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Cantor's unique definition of 'serious'

As fiscal talks resume, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) believes President Obama must show he's "serious" by putting the Affordable Care Act "on the table."

Cantor argued, "There is no question in my mind that [Obamacare] is the largest expansion of government programs that we've seen." He added that he specifically wants to see the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) eliminated.

My primary concern with Cantor's argument is that it's incoherent. Put aside politics, ideology, and the merits of the health care law and we're left with a simple proposition: the House Majority Leader believes the way to reduce the deficit is to increase the deficit.

It's really not complicated. The Affordable Care Act cuts the deficit by over $100 billion over the next decade, and several hundred billion dollars more in the following decade. If the goal is to reduce the deficit and improve the nation's finances, targeting the law is not an example of being "serious"; it's the opposite.

As for IPAB, this is nearly as ridiculous, and Cantor's comments reinforce the impression that the House Majority Leader simply hasn't taken the time to read up on the basics.

In the coming years, health care costs, specifically in Medicare, represent a genuine fiscal problem. As Paul Krugman explained a while back, "[W]e cannot afford a system in which Medicare in particular will pay for anything, especially when that's combined with an industry structure that gives providers a strong financial incentive to engage in excessive care."

The Obama administration's preferred solution is utilizing IPAB -- putting the difficult decisions about best practices and responsible use of tax dollars in the hands of qualified medical and health care professionals, free of the political process on Capitol Hill.

In theory, Cantor should be thrilled. Not only does the Affordable Care Act reduce the deficit, but IPAB reduces unnecessary entitlement spending and saves taxpayer money. But he's not thrilled at all -- on the contrary, he wants to eliminate the law, scrap the mechanism that saves money, and replace it with nothing.

"All I can say is that the president has got to get serious," Cantor told Fox News. And all I can say is that Cantor may not fully understand what "serious" means.