President Barack Obama

It seems the President’s spending habits have finally caught up with him, threatening to kill a government overhaul of health care. Though President Obama and congressional Democrats continue to insist that health care reform is on the horizon, the increasing national concern over the rising public debt presents an undeniable obstacle.

James Capretta, a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, outlines why this is the case in a recent article for Kaiser Health News. First of all, President Obama is responsible for raising the debt to unprecedented levels. Capretta explains, “From 1789 through 2008, the U.S. government borrowed a total of $5.8 trillion. In 2009, the federal budget deficit exceeded $1.4 trillion. The administration now expects the 2010 deficit to break that record, topping $1.6 trillion. And in 2011, it would only fall to about $1.3 trillion. Thus, in just three years, the debt will have jumped an astonishing $4.2 trillion.”

This outlook will making passing a budget-buster like the Senate health care bill difficult. By 2020, the President’s budget would raise the federal debt to $18.6 trillion. This includes the adoption of a health care bill, which falsely relies on $150 billion in budget deficit reductions between now and 2019. The only problem is that the bill would not reduce the deficit at all—rather, it would add to it substantially. A recent letter from the Congressional Budget Office to Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) explains this.

And then there is the question of how President Obama will tackle the nation’s impending fiscal crisis. The President’s plan is to pass health care reform and address deficit spending later through a weak and likely inconsequential bipartisan deficit reduction commission. This commission would present its proposals to Congress for a vote after the 2010 election, meaning voters’ decisions at the polls would not affect the fate of this vital legislation. This is unlikely to satisfy Americans’ concerns over the sustainability of federal spending.

Congress’ last possible plan is to pass the Senate bill in the House, accompanied by a second bill of amendments to appease House members. The Senate would use reconciliation to forego a filibuster which could kill the bill thanks to newly-seated Senator Scott Brown (R-MA). But, as Capretta puts it, “Reconciliation measures are supposed to address budgetary matters. How could amendments to something that is not yet in law change outlays or revenues in any rational way?”

Capretta points out that, in general, the release of a new budget marks the start of a fresh legislative session. It will be difficult for Congress and the President to backtrack to include health care reform in its plans for 2010, as the Congressional Budget Office will have reset its baseline and the congressional budget committees with have already begun to write new budget resolutions.

Because of all this, not to mention the myriad of unintended consequences the Senate bill would unleash on health care, the economy, and every American family, President Obama should wipe the slate clean and start afresh in reforming health care. This time, the President should work with both sides of the aisle and embrace step-by-step reforms that all can agree will have a positive affect on lowering costs and covering the uninsured.