Backed by a new letter from the Congressional Budget Office, Republicans Wednesday accused Democrats of "Bernie Madoff accounting" for double counting the savings from Medicare as a means to pay for the Senate health care bill, according to Fox News.
Democrats argue that the massive Senate healthcare overhaul bill will reduce the deficit by $132 billion over 10 years. But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala, said the nearly $500 billion in cuts to Medicare actually will add $300 billion to the deficit
"The real score on this legislation is that it would cause the deficit to increase, and not be a surplus as the president has promised," Sessions told Fox News. "And a lot members of our Congress have said I won't vote for this bill unless it's deficit neutral. It's not deficit neutral. It will add to the debt. That's clear today."
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Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., added, "This is Bernie Madoff accounting and it's an outrage."
The senators also spoke at a news conference just hours before the Senate was to take up a procedural vote before a final passage vote Thursday.
"I think it's a potential game changer," Sessions said.
"The seniors have been had and our kids our gonna get the bill," Gregg told Fox News. "We're talking here about double-counting, spending the same money twice in order to create a massive new entitlement that has nothing to do with seniors."
Sessions reached his calculations after speaking to CBO Director Doug Elmendorf.
Elmendorf wrote to Sessions that the government counts money two ways, either through trust fund accounting, in which money is borrowed from future Medicare payments to pay for existing Medicare programs but is like a revolving line of credit, or unified budget accounting, in which the trust fund money is borrowed from Medicare but then spent on other health care programs that don't generate money to be be paid back into Medicare later.
"The key point is that the savings to the (Hospital Insurance) trust fund under the (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) 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," Elmendorf wrote.
"To describe the full amount of HI trust fund savings as both improving the government's ability to pay future Medicare benefits and financing new spending outside of Medicare would essentially double-count a large share of those savings and thus overstate the improvement in the government's fiscal position," he wrote.
Sessions said the cuts to Medicare can extend the government program or create money for a new entitlement program -- but not both.
"Either you've weakened the Medicare substantially or you're going to have no money to spend on the new program that's being created," he said. "You cannot spend this money twice."
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Fox News that the CBO letter dealt explicitly with Medicare, not the overall short and long term budgetary impact of the legislation. But the spokesman did not address the accusation of double counting.
"The statements in CBO's December 19th letter about the federal budgetary commitment to health care remain correct," said spokesman Jim Manley.
"After 2019, the effects of the proposal that would tend to decrease that commitment would grow faster than those that would increase it.
"As a result, the CBO expects that the proposal would generate a reduction in the federal budgetary commitment to health care during the decade following the 10-year budget window."
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