Friday, August 06, 2004

Two faces I could see, as you shook my money tree

Beside all the well-known evils of the Bush administration, some of the more boring evils go underreported. This is an old story, but it's one you might not have heard of.

To put it simply: The nation's top Medicare actuary figures out that the Bush Medicare plan will cost about $550 billion, not under $400 billion like the administration says. He wants to go tell Congress about this. His boss says that if he does, he'll lose his job. Two months later, after the Bush plan passes, the White House comes out and says that the cost really will be a lot closer to $550 billion. It's not like unforeseen events proved the actuary right -- there's a mere two months between the passage of the bill and the 35% increase in cost. Even if they didn't tell the boss to threaten the actuary (maybe they did, no one can establish it), the White House clearly knew that the plan would cost over $500 billion, and they saw to it that Congress voted using faulty numbers.

Is there anything you can trust these people about?

9 comments:

Dennis said...

You might want to try gratuitously mentioning Kerry a few times on your main page; your google ads don't seem to recognize that "evil" in proximity to "bush" probably means your readers aren't going to donate to the RNC...

Neil Sinhababu said...

Oh. You're right.
Kerry! Wonderful Kerry! Kerry and Edwards! Kerry Kerry Kerry! Kerry for President! mmmmKerry!

More to come.

Rousseau said...

This story has been out there a while.

An important factoid in this (which I think you assume but its nice having said outright): several GOP congressmen claimed they would not vote for the bill if it cost over $400 billion. That was their limit.

Slate's been covering this story well. Like that the federal whistleblower commission or whatnot judged this was not against regulation, and the boss was allowed to prohibit him. Oh, the boss isn't suffering any setback, he's quit and now lobbies for pharma companies. And the administration can't be responsible for the weird action of a former official.

Anonymous said...

The CBO provided its own estimate, which was relied upon by the Congress.

Is there some reason to think that the CBO's estimates were wrong? I mean, are you an expert in the matter, such that you can tell us why the CBO estimate shouldn't be relied upon, while the Medicare actuary's estimate should be? Which of the CBO assumptions were wrong?

Should we always assume that the CBO estimates are wrong? Or only when it is politically convenient?

Dennis said...

In response to anonymous, I think it's worth mentioning that the quality of the CBO's numbers isn't actually the issue here; nobody suggested ignoring them at any time. The issue is that the administration threatened to fire someone for doing his job, as doing his job would be politically inconvenient for them. The right question isn't whether there's something wrong with the CBO numbers, but why Congress should be denied access to the Medicare actuary's numbers.

In short, thanks for the strawman, Mr. Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

In reply to the reply: "The nation's top Medicare actuary figures out that the Bush Medicare plan will cost about $550 billion, not under $400 billion like the administration says." And: "the White House comes out and says that the cost really will be a lot closer to $550 billion." And: "Even if they didn't tell the boss to threaten the actuary (maybe they did, no one can establish it), the White House clearly knew that the plan would cost over $500 billion, and they saw to it that Congress voted using faulty numbers."

Don't those statements suggest that the CBO numbers are wrong, without giving any reason (other than the fact that the White House believes that they're wrong)? Doesn't the last sentence suggest that the issue is Congress' voting based on "faulty numbers"? And doesn't that again raise the issue of whether the CBO estimate is faulty?

Dennis said...

I'll just answer your questions: (1) I think these statements say that the CBO numbers are not the whole story, particularly in light of the fact that the Medicare actuary whose job it is to cost medical plans is likely to come up with the best estimate of a medical plan's cost. (2) The last sentence suggests the issue is the administration making Congress vote on "faulty numbers," which only rests on the administration thinking Congress' numbers are wrong. (3) Not really; of course the executive trusts its own numbers over Congress', and of course Congress should have the whole story.

Point being, the fact that Congress had the CBO numbers doesn't change the wrongness of the administration not letting the head Medicare actuary tell Congress, and neither does it raise a question about whether someone without extensive study in pricing medical plans can say whether this was wrong or legitimize your "politically convenient" troll. If you want to argue, argue; don't mock.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, I honestly don't know how a reasonable reader could interpret those statements as you say you have. Further, I disagree with the assertion that the Medicare actuary is "likely to come up with the best estimate", presumably because that's what the Medicare actuary does. There are people at OMB and at CBO who similarly are charged with responsibility for preparing such estimates. That's what they do. Is there some other reason--expertise, background, credentials, etc.--for preferring the Medicare actuary's estimate?

Dennis said...

Here's my reasonable basis: Why does the author consider it outrageous? Why does he consider the situation deceptive? I actually know the author in real life and judge him to be a man of good character, not out to deceive. I don't judge him stupid or ill-informed, so I give him the benefit of the doubt where I can.

I don't have the internal structures of the OMB or CBO memorized (neither so you, I suspect), so I'll say that since most current estimates of the cost of the plan are around $550-600 billion, I'll rely on the current weight of the evidence.

None of that, however, is the point. My answers to (2) and (3) and my main point stand, and I think all of that adaquately answers your criticism, and is therefore my last word on this (and, incidentally, to any future comments elsewhere from anonymous people).