Reason Editor suggests his own magazine is lying

Healthcare reform opponents on the right have been a beacon of intellectual dishonesty.

Published December 24, 2009 11:25AM (EST)

"The Congressional Budget Office now reports that this bill will reduce our deficit by $132 billion over the first decade, and by as much as $1.3 trillion in the decade after that" -- Barack Obama, Tuesday.

"Obama's Latest Health Care Lie:  There are actually multiple lies and deceptions in [Obama's] paragraph, beginning with the verb 'reports' to describe what the Congressional Budget Office does. The CBO, as Peter Suderman documented in his foundational Reason feature on the organization, does not 'report,' it 'projects,' in highly speculative fashion, what a proposed piece of legislation may cost" -- Matt Welch, Editor-in-Chief, Reason, yesterday, writing next to a photo of Obama with a Pinocchio nose.


So according to Welch, Obama "lied" because he used the word "report" to describe what the CBO does and because he suggested the CBO's projections are reliable.  What, then, does that say about numerous Reason editors and writers, who wrote the following back when Reason loved the CBO because it was reporting that Obama's health care proposal and other policies would increase the deficit?  Using Welch's "reasoning," it must mean that Reason's staff is filled with outright liars:

Reason Editor Peter Suderman, July 10, 2009:  "I won't dispute that Medicare is popular, or that politicians -- even Republicans -- don't usually criticize it, but it hasn't exactly been an unqualified success. On the contrary, as the CBO reports, the program's fiscal future looks dire."

Suderman, Reason, July 27, 2009:  "In response to the Congressional Budget Office's report that current health-care reform proposals were unlikely to solve the country's long-term budgetary problems, the Obama White House put forth a plan to reduce spending it hoped would prove to be a 'game changer'."

Ronald Bailey, Reason, April 7, 2009:  "A 2007 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study reported the results of a hypothetical 23 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions (the Waxman-Markey bill proposes a 20 percent cut by 2020). The CBO found that 'giving away allowances could yield windfall profits for the producers that received them by effectively transferring income from consumers to firms' owners and shareholders'."

Veronique de Rugy, Reason, February 10, 2009:  "How bad is the stimulus bill just passed by the Senate? . . . . Don't take my word for it. In a report to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) laid out in plain English—well, economic language—that the Senate bill would eventually cause not a stimulus but a recession in 'the longer run'."

Ronald Bailey, Reason, September 29, 2009:  "About half of all growth in health care spending in the past several decades was associated with changes in medical care made possible by advances in technology," declared a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report last year."

Ronald Bailey, Reason, December 23, 2008:  "But will comparative effectiveness research really reduce health care spending, as Daschle claims? Not by much and not soon, according to a 2007 report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), if the research is limited to comparative clinical effectiveness. . . . The CBO report makes it clear that comparative clinical research won't significantly cut health care costs." 

When it suits them -- meaning when the CBO issues negative findings about Obama's domestic policies -- Reason holds up the CBO as an authoritative oracle not to be questioned.  Three weeks ago, Reason's Nick Gillespie warned of "massive premium hikes" based on "the CBO's latest assay of the Senate's health-care reform plan."  In March, Reason's Jacob Sullum cited CBO decrees to warn that "federal deficits will total $9.3 trillion during the next decade if Congress implements President Obama's fiscal proposals."  Just last month, Suderman himself cited the CBO's conclusions to argue that health care reform was not deficit neutral.  In September of this year,  Suderman claimed that the CBO had contradicted Obama's statement that "nobody is talking about reducing Medicare benefits" and wrote:  "this sort of direct contradiction from an agency as respected as the CBO isn't going to do much to calm seniors' fears."  The same month, even Welch himself cited CBO reports -- using the verb "analyzed" -- to argue that Obama "lied" in his claims about health care.

For the first half of the year, Obama's right-wing opponents heaped praise on the CBO's authoritative stature because, back then, the CBO was reporting that the Democrats' health care proposals would increase the deficit.  These same individuals then completely and shamelessly shifted gears once the CBO began reporting that the revised iterations of the proposal would actually decrease the deficit.  And the "principled non-partisan libertarians" at Welch's Reason led the way in this rank intellectual dishonesty. 

Just look at how glaring this dishonesty has been.  In order to accuse Obama of being a "liar" for relying on what the "CBO reported," Welch cites Suderman's article from this month maligning the CBO as unreliable and speculative. In Reason's current issue, Suderman wrote:

[T]he agency’s authority is belied by the highly speculative nature of its work, which requires an endless succession of unverifiable assumptions. These assumptions are frequently treated as definitive, as if on faith. In practice, this means the CBO is not merely an impartial legislative scorekeeper but a keeper of the nation’s budgetary myths, a clan of spreadsheet-wielding priests whose declarations become Washington’s holy writ.

Suderman went on to rail against "the CBO’s woeful record in both budget forecasting and estimating 'revenue and expenditure feedbacks'."

But back when the CBO was reporting that the Democrats' health care proposals would increase the deficit -- reports which became the central weapon of health care reform opponents on the Right -- look at what the very same Suderman, writing in the very same Reason, said on June 29, 2009, about the CBO:

But thanks to some inconvenient analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and increased public worries about government spending in general, reform efforts are now in disarray . . . That would be the Congressional Budget Office, a straight-laced bureau whose job is to ground congressional fantasy in budgetary reality. And when it comes to health care, fantasy was more or less what the reformers were hoping for.  Unfortunately for them, says George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen, "CBO scoring is biased toward the certain and the real and the measurable." That attitude led the office to decline to score some of the untested cost-saving measures included in the bill.

As soon as the CBO began issuing reports that undermined rather than bolstered Reason's desire to sink all health care reform, the CBO was instantaneously transformed from (a) "a straight-laced bureau whose job is to ground congressional fantasy in budgetary reality" and which "is biased toward the certain and the real and the measurable" into (b) an agency whose "authority is belied by the highly speculative nature of its work," which is "keeper of the nation’s budgetary myths" and plagued by a "woeful record."  And its embittered, clichè-ridden, deeply hypocritical Editor-in-Chief is reduced to screaming "LIAR!" at Obama for saying things about the CBO which his own magazine has repeatedly said when it suits them.  I've long thought, and still do think, that Reason has several excellent writers, and produces very good articles on a variety issues, but under Welch's editorial stewardship, it is everything except the sober, non-partisan, libertarian beacon of intellectual honesty it purports to be.

* * * * * *

While reading various articles to write this, I came across this amazingly revealing post from Ezra Klein, written on June 8, 2009, about the public option:

Most observers now think that some form of public plan will survive in the final bill. The question is what form of [public] plan? . . . . For most of you, this is the big one. The inclusion of a strong public insurance option has become, for most observers I know, the single most recognizable marker for victory. If the public plan exists, liberals have won. If it's eliminated, or neutered, then conservatives have triumphed.

Back in June -- when most people, according to Klein, believed the final bill would have a public option -- the progressive consensus was that the existence of the public option would single-handedly determine whether progressives won or lost (Klein himself wasn't necessarily adopting that view, only saying that "most of you" have done so).  Yet now that the bill will have not merely a "neutered" public option, but no public option at all, the exact opposite decree is issued by the progressive establishment:  this public-option-free health care bill is the single greatest achievement since LBJ or, perhaps, even FDR, rendering all progressive opposition to it immoral and insane (see here for a perfect example of this shift).  What accounts for that reversal?


UPDATE:  In July, Welch and Gillespie wrote a Washington Post Op-Ed attacking Obama's domestic agenda, which included this passage:

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, more than 80 percent are concerned that health-care reform will increase costs or diminish the quality of care. Even as two House committees passed a reform bill last week, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warned that the proposal "significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care costs" and dramatically raises the cost "curve." This sort of voter and expert feedback can't be comforting to the president.

So just five months ago, the very same Matt Welch -- who yesterday accused Obama of telling a "lie" all because he cited a CBO "report" as authoritative -- himself praised the "expert feedback" of the "nonpartisan" CBO to warn that Obama's health care plan would increase deficits (h/t L Boogie).  How does a magazine editor justify to himself such a flagrantly dishonest and inconsistent record as this?  

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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