Defining Obamacare 'success' down, one more time

The latest trumpeting of Obamacare's "success," based on a new budgetary report, is an example of the low expectations we have come to have for government programs.

Over the next decade, according to a new estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, Obamacare will add $1.2 trillion to federal deficits. It will do this even though it raises taxes by more than $500 billion over that time -- that $1.2 trillion figure is a net cost.

And this is now being heralded as a success ... why? Because Obamacare was supposed to be even more of a fiscal drag.

The latest estimate shows the net effect on deficits will be $142 billion less than what the number-crunchers said in their previous forecast. Woo-hoo, right? Not really. This figure does not mean the law is saving us money; it means we are set to borrow only about 90 percent as much as we expected to borrow. We would still borrow more than $1.2 trillion to pay for 10 years of Obamacare.

And more than two-thirds of the "savings" -- a.k.a. the reduction of Obamacare borrowing from huge to not-quite-as-huge -- can be attributed to the fact the latest estimate shows the law will cover 2 million fewer people than previously thought.

And by "previously thought," I mean all the way back in ... January. If we compare the numbers in this estimate to the ones in CBO's estimate after Obamacare became law in March 2010 , the discrepancy is even larger.

Back in March 2010, CBO estimated the effects on the uninsured population through 2019. Back then, CBO estimated there would 32 million more people with health insurance in 2019 than if Obamacare had not become law.

In the new report, CBO says in 2019 that figure will be 24 million -- a full one-quarter lower than the estimate five years ago.

Now, to those 24 million people, this is no small feat. But in the big picture, when we compare Obamacare's results to the way it was sold five years ago (remember when it was going to reduce deficits? good times, good times) the biggest change appears to be in the way its backers define "success."