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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

White House Asserts Right to Defraud Congress 

We apologize for the overreliance on boldface, but in a year already notable for brazen mendacity and corruption, we do not expect to find a story that better encapsulates the brazen mendacity and corruption of the Bush administration than the one below. The White House knew all along that the Medicare bill would cost you, the taxpayer, $134 billion more than the bogus estimate presented to, and voted on by, Congress. But even though the bill was passed on false pretenses, all is not lost: you will no doubt be delighted to learn that a full $84,933 of that sum can be recovered by docking the pay of the low-level functionary who contrived to cover up the truth:
The Bush administration illegally withheld data from Congress on the cost of the new Medicare law, and as a penalty, the former head of the Medicare agency, Thomas A. Scully, should repay seven months of his salary to the government, federal investigators said Tuesday.

The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said Mr. Scully had threatened to fire the chief Medicare actuary, in violation of an explicit provision of federal appropriations law.

Accordingly, they said, federal money could not be used to pay Mr. Scully's salary after he began making the threats to the actuary in May 2003 . . . .

The Bush administration did not quarrel with those facts, but said on Tuesday that it was unconstitutional for Congress to compel the disclosure of data over objections from the executive branch.

Mr. Scully's salary in 2003 was $145,600, the department said. He would owe the government $84,933 under the legal opinion issued on Tuesday.

Asked in an interview if he would repay the money, Mr. Scully said: "No. I'm not required to. It's a matter of principle. I never did anything wrong, and I am proud of every minute of my three years at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services."

Mr. Scully, who now works for a law firm and a private investment firm, has registered as a lobbyist for Abbott Laboratories, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Caremark Rx and other health care companies, but says his actions in government were motivated solely by a desire to help Medicare beneficiaries and taxpayers.

The White House had no immediate comment. William A. Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the department would not try to recover the money because Mr. Scully had "acted within his legal authority" . . . .

President Bush signed the Medicare law, widely seen as one of his major domestic achievements, on Dec. 8. Less than two months later, the White House said the law would cost much more than Congress had assumed - $534 billion over 10 years, as against $400 billion.

Lawmakers of both parties said the law would not have passed in its current form if Congress had known of the higher cost estimates, prepared by the chief actuary, Richard S. Foster, a career civil servant who has worked for the government since 1973 and received an award for outstanding service in 2001.

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