Commentary Magazine


Obama’s $8 Billion Cynical Ploy

When Barack Obama ran for the presidency, it was based in large part on his commitment to cleanse the temple. Washington was “more corrupt and more wasteful than it was before.” Americans who had lost trust in government “want to believe again.” Telling the American people what politicians think they want to hear instead of what they need to hear “just won’t do.” Obama would put an end to phony accounting and “take on the lobbyists.” The cynics, the lobbyists and the special interests had “turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” The result is that the people “have looked away in disillusionment and frustration.”

“The time for that kind of politics is over,” Obama told us when he announced his bid for the presidency. “It is through. It’s time to turn the page right here and right now.” The reason he was running for president, Obama declared in his November 10, 2007 Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, was to “offer change we can believe in.”

Imagine how chagrined those who took Obama’s words at face value must feel now that it’s been revealed that the president has set up what is, for all intent and purposes, an $8 billion slush fund at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Here’s how it works. Thanks to the president’s health care plan, in October, seniors were going to learn of cuts in the popular Medicare Advantage program. Fearful of the election ramifications, especially in states like Florida and Arizona, the president came up with a plan. Writing in the New York Post, Benjamin Sasse and Charles Hurt explain that

…the administration’s devised a way to postpone the pain one more year, getting Obama past his last election; it plans to spend $8 billion to temporarily restore Medicare Advantage funds so that seniors in key markets don’t lose their trusted insurance program in the middle of Obama’s re-election bid. The money is to come from funds that Health and Human Services is allowed to use for “demonstration projects.” But to make it legal, HHS has to pretend that it’s doing an “experiment” to study the effect of this money on the insurance market. That is, to “study” what happens when the government doesn’t change anything but merely continues a program that’s been going on for years.

But along came a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report released yesterday which recommends that HHS cancel the project. The GAO said the project “dwarfs all other Medicare demonstrations” in its impact on the budget and criticized its poor design. “The design of the demonstration precludes a credible evaluation of its effectiveness in achieving CMS’s [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] stated research goal,” according to the report. As the Wall Street Journal puts it in this editorial, “there’s no control group to test which approaches work better. It’s a demonstration project without the ability to demonstrate.” Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, and Representative Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, released a statement in which they said they were concerned that the government might be “using taxpayer dollars for political purposes, to mask the impact on beneficiaries of cuts in the Medicare Advantage program.”

Sasse and Hurt believe that what the Obama administration is doing “certainly presses the boundaries of legality and very well may breach them.”

“If he’s not stopped,” they write, “Obama will spend $8 billion in taxpayer funds for a scheme to mask the debilitating effects on seniors of his signature piece of legislation just long enough to get himself re-elected.”

This is probably not what people thought Obama had in mind when he promised to do away with phony accounting and tell people what they needed to hear rather than what they wanted to hear. It increases cynicism among the citizenry. It might even cause people to look away in disillusionment and frustration.

We’ve now reached the stage where Barack Obama’s words are the greatest indictment of his stewardship. All it takes is to remind people of Obama’s rhetoric in 2008 to show that at the core of his campaign was a massive deceit. In response, a majority of the public may well say that “the time for that kind of politics is over. It is through. It’s time to turn the page right here and right now.” They might even consider citing the source for those high-minded words.


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