Thursday, February 10, 2005

Bush Defends Projections for Medicare and Social Security

"President Bush and his top aides insisted today that they had not been putting out misleading numbers on the future costs of two programs vital for retirees, Medicare and Social Security.

The president and his chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, responded to questions about estimates, released Tuesday by the Bush administration, that Medicare's new prescription-drug program would cost $720 billion over the next decade, or $320 billion more than Congress planned for when it enacted the benefit late in 2003.
Mr. McClellan was asked at a White House news briefing whether the administration had, in effect, hidden the true costs of the Medicare drug program when he pushed Congress to enact it two years ago.

"Absolutely not," Mr. McClellan replied, adding that people who see differences in numbers are succumbing to the trap of 'mixing apples and oranges.'

When the Medicare bill was passed, the Congressional Budget Office said the cost would not exceed $400 billion over 10 years. But in early 2004, the White House said the decade-long cost would be $534 billion.

And on Tuesday, Dr. Mark B. McClellan, the Medicaid administrator (and Scott McClellan's brother), put out the $720 billion figure, explaining that it applied to the years 2006, when the program takes effect, to 2015. The earlier $400 billion estimate applied to the years 2004 to 2013, administration officials noted.

The White House, trying this afternoon to quell what seemed likely to be a furor over how much the prescription-drug program will cost, issued a statement explaining that the earlier, lower projections included what it would have cost in 2004 and 2005, before it was actually in effect. The higher, later projects for the decade 2006-2015 account for the benefit being 'fully phased in,' the White House said.

But Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, issued a statement asserting that the latest confusion underscored the deliberate lack of clarity from the Bush administration.

'If the numbers don't add up for Medicare, how can we be sure they will add up for Social Security?' Mr. Kerry said. 'Our job as leaders is to work together to ensure the economic security of all Americans, not put their lives and health more at risk."'

The Dems can and should jump all over this, but one imagines that the real political damage for the WH here is extent to which this is pissing off the Republicans who are true fiscal conservatives. Remember the grumbling that followed the $534B revision? They're not going to buy Lil' Scottie's bullshit about "apples and oranges" for a nanosecond.


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