Why has health-care reform stalled in Congress? Democrats, after all, control both Houses, and President Obama, whose popularity remains high, has made universal health care his No. 1 priority. What’s more, an overwhelming majority of the public wants it. In the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 76% of respondents said it was important that Americans have a choice between a public and private health-insurance plan. In last week’s New York Times/CBSNews poll, 85% said they wanted major health-care reforms.
So why the stall? Mainly because Congress can’t decide how to pay for it. The hardest blow came last week when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the trial-balloon bill emerging from the Senate Health Committee would cost a whopping $1 trillion over 10 years and would cover only a fraction of Americans currently without health care. According to the CBO, another tentative bill, this one coming out of the Senate Finance Committee, would cost even more — $1.6 trillion.
That spells political trouble. Republicans who never batted an eye over George W. Bush’s wild spending habits have become born-again fiscal hawks. Blue Dog Democrats are nervous about mounting deficits. Even the president admits that the flow of red ink in future budgets keeps him up at night.