During a rant against Republican intransigence, Obama said that he could tackle the deficit tomorrow if his opponents would agree to raise taxes and "were willing to take on some of the long-term costs that we have on health care."
Back in February 2009, days after signing an economic stimulus package then valued at $787 billion, Obama convened a Fiscal Responsibility Summit at the White House.
At the time, the event was advertised as Obama's "pivot" to tackling the nation's debt burden, but it was really the opening pitch for imposing national health care on America.
"Health care reform is entitlement reform," said Peter Orszag, then Obama's budget director. "The path to fiscal responsibility must run directly through health care."
Obama amplified this message in his own remarks, calling rising health care costs "the single, most pressing fiscal challenge we face, by far." He added that in the 2008 election, Americans had rejected the "casual dishonesty of hiding irresponsible spending with clever accounting tricks."
It's undeniable that health care inflation -- which helps drive the ballooning cost of Medicare and Medicaid -- is the most significant fiscal challenge we face. The problem is, the health care plan that Obama rammed through Congress ended up making our problems worse, as it relied on the very type of accounting tricks he decried.
To make the legislation appear cheaper over the standard 10-year budget window, Obama and his Democratic allies delayed the major spending provisions until 2014. To be able to claim modest deficit reduction, they turned to other gimmicks.
For instance, a new long-term care program, the Class Act, will collect years of premiums before paying out benefits -- thus producing an $86 billion surplus on paper over the next decade, even though it will actually create deficits over time.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimated that, all told, the law would actually increase America's spending on health care as a share of the economy by more than if we simply had done nothing to address the problem.
Beyond this, there were opportunity costs involved in Obama's approach. The law raised taxes and made cuts to Medicare, but instead of using the money for deficit reduction, it was plowed into a new entitlement. The health care law will spend nearly $1.4 trillion in its first eight years of full implementation alone (2014 to 2021), according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The president now says that the chief barrier to tackling the debt is that Republicans in Congress won't agree to a "balanced approach" of tax increases and spending cuts. But when his party controlled Congress, with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, Obama didn't push for the kind of deficit-reduction plan he now claims to support.
Instead, he squandered 13 months of his presidency pushing the health care legislation.
"I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last," Obama vowed in his September 2009 health care speech before a joint session of Congress.
That Obama is now talking about the need "take on" long-term health care costs, even after passing his law, is an admission of what many of us already knew: Obamacare was never about reducing health care spending.
In reality, the stated cost-cutting goals were part of a failed attempt to sell national health care -- a longtime liberal dream -- to a broader audience.
Philip Klein is senior editorial writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com.