CLASS Warfare

The AP dives deep on administration worries about the cost of CLASS, the long-held liberal priority program for old-age care that made it into the Affordable Care Act. The worries are not new, though. Harold Pollack noted two months ago that fiscal conservative Democrats had resented the inclusion of CLASS.

Given Kent Conrad and Max Baucus’s dislike of CLASS, I’m not all that surprised by this outcome. The depth of opposition among fiscal conservatives is exemplified by Senator Conrad’s description of the CLASS Act as “a Ponzi scheme of the first order, the kind of thing that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of.” Conrad’s comment rightly infuriated CLASS supporters, but there it is.

One of the many, many missteps made during the health care fight was the insistence – most often expressed by Peter Orzsag – that the bill be sold as a deficit-reducing measure. Comprehensive health care reform would be deficit-reducing. The insistence, by itself, wasn’t a mistake. But the sort of fundamental reforms that could reduce the cost of the program weren’t politically possibly, because… well, I’m going to spare 500 words of explanation and just point out that Washington is dysfunctional. So the health care debate became a battle over piecemeal reform. Voters were never, ever convinced that the bill would save money in the long run. Conservative Democrats tried to correct for that by scaling down expensive-sounding, but actually deficit-reducing, ideas like the Medicare buy-in. For their troubles, they handily lost the 2010 election. And now we’re in situation where the costs of programs overwhelm the merits of programs that liberals would otherwise defend.