A rocky road as Obama tries to roll out health care benefits 

White House efforts to tout the rollout of President Obama's health care program this week were brought up short by an independent government analysis showing the plan will cost $115 billion more than advertised.

A subsequent clarification of those numbers by the Congressional Budget Office showed much of the money would come from existing programs and probably would have been spent anyway -- but that's down in the weeds, and not likely to help Democrats turn reform into a campaign asset.

"I think it's clear that the American people were not given the whole truth about the government takeover of health care before it was passed through Congress, and that's one of the reasons why the American people want it repealed," said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio.

The White House is trying to turn a corner on the debate and provide Democrats with tangible benefits -- such as $250 rebate checks to some seniors -- to campaign on in the fall. Republicans, however, plan to use reform as a campaign wedge, guided by polls showing Americans still doubt the benefits of the policy.

The CBO, citing administrative and other costs of implementing the health care overhaul, said earlier this week the total, 10-year cost of health care reform would be more than $1 trillion.

The CBO came back Thursday to say the $115 billion extra includes more than $86 billion in programs that already exist, plus potential new spending and other costs. In other words -- not exactly additional costs.

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag called it "a new round of old questions."

"CBO concludes that much of the discretionary spending authorized in the bill already exists," Orszag wrote on his blog. "Therefore, even if such authorizations were fully funded, they would not add a dime to the federal budget."

Still, that kind of dry back-and-forth from budget officials doesn't move much in politics. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found Republicans well-positioned for a comeback, with Americans in a downbeat mood about the economy and direction of the country.

The poll found 44 percent said health care reform was a bad idea, including 38 percent who said so strongly. Thirty-eight percent called it a good idea, with 28 percent who said so strongly.

Whether public perceptions about health care reform will follow the trajectory forged by the earlier economic stimulus plan is a key worry for Democrats.

A 42 percent plurality in the poll said the $787 billion spending program will not improve the economy, while 38 percent said it's already helping or would help in the future. In July, 38 percent said the stimulus would not help the economy, while 48 percent said it would or already had.

In a letter earlier this week to lawmakers, the Obama administration touted progress on implementing some of the consumer-friendly components of health care reform, including allowing children to remain on their parents' health care plans longer and sending $250 rebate checks to some seniors covered by Medicare.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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