When I first moved to Florida in 2007, I took to writing my representative in Congress when I had a concern, just as I did in Ohio. I may not have agreed with Congressman Steve Chabot (R) any more than 20 percent of the time, but he always responded with an educated answer that actually addressed my question.
After moving to Pasco County, I had the pleasure of writing Ginny Brown-White, who was always nice but didn't seem to be the brightest star in the firmament. Every letter I got from her was cut and pasted from the GOP talking points book.
Talking points are fine if you are establishing a party platform, but I would prefer a congressman who appears to be thinking before giving an answer. The words "talking points" are not supposed to be synonymous with half-truths and lies, but too often, they are.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is complex. It is so complicated that the government has set up a task force to educate the public about it.
You can only hope that your congressman understands it more than the average person who trolls the Internet and watches Fox News.
The PPACA has brought out the best in scholarly discussion and the worst in talking points, threatening to use up all the "Pants on Fire" ratings at Politifact.
So I wasn't surprised when a friend contacted his congressman, Eric Paulson (R), about his lack of support for the PPACA. This was his canned response:
"I believe the law was imprudently crafted in a way which threatens good private coverage, cuts $500 Billion from Medicare and increases the deficit. The CBO now projects the new law will cost $1.76 Trillion over a decade rather than the $940 Billion originally estimated... I do not believe we will see lower healthcare costs and in fact healthcare costs on families, individuals and small business continue to rise."
It's a nicely crafted message. It has a lot of numbers and makes the congressperson sound. Except that he's wrong.
First, he doesn't even acknowledge the downside of not reforming health care. According to the CBO, "repealing the ACA would affect direct spending and revenues in ways resulting in a net increase in budget deficits of $109 billion over the 2013-2022 period."
However, even the CBO's numbers are less than honest:
1) The $940 billion was a NET budget impact. That means the CBO calculated the additional cost to the government of the ACA, but also calculated the revenue the government will get from the taxes paid by businesses and individuals that didn't have insurance and from Cadillac plans, tanning salons, etc.
"The ACA's provisions related to insurance coverage are now projected to have a net cost of $1,252 billion over the 2012-2022 period; that amount represents a gross cost to the federal government of $1,762 billion, offset in part by $510 billion in receipts and other budgetary effects (primarily revenues from penalties and other sources)."
So when the congressman said $1.76 trillion, he ignored the "offset in part by $510 billion in receipts and other budgetary effects." Therefore, he was comparing apples (a number that's just costs, no revenue) to oranges (a net budget impact that includes spending and revenue).
2) The CBO's $940 billion estimate in 2010 was based on 10 years starting from that date (2010-2019), the 10-year projection starting from 2013 would go to 2022.
The congressman even used outdated CBO numbers, citing a 2010 baseline that varies as much as $30 billion above the current yearly cost predictions.
Finally, one of the most pervasive untruths in the congressman's letter is that the PPACA "cuts $500 billion from Medicare."
This assertion has been refuted repeatedly by former President Bill Clinton and many others. There is no absolute reduction in the budget for Medicare. The ACA's changes are projected to make Medicare cost $500 billion less than it would have without the PPACA, so that Medicare will be safely funded in the future.
The issue is complex enough without confusing us with politically motivated spin in the guise of talking points. Otherwise, we have to guess whether the words coming from our elected legislators are facts or mythical beasts.
This column was originally posted in the new political commentary and news e-magazine, Context Florida.