatures that couldn’t possibly exist became as real as the Fibonacci numbers.

Republicans moved into stage two - anger.

“Democrats are crowing about a CBO score that really hides the big picture,” said Rep. Tom Price, who is a doctor. “The CBO numbers rest on a plan that taxes Americans for 10 years to cover a six-year spending binge of nearly $1 trillion. Such a maneuver masks the true cost of the first decade of full implementation. Meanwhile, Democrat leaders say this news makes them ‘giddy. Thats asinine.”

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, holding court in a basement Senate press room with only a dozen reporters or so on hand, said the the CBO’s numbers were based on “gimmicks.”

House Republicans, who met in closed-door meetings Thursday with their Senate counterparts, also dismissed the rosy numbers. House Republican Leader John A. Boehner summed up the consensus of the party: “They can tweak this thing, and still it’s a trillion dollars they’re going to spend.”

Well, $940 billion to be exact, according to the CBO. Or, maybe.

“Although CBO completed a preliminary review of legislative language prior to its release, the agency has not thoroughly examined the reconciliation proposal to verify its consistency with the previous draft,” CBO Director Doug Elmendorf said in a letter to Mrs. Pelosi.

The preliminary estimate is just the first 10 years. After that, the costs become nearly incalculable, so much so that the CBO offered a slew of caveats for the out years.

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