Tax Analysts Blog

An Unlikely Hero

Posted on Jul 17, 2009

He's skinny, wears professor glasses, and looks like the guy in high school all the bullies hated because they knew someday he'd be their boss. But don't mess with Douglas Elmendorf. He's one tough son of a bitch.

Bloomberg and the New York Times report that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are mad at the budget chief they appointed in January. It seems he had the audacity to tell the truth in public. Before we all get holier-than-thou, imagine yourself just six months on the job and the two superpowerful bosses who hired you are in the middle of negotiating the biggest deal of their lives and you broadcast to the world what the bosses are selling is snake oil. That's what Elmendorf did. Pelosi and Reid -- along with President Obama -- have been promoting their healthcare program to the American public not as an expanded social welfare program but as cost-saving reform that will spare government and individuals from the growing burden of skyrocketing health costs. But it seems legislators kind of forgot about the cost-cutting part. When questioned by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad yesterday about the health proposals being floated, Elmendorf said:

We do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount.On the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care costs.

And that is the lead story in today's Washington Post ("Lawmakers Warned About Health Costs") and The Wall Street Journal ("Budget Blow for Health Care").

With political pressure at bone-crushing levels,and with the bond market still willing to suck up as much debt as the Feds can print, the only thing standing between congressional spendthrifts and financial catastrophe are number crunchers like Elmendorf. So Dr. Elmendorf please keep those computers humming over at CBO. The tables they generate cut like switchblades. You are the Bruce Lee of budgeting, the Incredible Hulk of healthcare, the Clint Eastwood of economics. You are a real Captain America.

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