Senator Santorum was right on per-capita caps

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post performs a valuable service with his Fact Checker column. He plays the referee, holding policymakers to account for the accuracy of what they say, and working hard to research, understand, and educate his readers on the veracity of a range of important policy questions. His body of work elevates the quality of policy debate.

Even good referees sometimes make a bad call, and I think Mr. Kessler did so yesterday in his column, “Is the GOP plan for Medicaid caps really Bill Clinton’s idea?” I disagree with his conclusion and score of former Senator Rick Santorum’s quote (two Pinocchios). I have expressed my views directly to Mr. Kessler, who graciously included some of my input in an updated version of his column. I’d like to share here a fuller explanation of why I think Santorum was right, Kessler wrong, and the two Pinocchio score is undeserved and unfair. My disagreement with Mr. Kessler stems in part, from a different view about the role of someone labeled a fact-checker who scores policymakers with Pinocchios. It may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but the underlying policy issue is important, and Mr. Kessler has a big role on an influential platform. His columns carry weight and his scores have influence, especially because the Pinocchio label implicitly tags policymakers as liars.

The quote Mr. Kessler analyzes comes from former Republican Senator Rick Santorum:

As everyone knows, the Medicaid per capita cap was proposed by President Clinton. Now it is seen as this draconian measure.

In 1996 I worked for Senator Pete Domenici as the health and retirement economist on the Senate Budget Committee majority (Republican) staff. I was in the middle of these debates. I interacted with Senator Santorum, as well as the three staff experts cited by Mr. Kessler: Doug Badger (a former Senate Republican policy advisor and colleague), and Gene Sperling and Chris Jennings (former White House policy advisors to President Bill Clinton). Doug’s boss and mine were on the block grant side of this debate, while Gene’s and Chris’ boss President Clinton led the per-capita cap side.
Mr. Kessler writes:

In the mid-1990s, Clinton did propose a per capita cap for Medicaid …

“Under the budget, a per capita cap limits Federal spending growth per person while retaining current eligibility and benefit guidelines,” Clinton’s 1997 budget proposal said.

It seems indisputable that Senator […]

By | 2017-09-29T15:33:28+00:00 Friday, 29 September 2017|