Oh the humanity

Via the Progress Report, seems Knight Ridder obtained an email sent by John Foster, the top actuary for Medicare, back in June, where Foster disclosed to colleagues that he would be fired if he made public his office's estimate of the Medicare drug bill. That estimate was around $551 billion, i.e. the cost of the bill finally revealed by Josh Bolten in January and a wee $150 billion difference with the WH's estimate used when the bill was passed. Here's the Boston Globe coverage.

As if we needed more proof of just how bad the legislative process was perverted to pass the Medicare bill. And for what? Cash for the drug and insurance industries? Election year ammo? Granted, this latest revelation is a bit different than the regular bullying and arm-twisting which, if this administration has raised to an art form, is nonetheless part and parcel of the rough and tumble Congressional politics.

The lengths this administration has gone to in order to suppress financial realities is the graver threat to good governance. It is sometimes hard to imagine just what government must have been like before nonpartisan budget analysis became a fact of life. The functions performed by the agencies like the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office are utterly indispensable for maintaining the integrity of a democracy controlling massive amounts of public funds and vastly complicated bureaucracies. Trust in these offices, and a willingness on the part of politicians to accept their conclusions is one of the most important lines separating our federal government from a free for all. The proud independent actuarial tradition of the Social Security program is surely one of the best arguments for its continued existence. These offices have long distinguished histories, in no small part because politicians and the public have respected them, understanding the vital functions they serve. Surely, once these numbers are in the public realm, politicians will spin them any way they see fit, but citizens and lawmakers must be able to rely on a single source of information regarding the truth about what the government is doing with all that money.

This case is different. This is blatant suppression of information the public has a right to know (although you can imagine someone is working up a contingency plan about how there is a national security interest here). It is beyond shameful, and, as Stan Collender proposed in February, deducing that the information must have been withheld, Bolten, Snow, and Scully should be lining up in their orange jumpsuits right next to Jeff Fastow.


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