Congress’ official scorekeeper said Thursday that the House Republicans’ first major bill, which would repeal last year’s health care law, would increase deficits by $230 billion over 10 years - setting off a firestorm of criticism from Democrats who said the GOP is already walking away from its pledges of fiscal restraint.
In a letter to newly minted House Speaker John A. Boehner, the Congressional Budget Office said a preliminary estimate shows that Democrats’ massive health care overhaul’s cost-cutting measures would have reduced federal spending overall, which means “repealing that legislation would increase budget deficits” from 2012 through 2021, and beyond.
The report threw an early kink into Republican attempts to fulfill campaign promises, and provided Democrats with ammunition to use against the GOP less than 24 hours after it took control of the House and added new members in the Senate.
“Now we have a situation where the Republicans say: ‘We want to repeal health care reform, and we want to ignore its deficit impact,’ ” said Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “Not only would repeal of health care reform add to our deficit, it would dump more than 30 million Americans from coverage who will be protected by our new health care reform act.”
But Republicans held their ground, defending their decisions to hold a repeal vote next week and to brush aside the CBO estimate that Democrats’ law reduces the deficit and repealing it would increase the deficit.
“Mark my words: This thing will not reduce the deficit,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. “I am very confident in saying that. They have a piece of paper from CBO that they contorted to suggest that it does. But that’s not reality.”
Republicans will begin floor debate on the repeal bill Friday, with a vote scheduled next week.
When Democrats enacted their health care plan, they included hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes and in spending cuts to existing government health care, which CBO said would more than offset the increased spending and lead to a reduced deficit.
So under that accounting, repealing the law would actually increase the deficit.
But Republicans said Democrats structured their law to front-load taxes and backload the spending, and are counting on future spending cuts that even CBO said may not materialize.
“I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit,” Mr. Boehner told reporters. “CBO is entitled to their opinion, but they’re locked within constraints of the 1974 Budget Act. Listen, even the actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have made clear that this bill will not save the kind of money that was predicted earlier.”
Mr. Ryan said he thinks the Democrats’ health care law will lead to $700 billion in deficits.
Still, during last year’s health care debate top Republicans praised CBO as the gold standard for evaluating legislation, and on Thursday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, told Republicans they cannot pick and choose when to accept the nonpartisan agency’s numbers.
“Sometimes we like what they say; sometimes we don’t. But when you don’t like the call on the field, it is not part of the rules of the game that you throw the referee off the field and substitute your judgment,” Mr. Van Hollen said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made it clear on Thursday that if the bill passes the House, it will die in the Senate.
“Republicans have to understand that the health care bill is not going to be repealed,” the Nevada Democrat said.
The health care repeal effort also put Republicans in violation of their campaign promise to allow more chances for lawmakers to have a say on big legislation, both in committee and through amendments on the House floor. The repeal bill is not going through the regular committee process and no amendments will be allowed.
“Listen, I promised a more open process. I didn’t promise that every single bill was going to be an open bill,” Mr. Boehner told reporters.