Sen. Ben Sasse Drops Beautiful Truth Bombs: CBO Often Wrong; We Cannot ‘Weaponize Distrust’

Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) made two salient points that bear mentioning.

First, Sasse and host Jake Tapper had the following exchange about the GOP health care bill, and the CBO scoring of the bill:

TAPPER: [The] CBO, in a January analysis, said that repealing Obamacare without replacing it at the same time would result in 32 million more uninsured by 2026. Obviously, millions would be choosing not to have insurance, but also millions of them would lose Medicaid, or would no longer be able to afford private insurance because the stipends Obamacare offers. Your strategy is that there would be a plan for them, that the repeal will be delayed, but isn't that kind of gambling with other peoples’ health? You are relying on, counting on the Senate to get its act together. What if it doesn't, and then all these people have nothing?

SASSE: So first of all, you're exactly right. We're talking about something different than what they're talking about, [because] I'm not talking about repeal only. Republicans need to stop pretending that everything worked well in American health care before 2009 and 2010, when Obamacare was passed, and Democrats, frankly, need to stop pretending that Obamacare's working. When you're back here in rural Nebraska, I talked to farmer after farmer after farmer over the last week who are now paying between $20,000 and $30,000 a year in health expenditures because Obamacare's promise of reduced premiums — $2,500 per family — wasn't true. It raised them on average nationally in the individual insurance market more than $3,200 — that's a $5,700 delta over what President Obama promised.

CBO is filled with lots of well-meaning people, and they're good at certain kinds of analysis, but analyzing macro, long-term, highly complex dynamic social programs, they've almost never been right. Remember, when they scored — the equivalent of CBO in the mid-1960's — scored what Medicare would cost in its first decade, they were off by 1,100%. It cost 11 times as much in the first decade as they projected. Regularly, government scorekeepers underestimate costs and overestimate coverage. We need to do better than Obamacare. ... Republicans gave their word they were going to repeal. We should do it; we should delay its implementation date, and all 100 Senators should get before the American people, on camera, 18 hours a day for all of August, and we should do better than Obamacare. We can, we promised it, and the people deserve it.

The second truth bomb came when Tapper asked Sasse about President Trump’s recent tweets: "Senator, does this trouble you at all?"

SASSE: Sure. I mean, there's an important distinction to draw between bad stories or crappy coverage and the right that citizens have to argue about that and complain about that, and trying to weaponize distrust. The first amendment is the beating heart of the American experiment, and you don't get to separate the freedoms that are in there.

There are five freedoms that are in the First Amendment — religion, speech, press, assembly, and protest. You don't have religion without assembly, you don't have speech without press. We all need to celebrate all five of those freedoms because that's how the e pluribus unum stuff works, right? We differ about really big and important things in this country, and then we come together around the First Amendment, which is an affirmation of the fact that people are free before government.

I mean, this is the Fourth of July weekend. The Declaration of Independence is pretty dang clear about this, that we think government is just our shared tool to secure those rights that we have by nature, and so we need to affirm those rights. We need to do that civic and catechetical stuff to teach the next generation what America is about. ...

Tapper pressed Sasse: "You talked about weaponizing distrust. Could you expand on that? It sounds like you're saying this is more than just lashing out; this is a strategy by the president so as to sow seeds of mistrust in anyone who provides any critical coverage."

SASSE: … the reality is, journalism is really going to change a lot more in the digital era. And we have a risk of getting to a place where we don't have shared public facts. A republic will not work if we don't have shared facts. I'm the third most conservative guy in the Senate by voting record, but I sit in Daniel Patrick Moynihan's desk on the floor of the U.S. Senate on purpose because he's the author of that famous quote that you're “entitled to your own opinions, but you're not entitled to your own facts.” The only way the republic can work is if we come together, and we defend each other's rights to say things that we differ about; we defend each other's rights to publish journalism and pieces and things that we then want to argue about.

I agree with the president that there is a lot of crappy journalism out there. Jake, I think you would agree that there is a whole bunch of clickbait out there in the world right now. Barriers to entry to new journalism are going to go down down down, and so it is going to be possible in the next three and five and ten years for people to surround themselves only with echo chambers and silos of people that already believe only what they believe. That's a recipe for a new kind of tribalism, and America won't work if we do that.

So we need to come together as a people, and reteach our kids what the First Amendment is about. And it's not helpful to call the press the "enemy of the American people." There are a whole bunch of particular journalists who should be called out for particular stories that aren't good enough; there should be journalistic ethics and integrity; journalistic agencies and media organizations should admit when they make mistakes, and they should issue corrections, and they should fire people — and we've seen a little bit of that the last week, and that's a good thing.

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