Mythology of cost: Health care v. the war

This is crossposted from Channel Surfing:

Let’s do some simple arithmetic: The heathcare reform legislation approved by the House of Representatives last week — H.R. 3962 — is estimated to cost $891 billion over 10 years, while reducing the federal deficit by $109 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That’s about $90 billion a year.

Compare this with the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the CBO estimates cost the nation $604 billion during their first six years and have been cost in the neighborhood of $100 billion a year over all.

Basically, we could pay for healthcare — and maybe some other needs — were we to end the disastrous military conflicts and focus our attentions on repairing the cracks in our own foundations, cracks that have been widening with every dollar spent on war.

The discussion of our budget deficit rarely gets framed this way; rather, we talk only about our domestic priorities — heatlh care, infrastructure, the regulatory agencies — as contributing to the ballooning deficit and debt. Money spent on war, however, is a different animal altogether.

This is the point David Sirota makes today in his OpenLeft blog post, commenting on a weekend New York Times story on the costs of an expanded Afghan war:

Kudos, of course, to the Times for even reporting on the unfathomably large costs of intensifying militarism and adventurism. But as you’ll see in the story, there’s no attempt to put the costs into any context – specifically, there’s no mention that an escalation in Afghanistan would mean outlays for the one-year Pentagon budget is approaching the total outlays of the entire 10-year health care bill.

Earlier, in his syndicated column, Sirota sums up a contradiction that blames domestic spending — specifically spending that has a liberal or progressive goal, like eradicating poverty, ameliorating poverty’s impacts or making sure everyone has health coverage — for pushing the federal budget into deficit.

When the House considered a health care expansion proposal that the CBO says will reduce the deficit by $11 billion a year, tea-party protesters and Congress’ self-described "fiscal conservatives" opposed it on cost grounds. At the same time, almost none of them objected when Congress passed a White House-backed bill to spend $636 billion on defense in 2010.

The hypocrisy is stunning — lots of "budget hawk" complaints about health legislation reducing the deficit and few "budget hawk" complaints about defense initiatives that, according to Government Executive magazine, "puts the president on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II." And that estimate doesn’t even count additional spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Sirota blames "skewed reporting" and the lying liars like Sen. Joe Lieberman, who cherry-pick numbers and ignore what might be inconvenient to their argument.

I can but agree, though the failures of the news media are due not to any skewed motivation but rather to a flaw in how journalism is now practiced in Washington and the state capitals. Journalists have become stenographers to power — or boomboxes for the powerful, if you’re talking about broadcast/cable — who do nothing more than regurgitate what they are told by disingenuous politicians.

Add to this the ingrained desire to chase conflict and you have a recipe for lies and distortion becoming accepted wisdom — afterall, to paraphrase a quotation attributed to Vladimir Lenin, tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.

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