BusinessHealth ReformMedical Ethics

Slush Fund: What Did They Know? When Did They Know It?

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Rep. Michele Bachmann asserted on Meet the Press that a $105 billion dollar slush fund was buried in the 2,700 page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) “secretly, unbeknownst to members of Congress.” Included: Section 1311(a) of the act gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to spend unlimited amounts of money (“such sums as necessary”) to facilitate the purchase of health insurance in the newly created health insurance exchanges with no Congressional oversight or annual appropriation authority. Section 4002 gives the Secretary $17.75 billion to spend on any program or activity she chooses under the Public Health Services Act. This authority was confirmed by a Congressional Research Service Report, so naysayers could hardly refute the amounts she claimed. Instead, the Left-wing fact checkers seized on the issue of whether the existence of a fund was ever secret. PolitiFact had this to say about the matter:

We added up the spending Bachmann was referring to and got $104 billion — very close to her number.

We concluded that Bachmann has a point if you look at the amount of media coverage the appropriations and transfers inspired. There was hardly any. However, she went further than that, charging that the provisions were passed “secretly, unbeknownst to members of Congress.” And that was not accurate.

On balance, we rated Bachmann’s statement Barely True.

FactCheck.org also dismissed Rep. Bachmann’s discovery as typical of funding for complex legislation:

On March 4, Bachmann issued a press release crediting former congressman Ernest Istook — who is now at the conservative Heritage Foundation — for working “to uncover this startling new information.”

We looked at the reports by Istook and the CRS and found few secrets.

Neither CRS report describes the funding as “hidden.” And both total a little more than $100 billion in mandated appropriations and fund transfers over 10 years.

The Washington Post Fact Checker responds:

But her assertion raises questions. Is it possible for a major piece of legislation, carefully analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office before final passage, to “secretly” contain so much spending?

As for the claim that “this money was broken up, hidden in various parts of the bill,” we think she means that there were different sections in the legislation, depending on the issue. This is common practice for virtually all major bills, and it is not unusual or nefarious at all.

For complicated reasons, the numbers in the CRS report and the earlier CBO reports are not always exactly the same, but much of it was there in plain sight [emphasis mine].

Maybe The Washington Post should have said “but much of it was hidden in plain sight.” At 2,700 pages, the PPACA provides ample opportunities to bury slush funds that busy Members of Congress have little knowledge of or don’t fully understand. If it was widely know that a $105 billion slush fund existed, I think it would have made the news much earlier than 11 months after the bill was signed.

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