Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not Hidden, Not Slushy

As you may know, Michele Bachmann has been running around saying that there was a $105B hidden slush fund in the ACA. (Or something like that; see below).

As you may have guessed, that's nonsense. Yes, there is $105B in spending in the bill that fits, in technical terms, the amount she's talking about. However, both the WaPo Fact Checker (which has a good explanation of what the $105B is) and PolitiFact explain that there was nothing hidden at all about these funds.

Neither of them, however, addresses the somewhat more nebulous charge that the moneys constitute a "slush fund," which is part of what Bachmann's been saying, although not on the Meet the Press appearance that Politifact checked. What is a slush fund? I like this "investopedia" definition: "a fund (or something similar) that does not have a designated purpose." By that definition (or any other reasonable one), Bachmann is wrong about that, too. But that's not all; this one is yet another good example of how GOP politicians and GOP media outlets combine to create and spread false claims.

First, Bachmann's claims. To Hannity, she complained about two provisions. One was section 4002 of the bill, which she called a $16B slush fund (the transcript from Hannity says section "402", which doesn't exist, but she's apparently called it 4002 elsewhere). According to the CRS report Politifact relied on, 4002 sets up and funds a "Prevention and Public Health Fund," to be used "for PHSA [Public Health Service Act]-authorized prevention, wellness, and public health activities, including prevention research and health screenings." Anything slushy about that? I don't think so. What's notable about it is that apparently section 4002 provides mandatory funding (that is, unless Congress acts otherwise) rather than yearly appropriations. That's nice for the program, but doesn't in any way at all that I can see give HHS unusual discretion in how to spend the money.

The other example Bachman gives is that "in section 1311[a], she has the right to an unlimited tap on the Treasury Department." (Bachmann, on Hannity, doesn't specifically call it a slush fund, but implies it -- she does say it's worse than the $16B she identifies as a slush fund).  CRS explains: this gives the Secretary of HHS authority to give grants to states setting up exchanges. Nothing slushy about it that I can see, either. Yes, in both of these cases the Secretary may have some discretion (I'm no lawyer, and can't tell from the bill language) about amounts and where to direct the money, but in both cases only for clearly specified purposes.

This is not unusual for Bachmann; a Google search of "slush fund Bachmann" turns up plenty of wild accusations...Steve Benen thinks she's just not very bright, and maybe that's it, or maybe she just knows that "slush fund" is a good media hook. It appears in this case she was working from something from Ernest Instook, which was mainly a practical document about the difficulty of actually defunding ACA. Istook took some shots at funding process (see the WaPo fact checker above for a fair assessment of his charges, which have nothing at all to do with the corruption implied by Bachmann's language). Bachmann took hold of it, labeling a couple of the items in the CRS report Istook used "slush" funds with no attempt to justify that claim. And then everyone was off to the races.

For example: after the fact checkers clocked in, Heritage reacted with a post titled "PolitiFact, FactCheck, and WaPo All Confirm: The $105 Billion Obamacare Slush Fund Exists." Of course, the fact checkers did no such thing; they only focused on the "hidden" part of it. But notice the slight of hand here: even Bachmann didn't call all $105B of the appropriated moneys a slush fund; she limited that charge to one, specific, $16B subsection. Which wasn't a slush fund, either.

So that's how we got a $105B hidden slush fund in the ACA, a number we'll no doubt hear for months, if not years, regardless of how entirely phony it is. Not hidden, not a slush fund.


  1. I'm very reluctant to go to the "stupid" well. Not because members aren't stupid; anybody who has been on the Hill for ANY length of time can tell you stories.

    Rather, she has staff. Where I have a problem swallowing "she's stupid" or "she's crazy" is that I have trouble believing, especially with all this running around to be in front of any camera she can find, that she's actually doing any of this research. Now, it could be that she doesn't punish staff for getting things wrong, because she doesn't care. And, that staff might be way overstretched, because they're both working to run an actual congressional office AND serve as the research gophers for this camera-desperate nut. And, that staff is likely short-handed, because the demands of working for her are likely high. And, that staff is likely to be more fringy or stupid themselves, because no sane, intelligent person would want to work for her.

    But Michelle Bachmann didn't find section 4002 of the bill. CRS did, and her staff stumbled on that (not directly, but were led there). So, when Bachmann says this stuff, she's at the end of a long game of telephone. Errors happen in the transmission.

    All that said, yes, she's stupid and crazy. But, I think it's really difficult to try to say HOW she got to be so wrong on X.

  2. Sounds like good old truthiness to me.

    From a right wing perspective, after all, any funding provided in the ACA is by definition part of an evil commie socialist plot, therefore corrupt. And the definition of slush fund seems to amount to money implicitly intended for corrupt purposes. QED, by tea party standards of logic.


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