Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Double counting

During the health-care debate, the administration was often accused of "double counting" the savings from the bill. This accusation was sort of true (the dispute relates to extremely boring, extremely technical questions about the nature of "unified budget accounting"), but it confused a lot of people. Commonly, people thought -- in part because Republican politicians implied -- that if double counting was going on, then the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of the bill's savings was wrong. But it was just the opposite. It was the CBO that was pointing out the double counting.

Over at Reason, Peter Suderman attacks the administration for double counting, and in doing, does a nice job showing what it is. Let's say the CBO said the bill would reduce the deficit by $100, because it would bring $100 into Medicare through some new tax. If the administration then goes and says, "Look! Our bill cuts the deficit by $100 and extends the Medicare trust fund by $100," that's double counting. As CBO says, savings "would be received by the government only once, so they cannot be set aside to pay for future Medicare spending and, at the same time, pay for current spending on other parts of the legislation or on other programs." The money can either reduce the deficit or pay for Medicare. It can't do both.

So: Double-counting happens, but it happens in the administration's rhetoric about the Medicare trust fund. It does not afflict the CBO's estimates of how much the bill will save.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 3, 2010; 8:28 AM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Wonkbook: State aid delayed; EPA regs face lawsuit; GOP targets health care funding; oil spill larger than thought
Next: The virtues of Ryan's roadmap

Comments

nice admission finally on your part Ezra. Would have helped more if it was done DURING the healthcare debate. Kind of takes away from any expectations of impartiality that some may think you have.

Still no talk of the CLASS Act though. Let me know when we should hear the truth about that double + counting.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 3, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

" but it happens in the administration's rhetoric about the Medicare trust fund"

Meaning they lied.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | August 3, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

"The money can either reduce the deficit or pay for Medicare. It can't do both."


So in turn the money (premiums) that are used to fund the class act (some $60-70 billion) can either reduce the deficit OR fund a new entitlement program, it can't do both.

Say it with me Ezra, "The administration lied again."

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 3, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

@VisionBrkr: "Say it with me Ezra, "The administration lied again.""

A politician twisting the facts to suit their agenda? I am shocked, shocked I tell you, to find gambling going on in this establishment.

The administration spun, as they all do. Call me when Obama haggles over what the definition of the word "is" is, and we'll talk. ;)

The real lie in healthcare is the implicit assurance that America will somehow turn into Canada or Sweden if we get the full-on socialized medicine, and enjoy a similar cost-per-patient savings. When that is highly unlikely.

I think the double-counting issue was fairly clear to anybody paying attention to the debate. Anybody who would pause to give it a moment's thought wouldn't expect fresh, new government entitlements to save money or pay for themselves or anything else--they come at it with an expectation that things will be cheaper for them, and paid for by taxes on people who have more money than them, so things will be better for them. They don't care about "double counting"--they just care about not having to pay for all the scary healthcare costs they might be on the hook for, if the government doesn't foot the bill.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 3, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Kevin,

While you're right in everything you say the fact that a health policy wonk like Ezra is just admitting this now is more than a little disturbing. It has to then give pause to anything he says to see if there's anything behind it.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 3, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

@Visionrbkr: "It has to then give pause to anything he says to see if there's anything behind it."

Fair enough. So, I wasn't going to say anything, but I've heard Ezra is a Democrat. So, you know. ;)

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 3, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

"So: Double-counting happens, but it happens in the administration's rhetoric about the Medicare trust fund."

Politics as Usual, or Change We Can Believe In?

Posted by: jnc4p | August 3, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

@Visionbrkr: "While you're right in everything you say the fact that a health policy wonk like Ezra is just admitting this now is more than a little disturbing. It has to then give pause to anything he says to see if there's anything behind it."

Ezra did discuss this during the healthcare debate at least once: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/03/paul_ryan_and_the_true_cost_of.html

"According to Ryan, there's about $124 billion in double-counted money in the bill. Assuming his math is correct (and no one I talked to said it wasn't), that's a fair critique. "

I believe he also discussed it in his interview with Ryan, and in other posts as well.

Posted by: bthorne1 | August 3, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

bthorne1,


sorry I forgot that conversation. You're right. Ezra has mentioned it once. Its tough to remember that within all the rhetoric I see here daily about the Bush Tax cuts and the Medicare Part D fiasco.

Kevin,

really? I had no idea!!

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 3, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

"Double-counting happens, but it happens in the administration's rhetoric about the Medicare trust fund"

So you're willing to openly admit that the administration is lying through their teeth here? Why not come right out and say it? Why pretty it up? They are telling a bold-faced lie, a lie that the CBO specifically told them not to tell, and when called out on the lie, they double-down on it and impugn the reputation of Richard Foster (see here: http://spectator.org/blog/2010/08/02/sebelius-makes-false-claim-abo).

I can only imagine Ezra's reaction if a Republican administration did something like this. I mean, there's no way to sugar-coat this, this is a blatant falsehood meant to completely misrepresent the effect of a major piece of legislation.

Posted by: ab_13 | August 3, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

"Commonly, people thought -- in part because Republican politicians implied -- that if double counting was going on, then the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of the bill's savings was wrong."

That is such weaselly language. "Commonly"? "People thought"? Who thought? Who said that?

I'd say a more accurate description is that when people see the administration's willingness to to be so dishonest they did not trust them to tell the truth about other parts of the bill and its cost.

You're trying to make this about some supposedly "common" mistaken belief that you attribute to unknown people, instead of focusing on the one undeniable fact: the Obama administration is lying about the cost of the bill.

Posted by: ab_13 | August 3, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Gah, caught in the filter.

I highly recommend reading the link I posted - American Spectator, I know, but be open-minded ;) - to see Kathleen Sebelius just blatantly lie and misrepresent what the CBO has said. The only thing I'm not sure of is if she is ignorant or malicious. In either case it is frightening.

Posted by: ab_13 | August 3, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

And Ezra, why you would you include a headline in Wonkbook that says "A new study indicates that health care reform will make Medicare more sustainable, reports Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar" when you fully acknowledge that it is double-counting to make that claim? Why even link to/promote that article?

Posted by: ab_13 | August 3, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

(sorry, dominating the comment thread)

And apparently Matt Yglesias either doesn't get it or wants to cheerlead for the Obama admin:

"@ezraklein @petersuderman This seems more like two ways of saying the same thing than counting something twice."

http://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/20221046137

Posted by: ab_13 | August 3, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

No. Ezra, your effort to be forthcoming has reached beyond strict logic to unfair criticism, reinforcing the hard hostility of the Obama critics, as you can tell from the spate of caustic comments you got.

It would be fair to call it "double counting" if the administration said (of the putative $100 of your post), "Not only are we cutting the deficit by $100, but we're adding $100 to the Medicare trust fund, so we're really getting $200 of benefit from this bill."

I don't think anyone ever said that. Rather, they described the impact of the $100 in two different ways, to have a broader favorable effect on opinion. Some people want to hear that you're doing something about the deficit, others prefer to hear that you're bolstering Medicare, so you say it both ways to impress both kinds of people.

This is spinning, but it's honorable spinning. If you think it fails to properly engage the nuances of "unified budget accounting", you are of course correct, but you yourself find it expedient not to get into those "boring technical questions". So your rhetoric is not more honest after all.

Posted by: J_Whick | August 3, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

ab_13,

great link. I'm not surprised. Sebelius has always seemed like someone that if anyone tried to explain that 1 + 1 + 1 actually equals 3 she'd try like heck to convince you it still equaled two even with every bit of evidence staring you in the face that she's wrong.

Again i point to the politico article that shows all of those bureaucratic agencies created that they can't even get a handle on. I'm guessing in 10 years we'll have another expose from WAPO on that like the defense contractors. Sheesh.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 3, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

J_Whick, you couldn't be more wrong. If you want to claim the bill bolsters Medicare, you then also have to say that the recently passed bill adds $575 billion to the deficit, because they spend that $575 billion on subsidies and coverage expansion.

-----"It would be fair to call it "double counting" if the administration said (of the putative $100 of your post), "Not only are we cutting the deficit by $100, but we're adding $100 to the Medicare trust fund, so we're really getting $200 of benefit from this bill.""

That's exactly what they are doing!!! They are claiming the bill reduces the deficit AND strengthens Medicare, doubling the $575 billion. While you're trying to bend over backwards defending the administration you're ignoring the actual facts of what they are saying.

Posted by: ab_13 | August 3, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company