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POSTED: June 17, 2009 11:51 a.m.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wasn’t playing for yucks when he visited China recently. But when he told students at a Chinese university that China’s assets in the U.S. are “very safe,” the audience burst out in laughter.
The Chinese own so much of our debt, they have a keen interest in U.S. fiscal probity, and apparently a dim view of our ability to achieve it. The mandarins of a notionally communist government are now forced to harangue the world’s emblematic capitalist country about its ever-spiraling public debt. Mao Zedong and John D. Rockefeller must be spinning in their graves, at an equal rate though in different directions.
The students didn’t even titter at Geithner’s most hilarious line of all: that it is going to control the cost of government by creating an expansive new government health-care program. Heretofore, a Ted Kennedy-supported health-care reform that will cost at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years would be considered new spending, plain and simple. That was before the advent of Barack Obama and of fiscally prudent overspending.
The way overzealous Republicans argued that tax cuts paid for themselves, Obama Democrats argue that deficit spending pays for itself. The $700 billion stimulus bill will preserve so many jobs, it is cheaper than the alternative. The bailout of the auto companies will pay off by saving and modernizing an embattled industry. And creating a new Medicare-like health program and handing out massive health-care subsidies will end rampant health-care inflation.
Typically, the Obama administration can’t explain two things about its gloriously responsible new government program: how to pay for it and how it will achieve savings. Besides that, it’s an admirable exercise in fiscal restraint.
President Obama sent a letter to Congress broaching the idea of more cuts to Medicare and Medicaid than he’s already proposed, roughly doubling them to $600 billion over 10 years. It’s still not enough. Democrats in Congress are considering ending the tax deduction for employer-provided health care. When John McCain endorsed this proposal last year, the Obama campaign savaged it as the largest tax increase ever proposed on the middle class.
The only way the Obama program will save money is through the sort of dislocating changes for people currently with coverage that Obama has promised he won’t impose. They’d be herded into the new public plan Obama endorsed in his letter to Congress. Then, over time, costs could be squeezed through rationing or price controls.
Further nationalizing health care is a decades-old liberal goal. The stimulus bill was an ungainly collection of old liberal priorities passed ostensibly to fight the recession. Health-care reform is an old liberal priority Obama hopes to pass under the pretense of saving the federal budget from the red ink flooding it thanks, in part, to the stimulus bill.
Whether Obama is spending or saving, creating red ink or fighting it, he’s growing government. This from the president who promised to scour the federal budget for savings, and to level with the American public about tough choices as he pursued nonideological and responsible government. The Chinese students had the right idea -- cue the laughter.

Lowry is editor of the National Review.
 

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