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Today in his Washington Post column “The Fact Checker,” Glenn Kessler analyzed an exchange between Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius about the Obama healthcare law during a March 7 congressional hearing.
During the dialogue, Johnson – an accountant by trade – threw a bunch of numbers at Sebelius in an apparent attempt to demonstrate that Obamacare is destined to show a deficit. But Kessler reveals in his report that Johnson got some of his own facts and figures confused. The senator also confirmed to Kessler directly that some of the figures may not be entirely accurate.
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For example, Johnson said “the original estimate for deficit reduction in the first 10 years was $143 billion,” which is true enough, but Kessler notes that such estimates are acknowledged to be “subject to change, and depend greatly on assumptions that may or may not be sound.”
As Johnson continued, his math got more and more sketchy. “We’ve reduced that $143 billion by $86 billion – by not getting revenue from the CLASS Act – and now $111 billion because we’ve increased the mandatory costs of the exchanges,” he said. “When you add those together, that’s $197 billion added to the first 10-year cost estimate,” which means that, “instead of saving $143 billion, we are adding $54 billion to our deficit.”
Kessler said Johnson erred in attempting to update the original estimate with new numbers, instead of starting from square one. He also confused time frames and estimates by the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget. The $143 billion estimate was for the period of 2010-2019. Johnson subtracted $86 billion because the administration ended the CLASS Act long-term care program, which left only $57 billion in deficit reduction. His mistake was that the $86 billion figure came from an estimate for the 2012-2021 time frame. He should have subtracted the $86 billion figure from the 2012-2021 deficit estimate of $210 billion, which would leave $124 billion in deficit reduction.
Kessler also noted that Johnson made a mistake in including the $111 billion figure, which refers to tax credits for Americans who need help buying health insurance offered through exchanges, because the figure comes from the White House Office of Management and Budget calculations, which are often different than CBO estimates. He then pointed out that Johnson counted the costs, but didn’t mention new cost savings, including $77 billion that may be saved by a new law that will reduce the number of people who are eligible for Medicaid.
In the end, Kessler rates Johnson’s math at “One Pinocchio” — the least condemning rating on his “Fact Checker” scale — for “Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions or exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods.” And ultimately, Kessler is correct in noting that Johnson’s primary objective of keeping tabs on the healthcare bill was admirable.
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