Waging a War of Numbers Over Repealing Health Care Reform

John Boehner, Speaker of the House
John Boehner, Speaker of the House

As promised, House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner of Ohio (pictured), wasted no time bringing up a bill to repeal the new health care insurance law. Congress is expected to vote on the GOP's "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act" bill early Wednesday evening after listening to yet another full day of rhetoric. Playing a key role will be dueling statistics.

GOP leaders will continue to plead for the benefits of repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, bringing arguments and numbers to support their viewpoint, while House Democrats will continue their counterpush, throwing very different numbers at the American public.

For example, a common statistics tossed around is that most Americans want the health care reform repealed, but several polls lately tell a different story. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll seems to suggest that 50% of Americans oppose Obamacare and 45% support it. But 25% of those who oppose the current health care act actually want even greater reform instead. Ideologically, says Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, those opinions should be counted among the group favoring the reform. The poll also found that only 18% of Americans want a complete repeal.

Similarly, a recent Associated Press-GfK survey found that while fewer than one in five said the reform should be left as it is, only 10% want to change it to do less.

Spending and Jobs

When it comes to costs, things get even more tricky. For example, Democrats tout the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would cost net $788 billion to implement -- and would result in net savings of $143 billion over the next 10 years as a result of changes in spending and revenues. Republicans rebut those claims, saying the law will cost $2.6 trillion when fully implemented and add $701 billion to the deficit in its first 10 years.

The CBO also calculated that repealing the act will add $230 billion to the deficit.

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The impact on jobs is similarly disputed. The White House claims that repealing the new law would cost at least 250,000 jobs a year on average, or some 2.5 million over the next 10 years. But Republicans say the new law will destroy between 120,000 and 650,000 jobs. Both these viewpoints are highly contested by economists, as The New York Times and DailyFinance's Charles Wallace point out.

The disagreements extend to other numbers, too. The law will extend coverage to 32 million Americans when fully implemented, the White House claims, and already over 1 million young adults under 26 are gaining coverage this year. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the bill helps businesses and the overall economy by eliminating hidden costs, such as the costs of care for the uninsured that are now paid in the form of higher premiums for those with coverage. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius say without the act, up to 129 million nonelderly Americans with some type of preexisting health condition would be at risk of losing health insurance.

Regardless, while it all makes for interesting sound bites and news coverage, the House vote is rather symbolic because the repeal bill isn't expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. Republicans promise to continue fighting and are preparing to cut funding to some parts of the new law. Obama says he's "willing and eager" to work to improve the act, "But we can't go backward."

A good -- but hardly likely -- step forward would be some numbers that everyone can agree on.