Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Conservative Viewpoint
- Those Pesky Numbers

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

Throughout last year’s campaign, President Barack Obama lobbied for health care reform. He hopes for the eventual passage of a bill that will enable millions of uninsured Americans to obtain affordable coverage.

On June 22, in a prime time news conference, Obama said 46 million Americans were without health insurance. Later, on September 9, while addressing a joint session of Congress and without explanation, he shifted the numbers downward to 30 million. Obama’s case for health care reform might be no less compelling, but what happened to the 16 million folks who inexplicably vanished? Either health insurance salesmen were very busy writing policies for seven weeks, or the president decided his credibility on the numbers warranted fine tuning.

The number of illegal aliens residing in our country is estimated to be somewhere between 12 and 20 million. Perhaps Obama split the difference and then deducted 16 million from the 46 million uninsured he and the Democrats have been trumpeting to us for more than a year. Democrats have said they have never factored illegal aliens into the mix. Obama’s sudden numbers’ revision might suggest otherwise.

Last week the U. S. Labor Department reported that through September the unemployment rate continues to climb. It is currently at 9.8 percent, a 26 year high. But that figure doesn’t tell the whole story. Unemployed adult men are at 10.3 percent, while teenage jobless numbers reflect 26 percent. Whites account for 9 percent of the unemployed, blacks 15.4 percent, and Hispanics, 12.7. In the last 21 months, unemployment has risen from 7.6 million to 15.1 million.

Unfortunately, politicians are frequently reluctant to give us all the numbers. They prefer to use only those that might help them make their case. In doing so they can create a false sense of urgency to move the public to support or oppose a specific initiative. We’re seeing some of that in the current healthcare debate and in discussions about unemployment. The discussions leading up to passage of last February’s stimulus is another example.

The late American writer Darrell Huff in 1954 authored, “How to Lie with Statistics.” It became the best selling statistics book in the second half of the 20th century. It outlines common errors, intentional and unintentional, associated with the interpretation of numbers and how they can lead to inaccurate conclusions.

Last week Obama seemingly caught a break in the health care debate when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the $829 billion Senate panel’s health care overhaul proposal would shrink the number of uninsured, while not adding one dime to the federal budget deficit. In fact, the CBO predicted the deficit would be reduced by $81 billion over the first decade. Good news so far, but how will Congress pay for it?

Part of it will be paid for by reducing spending on Medicare (a program projected to be broke in seven years) and other federal insurance programs to the tune of $400 to $500 billion. This will certainly raise the eyebrows of seniors and baby boomers, many of whom are already skeptics over what Obamacare will mean for them.

Additionally, a 40 percent excise tax will be levied on certain high-cost individual insurance policies. This is expected to generate another $20 billion. The rest of the money will come from annual fees on insurers, pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers of medical devices. Those costs will most certainly be passed on to health care consumers.

The president tells us health care reform must be passed before the end of this year. It’s an “emergency!” Why then won’t it take full effect until after the next presidential election? While the benefits would not kick in for two and one-half years, the tax hikes and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid would begin immediately.

Remember the urgency of the president’s $787 billion stimulus approved in February? Vice President Joe Biden says it’s working “so well” that Democrats are considering some sort of second stimulus. A Rasmussen poll last week found 62 percent of Americans opposed to any further stimulus spending.

The CBO predicted last February that the recession would end on its own without any stimulus by the end of this year. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently told a conference at the Brookings Institute that, “…the recession is very likely over at this point….but it’s still going to feel like a very weak economy for some time.” I’ll say!

Has the stimulus helped so far? A recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found 57 percent saying the stimulus is costing too much while doing too little. If you’re among the unemployed you will undoubtedly agree.

Why haven’t more jobs been created? Obama acknowledges 70 percent of job creation is generated through small business. Yet less than one percent of the stimulus money was spent on this business sector. In addition, Democrats are tinkering with adding a carbon tax that will increase energy costs for all business segments while further exacerbating the energy sector. To create jobs small business needs more tax breaks, not further government restrictions, taxes and mandates.

The one thing all of us need to remember is that there are always going to be numbers behind the numbers. When government is proposing something that sounds too good to be true, history tells us it usually is. With our national debt continuing to soar into the stratosphere, this is no time for any American to be asleep at the switch.


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