Published October 17, 2011
The Obama administration's decision to scrap a new entitlement for the disabled that was part of President Obama's signature health care law has ignited a fresh debate over the entire law -- with Democrats calling it a minor snag and Republicans arguing the entire law is unraveling.
The administration justified the elimination of the program, called CLASS for Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, by saying it would cost too much and wouldn't be sustainable. After pushback from the left, the White House clarified that it didn't fully kill the program, just decided not to go forward with it, at least for now.
Republicans suggest the administration shouldn't stop there.
The CLASS program "wasn't fiscally sustainable, and so I'm glad to see them do that," Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said. "I worry that there are other parts of the president's health care bill that would meet the same definition."
Republicans argue the program made the health care law looker cheaper than it really is by collecting premiums years before any benefits would be paid and counting the money as savings. Now that it is in limbo, some $70 billion, about half the theoretical savings over the first 10 years, have dissolved.
"A lot of the rest of the deficit reduction is smoke and mirrors, I believe, and I think it's pretty easy to show," Fox News contributor Bill Kristol said on "Fox News Sunday." "I think the Republicans now need to say this is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to repeal Obamacare.”
The administration had no choice but to drop CLASS because Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire inserted language in the health care bill requiring the program to be self-sustaining -- meaning it could not add to the deficit.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius issued a statement saying, "I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation at this time."
And even some Democrats say there's no way to get around the Gregg language.
"That's the language that got agreed on, and therefore we need to follow whatever the language that Gregg added there," Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said.
Nevertheless, late Monday, some liberal groups gathered to insist the program is not dead, that it can and should go forward, and they questioned why the administration said it was killing it.
Larry Minnix, president and CEO of a group called LeadingAge, was the moderator of the gathering.
"There are paths forward, and it is premature to shut off discussion," he said. "So what we're going to be pushing for is keep the discussion alive because we don't have the specific answers yet. And why anyone wants to shut off discussion at this point is beyond me."
Late Monday, White House officials seemed to waffle a bit on halting the program. "We do not support repeal. Repealing the CLASS Act isn't necessary or productive," Assistant Press Secretary Nick Papas said.
That is why Republicans want legislation to lock in what Sebelius has said.
"Right now the administration has said they're not going to go forward with it, but there wouldn't be anything legally that would prevent them from resuming this program at a later date," said Cornyn, one of several co-sponsors of a bill to repeal CLASS.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said "it defies logic" for the White House to admit the program is unsustainable, but "demand it stay on the books."
And the chief actuary of Medicare has warned the program would have to enroll 230 million people to be workable, or more than the entire American workforce.