However, Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute said that government-expenditure figure is a “fairly conventional number” to use to indicate the total burden of government spending. He noted that data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (table 25) used similar figures when comparing “total government outlays” of different OECD members. (The United States, it should be noted, had the eighth lowest level out of 36 members.)
But Romney goes way too far when he adds private health-care expenditures to this total and claims that it shows the “reach” of government. Mitchell — no fan of the health-care law — politely called the concept “novel.” As he put it, “I agree that private health-care outlays are heavily influenced by government policy, but that was already the case before Obamacare. Yes, Obamacare will make it worse, but I don’t think it is justifiable to count that 10.03 percent of GDP as private before Obamacare and government after Obamacare.”
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“What Governor Romney said is that government will reach half the economy,” Fehrnstrom said. “Obamacare requires everyone in the country to have insurance coverage that will pay for their health care, allows Washington to define what that coverage must consist of and how it will be priced, creates a new board to preference some treatments over others, and even levies new taxes to pay for it all.”
Using the word “reach” appears to be a stretch. Under Romney’s definition, a wide variety of industries, such as banking or housing, should also be counted as part of this government-controlled economy.
The Pinocchio Test
In essence, Romney has taken a debatable assertion — that government “consumes” 37 percent of the economy — and then hyped it with a nonsensical non sequitur — that the health-care law extends the “reach” of government to 50 percent of the economy.
Clearly, the Romney campaign does not want to abandon this claim, despite the poor reviews it has received from various experts. But it makes little sense and is frankly a bit foolish — especially for a candidate whose signature legislative achievement as Massachusetts governor was to enact a health-care law that at the state level included insurance exchanges, Medicaid expansion, an individual mandate and other provisions that he now claims extend the “reach” of government.
Romney should drop this line from his speeches. No amount of tweaking will get it right.
Read more FactChecker columns at washingtonpost.com/factchecker.