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Mitch Mcconnell Makes The Dems Look Good

Ah, there's nothing like a Mitch McConnell interview to put everything into perspective.

The Senate Minority Leader appeared on "Meet the Press" Sunday to discuss health reform. And he professed great concern for what President Obama and the Democrats had in mind.“If you're going to do something as comprehensive as the president wants to do,” McConnell said, “you ought to pay for it.”

As the item below indicates, I couldn't agree more: It's important that reform pay for itself. Still, I don't recall McConnell being quite so insistent about fiscal responsibility when he voted for the Bush tax cuts. Nor do I recall him agitating for tax increases to pay for the war with Iraq. In fact, I'm pretty sure most Republicans had very little use for arguments about fiscal responsibility when it was their initiatives on the agenda.

Gee, could it be that McConnell and the Republicans just don't care what happens to people when they can't pay for their medical care?

And, just to be clear, it's not as if Democrats are being nearly as irresponsible about paying for their ideas as Republicans were during the early parts of the decade. The Democrats have said reform will not add to the deficit. And the plans emerging from Congress seem to be true to that, at least within the confines of the budgeting rules.

According to projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the House bill pays for its coverage expansions within the ten year planning window, through a combination of savings and a tax increase on the very wealthiest Americans. There's a problem after that tenth year; money going out at that point seems to be larger than the money coming in. On the other hand, CBO has been pretty conservative about estimating the amount of savings various reforms will produce. In other words, the estimate may err both up and down. 

We don't have a full Senate bill yet, since the Finance Committee--which has jursidicton over Medicare, Medicaid, and new revenue--is still trying to piece together its legislation. But the reason they're stuck is that they, too, have said they would produce a measure that's budget neutral. They may ultimately decide to produce a much smaller bill and, as I write below, that'd be a real tragedy. But it seems highly unlikely they'll produce something that inflates the deficit.

Indeed, if there's been a conspicuous failure so far, it's been a failure to embrace steps that would--at least by the CBO's reckoning--make a huge difference in spending over the long-term. But think about what that means. The problem is that Democrats may not be doing enough to fix an existing fiscal problem. That's quite a bit different than creating a new fiscal problem--which, of course, is what the Republicans did throughout the Bush presidency.

Could the Democrats be doing more to put the nation's fiscal house in order? Sure. And there's reason to think they will. But they're already behaving much better than the Republicans did.

--Jonathan Cohn