Everyone’s Got a Right to Their Own Opinions…

January 12th, 2012 at 9:25 pm

…but not to their own facts.

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney asserted that federal low-income programs are administered so inefficiently that “very little of the money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them,” my colleagues at the CBPP got to work on this graph (underlying doc is here):

It shows that “federal administrative costs range from less than 1 percent to 8 percent of total federal program spending.  Combined federal and state administrative costs range from 1 percent to 10 percent of total federal- and state-funded program spending.”

Gov Romney is singing from the same playbook as Rep Paul Ryan along with a litany of conservatives whose goal for years has been for the Federal gov’t to shed the responsibility for Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), low-income housing, and so on.  Once you “block grant” these functions to the states, it’s easier to cut them.  And remember, this is from a candidate (and the same is true for the House R’s budget) that wants to cut taxes deeply for the richest households.

So he’s launching his attack based on inefficient administration of low-income programs—the claim that most of the dollars don’t reach the clients.  Trouble is, the facts got in the way.

Many people argue that Gov Romney is the reasonable R candidate…you might not love his policies, they tell me, but he’s not known for making stuff up, for repeating outrageous statements with no basis in fact.

OK, let’s see—if he keeps repeating this falsehood, then they’re wrong.

I know these are dark times for substantive debate, but there are people out there to whom facts still matter and they need to know when someone asking for their vote is trying to mislead them.


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25 comments in reply to "Everyone’s Got a Right to Their Own Opinions…"

  1. denim says:

    “I know these are dark times for substantive debate, but there are people out there to whom facts still matter and they need to know when someone asking for their vote is trying to mislead them.”

    Please keep up the pressure. All of those with no love of truth need to be exposed regardless of any party affiliation.

  2. Deb S. says:

    I am one of the administrative costs for Medicare Savings Programs and federal Extra Help with Medicare Part D drug costs. I get $15 an hour, no benefits, no pension, and my job is grant-funded for one year. So far, in three months, I’ve submitted applications for about 150 people of whom 70 got accepted. I don’t know what the average benefit is that my clients have received, but I have to think it’s substantially greater than my wages.

    In addition to doing these filings, I also try to help people who call me with claim and billing problems, coverage problems, and other desperate situations that need some answers quickly. Many of these callers are trying to understand their private insurance coverage or are trying to penetrate the layers of private subcontractor-managers handling government programs like the state prescription drug assistance program. The coordination of benefits tangle is very costly, I think, in terms of time spent and confusion generated. I have never found that dealing with private insurers or contractors is easier than dealing with Medicare.

    But I do listen to many people in the midst of asking me for assistance start a tirade against all those other people who are getting help and don’t deserve it, all those other people who are irresponsible and deserve their problems. I think this is the button that Romney is pushing when he talks about all that money being misspent by Medicare and Medicaid, in particular. The truth is that the assistance available through government programs isn’t over-generous. When people learn just how poor they have to be in order to meet the income thresholds for assistance, they are ofen stunned. And then they lash out at other people who are poorer than themselves for taking what they don’t deserve. This doesn’t really make much sense, but it’s wonderful material for rich politicians who will never need Medicaid and who never have to think seriously about Medicare for themselves or their parents.

    • Diana K. says:


      Thank you so much for adding a human face and experience to this exchange. You are so right that people often “lash out at other people who are poorer than themselves for taking what they don’t deserve”.

      I think that recent years of austerity (massive layoffs, good jobs gone, non-existing job benefits, healthcare costs going thru the roof) made us all so much more indifferent … We all are looking for easy scapegoats around us, even if it means people less fortunate.

      My personal experience is that I don’t see around me “welfare queens”… I do see a lot of hard working, barely middle-class friends losing their jobs, their savings, their houses and health… without option to secure their kids future.

      Diana K

    • Fred Beloit says:

      “I get $15 an hour, no benefits, no pension, and my job is grant-funded for one year.”

      You obviously don’t work for the Feds. I don’t know if you work for a state. Are you an employee of a contractor? If so, the contractor is your employer and the rate the government pays the contractor is much higher than your salary.

      • DonB says:

        So maybe Deb does not work DIRECTLY for the feds. The money for her wages does come from the Medicare system through her employer (which may be part of Medicare, for all I know). Thus, as such, her wages contribute to the contract cost of her employer with Medicare and makes up part of the administrative costs incurred by Medicare, which is what she claimed.

        What is so difficult about following that chain of money? If you cannot follow that, I would suspect any accounting you make. Maybe you just wanted to make a point and did not think through what she was saying. But if you want people to accept your line of reasoning, it would be better if it was logically derived from facts.

        • Peter says:

          DonB, I think Fred was just pointing out as an aside that the contractor was ripping Deb off. I don’t think he was challenging her and I don’t think he was out of line at all–I was wondering the same thing myself.

  3. Petronius Arbiter says:

    Where have you been? Romney already tells lies constantly. He even admitted his ad which edited Pres. Obama’s words to make it seem he said something else was good, because it attracted media attantion. Well, he said the ad was good for that reason, he still hasn’t admitted (as far as I know) that the ad was misleading to the point of untruthfulness. He also keeps saying that the economy has become worse because of Obama’s policies, and that the ACA is absolutely nothing like the health insurance program he installed in Massachusets. Every speech he makes seems to have at least one bare-faced lie.

  4. Dennis says:

    It’d be far more honest if conservative candidates would argue what they really think: the government should not be in the business of helping poor people. I guess the reason they don’t is that it would cost them a lot of elections.

  5. pro growth liberal says:

    So over 90% of the funds goes to benefits. Compare that to most private health insurance funds where only 85% of what we pay in goes to benefits.

    • Michael says:

      Wrong, wrong, wrong. There aren’t any private insurance companies that spend 85% of revenues on benefits. That’s why the Feds are going to apply this standard. As I recall, the average has been dropping steadily and is now below 75%.

  6. fausto412 says:

    “I know these are dark times for substantive debate, but there are people out there to whom facts still matter and they need to know when someone asking for their vote is trying to mislead them.”

    well, there is you and me….so that’s 2 people. nobody in the media cares about facts.

  7. Michael says:

    Republicans are always entitled to their own facts. That’s why the Politifact “Lie of the Year” was something Democrats said which was true.

  8. Phil Perspective says:

    Mr. Bernstein:
    While Romney is a bad person and isn’t fit to be POTUS, the programs in question can be run more efficiently. As you know, even more things like food stamps and such we let the banksters skim off the top, instead of having the government administer the programs. it’s even worse at the state level.

  9. Alan in SF says:

    Thanks for such a clear presentation of the facts. But every time I see things like this I can’t help wondering, why is that only FORMER administration officials ever make the case that government actually works for people?

    • DonB says:

      First, Republicans are ideologically committed to claiming that government cannot do anything except fight foreign wars and probably police the streets (at least in the wealthy neighborhoods), put out fires in the occasional McMansion that has a kitchen fire and take people who have heart attacks or car accidents to the hospital for emergency care.

      The Democrats (as Will Rogers said, “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat”) are too often more interested in governing than making the case for what they did or the other party did not do or wanted to undo.

      Take as an example, Obama’s lack of self-congratulation (to the Democratic Party, not just himself, even, for passing the PPACA: one or two speeches, and then silence as the Republicans made all kinds of untrue attacks. While it is true that there were a lot of issues that kept him busy elsewhere, the lack of a campaign to make the public aware of what the act will do and counter the opposition’s claims BEFORE they were set in people’s minds has put the country in the current bad position in public attitudes.

      • perplexed says:

        Excellent point. The Democrats can blame a lot of things on the Republicans, but their own lack of organization is not one of them. Organizing Republicans is like herding sheep; organizing Democrats is like herding cats. In their book “Winner Take All Politics,” Hacker & Pierson do a great job of explaining how effective the Republicans have been at organizing and implementing their strategies at all levels of government. There doesn’t appear to be anything similar on the Democratic side. Divide and concur works for good reason; resources are spread so thin that its difficult to marshal an effective campaign and focus enough energy on anything specific to effect change. Without prioritization and concentration of resources in an organized fashion, too much effort gets expended with little to show in terms of results. Having and discussing the right ideas is simply not sufficient to effect outcomes.

  10. perplexed says:

    It would be nice to see a comparison of this against the private healthcare and insurance systems that insure the young healthy people without preexisting conditions that can afford to be part of those systems.

  11. BruceJ says:

    The Romney campaign has explicitly stated that they believe that campaigning is all about propaganda; they intend to ignore the truth when it suits their needs.


  12. Alan in SF says:

    An interesting footnote, from today’s WaPo report on Rick Santorum’s charity, which spent most of its donations on salaries, administrative expenses, and thinly disguised payments to Santorum’s political allies and campaign.

    “… the foundation raised $2.58 million, with 39 percent of that donated directly to groups helping the needy. By industry standards, such philanthropic groups should be donating nearly twice that, from 75 to 85 percent of their funds.“

    I suppose if the Republicans ran federal agencies, it really would be like they say.

  13. Larry K says:

    Good points, but it’s not a “litany of conservatives.” A “litany” is 1) a series of supplications to God with set responses by the congregation or 2) a tedious recital (as in “a litany of woes”). A long list of conservatives can recite a litany of woes, but a litany of conservatives can’t do that.

  14. Robert Waldmann says:

    Great job. I want more. I find it hard to remember the whole graph. Trying to remember, I incorrectly guessed that SSI was not the only program with pretty high Federal administrative costs. I think pooling the dollars across programs might be a good idea. To be frank, I think defining the programs in qustion as assistance to the non disabled sighted non elderly would be justifiable. Correctly you all don’t look at disability (not about low income). Obviously, I am proposing an excuse for not looking at SSI. I think a true claim could end with “less thn 2%”. Why not. But at least help us out with an overall average. 18 numbers are about 16 too many (ok 12 giving adding up to 100%).


  15. Warren Jason Street says:

    Thank you for that. It speaks to a need to lie and it shows that the Republican Party is a heavily-enabled outfit that has to lie in order to achieve anything.

    We have gotten to the point in this country where showing people how efficient their government really is leads to frustration. If you tried to put this in the context of a 30 second soundbite or an evening news feature, the pushback would be enormous. Republicans love to work the refs, even when the ball keeps going into the net.

  16. Fubar says:

    Is this a comprehensive list of federal poverty programs? If so, please cite a legitimate source. If it is not a comprehensive list, have these agencies been cherry picked to make the statistics look good?

    I work on the periphery of the Federal poverty program system, in education, and it it far from “efficient” in human terms. There is a lack of competent management by the Federal overseers (there are fortunately some very good public interst lobbyist/research groups that try to keep Federal oversight and management in line). The conventional undertanding of “efficiency” is based purely on financial considerations as far as I can tell, not in effectiveness of use of resources, promotion of morale of workers, etc.

    In reality the programs are so financially “efficient” that there do not appear to be enough people with enough time to try to make sure they are running in an effective manner.

    And they are probably not designed all that well in the first place, rather they are intended to keep minimise social discontent about the injustices of State-Capitalism.

    Bias disclosure: I’m a labor activist.

  17. Jim Z. says:

    “…launching his attack based on inefficient administration…” I think you meant to say “information.”

  18. David E. Long says:

    I think that Gov. Romney was not implying that there was a lot of actual administrative waste, but that the program adminstrations are both failing to disqualify those that should not qualify, and also failing to reach those that are most in need of the provided benefits. Of course, using this argument, it’s possible that a case could be made that too little of the funding is spent on administration.