The co-chairman of President Obama’s deficit commission had some critical words for the Democratic health care law in a recent interview with Charlie Rose.
Former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R., Wyo.) told the Bloomberg television host last week that nothing poses a greater threat to the United States than the national debt, the greatest driver of which is federal spending on health care.
The president’s signature health care law, they said, does not do enough to rein in health care costs.
"It doesn’t matter what you call it—you can call it ‘Obamacare,’ or ‘Elvis Presley-care’ or ‘I don’t care-care’—it can’t possible work," Simpson said.
Rose noted that the law’s critics argue it improves access to care without addressing the problem of rising costs, particularly with respect to the Medicare and Medicaid entitlement programs.
"I think that’s a fair argument," said Bowles. "Democrats believe that the [health care law] … will slow the rate of growth to GDP plus one [percent]. We did not believe that."
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently reported that full implementation of the law would cost about $860 billion more than advertised.
Bowles went on to speak somewhat approvingly of Ryan’s proposed reforms—transitioning Medicare, for instance, from a "defined benefit" plan, under which future benefits are guaranteed, to a "defined contribution." Some critics have accused Ryan of promoting a voucher plan, but Bowles said doing so was "really unfair."
"It’s no different than what most big companies have done," he said.
Simpson stressed the importance of making health care spending a central part of the political conversation in 2012.
"It has to be, or else, because it is the one driver [of the debt]," he said. "I always say to people: ‘What do you love?’ ‘Well I love culture, education, homeland security to keep us safe, defense, I love all these things.’ I said great, all those things will be automatically squeezed out by this program where we can't touch it."
Republican staff on the Senate Budget Committee released an analysis Monday illustrating the effect Simpson was referring to. They calculated, based on CBO estimates, that federal spending on health care over the coming decade—about $2.6 trillion—will exceed the combined budgets for disaster relief, highways, veterans’ health care and education.
"If health care isn't the topic of the debate—this year or next year or forever—just, then, you know, haul up your shorts and head for the hills," Simpson said.