By Julian Pecquet - 12/29/10 07:07 PM EST
A leading liberal lawmaker said Tuesday Democrats could be open to compromising with Republicans on a "fix" of healthcare reform — but only if congressional budget scorekeepers back off their opinion that the bill cuts the deficit.
Rep. Robert Andrews's comments on Fox News come as Democrats have been accusing Republicans of being hypocritical for pushing repeal even though it would violate their campaign pledge to tackle the deficit.
The outgoing Education and Labor health subcommittee chairman, however, made it clear he thinks that's highly unlikely. CBO, Andrews said, has already given an "authoritative opinion" that the bill reduces the deficit — "and they have not backed off that opinion at all."
Later in the interview, Andrews seemed to back away from any suggestion that Democrats could support outright repeal even if CBO issued an unfavorable score. Instead, he suggested Democrats could support a "fix."
Andrews didn't elaborate, but CBO recently estimated that adding the public option favored by liberals could shave $68 billion off the deficit.
"The Congressional Budget Office has said that the healthcare law reduces the deficit," Andrews said. "If they change their opinion, then maybe we should fix that law. But if they don't change their opinion, if they continue to say, as they have since last March, that the healthcare law reduces the deficit, then I would challenge the new majority not to repeal the law because it will increase the deficit."
According to CBO's analysis, Democrats' healthcare reform law would cut the deficit by $124 billion over the next 10 years, because of its cuts to Medicare spending, new taxes and other revenue raisers. Republicans have pointed to subsequent caveats by CBO officials to argue that the law's budget score is highly doubtful.
In a blog post shortly after the law was enacted, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf cautioned that "estimates of the effects of comprehensive reforms are clearly very uncertain, and the actual outcomes will surely differ from our estimates in one direction or another." Federal health insurance subsidies, for example, may end up costing more than expected, or savings to Medicare might not materialize.
In addition, critics point out that the cost-cutting policies written into the law might never materialize. For example, lawmakers might balk at making unpopular cuts to Medicare payments when the time comes.
"As is the case for many pieces of legislation," Elmendorf wrote, "the budgetary impact of the health reform legislation could indeed be quite different if key provisions are ultimately changed."