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Scully threatened to fire me...

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  • Scully threatened to fire me...

    ...so says Richard S. Foster, the chief analyst of Medicare costs, should he had told the truth to Congress, as to what the Bush Medicare Package (aka Pharmaceutical and Insurance Corporate giveaway) would have really cost.
    Official Says He Was Told to Withhold Medicare Data

    By Amy Goldstein, Washington Post Staff Writer

    The government's longtime chief analyst of Medicare costs said yesterday that Bush administration officials threatened to fire him last year if he disclosed to Congress that he believed the prescription drug legislation favored by the White House would prove far more expensive than lawmakers had been told.

    Richard S. Foster, a nonpartisan Department of Health and Human Services official who has been Medicare's chief actuary for nine years, said he nearly resigned in protest because he thought the top Medicare administrator, and perhaps White House officials, were acting against the public interest by withholding information about how much changes to the program would cost.

    "Certainly, Congress did not have all the information they might have wanted, or that we had," Foster said in an interview.

    He said Thomas A. Scully, then administrator of the HHS agency that oversees Medicare, repeatedly told him last spring and summer that Foster would be fired if he complied with requests from Republican and Democratic lawmakers to provide cost estimates of various aspects of the prescription drug legislation. Although other HHS officials ultimately assured him his job was safe, Foster said, the administration's practice of withholding budget predictions continued until the legislation was enacted in November.

    Foster is regarded in government and policy circles as a competent and neutral civil servant. His disclosure set off the latest escalation of a partisan war over Medicare that has been playing out since Congress adopted the largest expansion in the history of the health insurance program for the elderly.

    Yesterday, congressional Democrats called for an ethics investigation and dispatched a bitter letter to President Bush, who frequently cites the new Medicare law as one of his proudest domestic accomplishments. Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) demanded a new vote on the measure, which barely passed the House and Senate, saying that "members of Congress were called to vote under false pretenses."

    A Republican who helped forge the law, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), joined in the criticism. He said, "Government analysts with relevant information should never be muzzled."

    The controversy over Foster's threatened dismissal, reported yesterday by the Knight Ridder news service, erupted several weeks after the White House acknowledged that the administration's cost estimates for the law were significantly higher than the ones lawmakers had relied on.

    Bush had said he was willing to spend as much as $400 billion for the drug benefits and other Medicare changes during the next decade, and the Congressional Budget Office, the official fiscal advisers to Congress, predicted the law would cost $395 billion.

    In late January, the White House said separate calculations, provided by Foster, indicated the law would cost $534 billion. The revelation provoked an outcry from Democrats and conservative Republicans concerned that the drug benefits would deepen the federal deficit.

    Internal documents and federal officials made clear that the White House had known of the higher cost estimates for months. Until now, it has not been apparent the lengths to which Bush aides who negotiated the bill with Congress went to keep the figures private.

    Foster, who was deputy chief actuary for the Social Security Administration for 13 years before becoming the chief Medicare actuary in 1995, said his office has a tradition of providing technical assistance to Congress "on an independent, nonpartisan basis."

    But last June, he said, Scully directed him to "cease responding directly to Congress" and to funnel all cost estimates to Scully to decide which ones would be released. "More than once, Tom said he was just following orders," Foster said, adding he did not know where the orders came from but believed they might have originated in the White House.

    Late that month, Foster dispatched an e-mail to several senior assistants and private actuaries in which he called the situation "nightmarish." He wrote: "I'm perhaps no longer in grave danger of being fired, but there remains a strong likelihood that I will have to resign in protest of the withholding of important technical information from key policy makers for political reasons." He said he decided to stay at his staff's urging.

    Yesterday, HHS officials portrayed the matter as a conflict between Foster and Scully, who left the government for private consulting jobs a few months ago. "Those two just clearly did not get along," said Kevin Keane, assistant secretary for public affairs. "To suggest it's anyone else is way out of line."

    Scully said in an interview he had only once forbidden Foster to release information. It would have been in response to a request from the staff of a liberal Democrat, Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (Calif.), who wanted to know the effect on Medicare premiums of a form of private-sector competition with the program that had been deleted from the House bill at the time of the request. Scully said the request was designed to "blow up the Medicare bill over something that wasn't even in there anymore."

    Foster said that was not the only request that Scully blocked. "I tried to persuade him this was not in the public interest, but I was not successful," Foster said.

    Stark aides said yesterday that the provision was in the bill when they asked for the information. Another congressional Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Foster sometimes conveyed information by telephone, but that White House officials routinely were on the line and sometimes instructed Foster not to answer questions.

    What about that integrity that GWB was supposed to bring into the White House? This administration's pattern of pathological lying is several orders of magnitude greater than anything the Clenis administration ever perpetrated, but where, oh where, is the outrage?

    Ps. Sorry Brian, about the provocative headline, but I couldn't pass it up...

    Pps. Thomas isn't a relative...is he?
    I have no problem at all with being proved wrong. Especially when being proved wrong leaves the world a better place, than being proved right...

  • #2
    I'm so used to hearing about this kind of thing (both in the US and Canada) that I just stopped caring.

    That's a bad sign, I think :|
    "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

    – Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Olmstead vs. United States.

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    • #3
      Just hardball politics, nothing new.
      "There is no great genius without some touch of madness."

      Seneca (5 BC - 65 AD)

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