James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Obama moves to adopt McCain healthcare idea

June 5, 2009

Howard Gleckman over at TaxVox blogs that Obama seems to be moving toward capping the $246 billion employer-sponsored insurance tax exlcusion, an idea he ripped McCain for during the presidential campaign:

All of this will result in a few weeks of serious inside-the-Beltway reading of entrails. But my own sense is that Obama will inevitably accept a curb on the exclusion. He’ll do so reluctantly, at least in public, to placate unions and others who insist the exclusion is untouchable. But, as we’ve seen, Obama, unlike the most recent President Bush, is not a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. His governing style appears to tilt much more in the direction of my way…or your way.

Even before Obama’s trip the Hill, OMB Director Peter Orszag drew his own line in the sand. In his blog (does Peter never sleep?), Orszag wrote, “We are insisting that health reform be deficit neutral even over the next five to 10 years, through scoreable offsets such as savings within Medicare and Medicaid and (as necessary) additional revenue.”

This means one of two things: Either health reform will be slowly phased-in over the next decade or more—a step that will allow lawmakers to finesse the offsetting tax hikes as well. Or Obama will have to swallow an exclusion cap. Once Congress is through, the kind of Medicare and Medicaid savings Orszag is thinking about will not add up to a lot of money—at least not in the context of a $1.5 trillion reform plan. And there just is no other politically-acceptable place to go to raise the kind of tax revenue the President will need.

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