Jeff Sessions, Wonk McCarthyite

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Photo: Win McNamee/2009 Getty Images

Senator Jeff Sessions announced yesterday that he had uncovered a staggering new fact. Obamacare, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office, would add $6.2 trillion to the deficit over the next 75 years. The report would be out the next day. We’d all see. Conservatives were right all along! Obamacare is turning America into Greece!

Well, the report is out, and conservatives are afire with rage. National Review, the Daily Caller, the Heritage Foundation, and many others are all reporting the new bombshell. But the report turns out to be following directions to assume that all of the efforts in the law to control health-care cost inflation fail or are repealed, and the portions that provide coverage are kept in place.

So, yeah. If Congress keeps the parts of the law that cost the government money, and repeals the parts that save money, the law will increase deficits. Alternatively, if the government repeals the parts that cost money and keeps the parts that save money, it will reduce the deficit by more than we’re projecting. Who knows? If I were a senator, I’d ask GAO to model what would happen if Jeff Sessions acquires a loose nuclear weapon and sets it off in Manhattan, and then tout my incredible new report finding that Jeff Sessions is going to kill 4 million people.

One of the persistent dynamics of the health-care debate is that advocates of Obamacare have generally been very cautious about their predictions, and opponents very bold. That’s because advocates have tended to come out of academic or journalistic cultures that value a certain level of sobriety. But the evidence to date has strongly favored the advocates. Health-care cost inflation has fallen much, much lower than even the most optimistic Obamacare advocates hoped.

Nobody is declaring victory because we don’t know what the future will bring. A very casual observer would think the law is failing, because the advocates are always hedging about uncertainty while the opponents are 100 percent certain the law will fail. It’s probably true that some parts of the law won’t work as well as hoped. On the other hand, the law included all sorts of innovative efforts to reorient the health-care marketplace toward quality and not quantity. Because those programs were novel, the CBO didn’t have a proven way of measuring their impact and thus “score” them as saving money. They might work, though. The early evidence gives a lot of reason to think they’re working already. But conservatives have managed to create a constant drumbeat of doomsaying predictions, ignoring the fact that it’s entirely plausible Obamacare will reduce deficits even more than predicted.