Tag: congressional budget office

Recapping the Costs of the REAL ID Revival Bill

In late July, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a new version of PASS ID, the REAL ID revival bill. I’ve posted about various dimensions of it: the national ID question, the politics of PASS ID, whether PASS ID protects privacy, a run-down of the Senate hearing on it, and the inexplicable support of the Center for Democracy and Technology for this national ID law.

Three months later, the committee still has not reported the bill, meaning that the public doesn’t get access to the version the committee passed. (A resolution in the House would require committees there to publish amendments to bills within 24 hours.) But the Congressional Budget Office scored the bill this week. That is often a signal that legislation is on the move.

So it’s a good time to look at costs again. The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures both premised their support for PASS ID on the idea that it would reduce costs to states to just $2 billion.

But in July I examined the likely costs of PASS ID and NGA’s cost calculations. To save you a burdensome click, here are some highlights:

But there is reason to doubt [the NGA’s $2 billion] figure. PASS ID is a lot more like REAL ID — the original REAL ID — in the way that most affects costs: the implementation schedule.

Under PASS ID, the DHS would have to come up with regulations in just nine months. States would then have just one year to begin complying. All drivers’ licenses would have to be replaced in the five years after that. That’s a total of six years to review the documents of every driver and ID holder, and issue them new cards.

How did the NGA come up with $2 billion? Maybe they took the extended, watered-down, 75%-over-ten-years estimate and subtracted some for reduced IT costs. (The NGA is free to publish its methodology, of course.)

But the costs of implementing PASS ID to states are more likely to be closer to $11 billion than the $2 billion figure that the NGA puts forward. In just six years, PASS ID would send some 245 million people into DMV offices around the country demanding new cards. States will have to hire and train new employees to handle the workload. They will have to acquire new computer systems, documents scanners, data storage facilities, and so on.

The NGA’s claim of savings from PASS ID is weak. Did the new CBO score change anything?

First, let’s review what a CBO score is. When CBO scores a bill, it reports how a bill will change costs to the federal government. Other CBO reports may include overall costs for federal programs, but when CBO scores a bill, it just reports the difference between current federal spending and spending if a new proposal should pass. CBO sometimes mentions mandates on states and private-sector costs in their bill-scores, but those are rarely if ever thoroughly reported. CBO’s wheelhouse is federal spending, and that’s what it reports.

Now, let’s look at how CBO has done with estimating the costs to states from implementing federal national ID standards.

Its first cut at scoring national ID standards was when it looked at H.R. 10 in the latter stages of the 108th Congress. (This was before REAL ID — H.R. 10 was an early version of the bill that became law as the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.) When CBO scored H.R. 10 in late 2004, it lumped national ID standards along with several other policies and programs in a category called ”Mandates With no Significant Costs.”

Four months later, in early 2005, CBO scored the REAL ID Act, which had been introduced early in the new Congress. It found then that the national ID standards Congress had put into law in December had changed from a mandate with “no significant costs” to a mandate costing more than $100 million.

CBO thought REAL ID would only cost $20 million more than that, an amount below the reporting threshold of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, so CBO did not do a thorough analysis.

Then the folks actually faced with implementing it took a look at REAL ID. More realistic estimates of costs to states in the $10+ billion range came forward, including an estimate from the National Governors Association, as I discussed in my previous post on costs.

With that background we’re ready to look at the CBO score for PASS ID. CBO makes no precise estimate of costs to states. Its specialty, again, is federal spending. But it makes a few observations about such costs:

  • “The bill would require states to issue public notices about their security and privacy policies that include information about how personally identifiable information is used, stored, accessed, and shared.”

This, all should agree, is a complex problem but a small cost.

  • “The bill also would require states to have a process that would allow individuals to access, amend, and correct their information. Information from groups representing state governments [NGA and NCSL, most likely] indicates that most states currently have such policies and procedures, though some may need to be revised.”

No. They. Do. Not.

As I said in my post on the privacy consequences of PASS ID:

This is a new and different security/identity fraud challenge not found in REAL ID, and the states have no idea what they’re getting themselves into if they try to implement such a thing. A May 2000 report from a panel of experts convened by the Federal Trade Commission was bowled over by the complexity of trying to secure information while giving people access to it. Nowhere is that tension more acute than in giving the public access to basic identity information.

No state has opened its driver databases for review and correction by the public. That would be an all-you-can-eat buffet for identity fraudsters. The CBO has been bamboozled about state policies.

But the language of PASS ID finesses this, doesn’t it? It says that opening up identity data and giving the public correction rights would be done “as determined appropriate by the State.” So states wouldn’t really have to do anything, right? Right!

Except that the Department of Homeland Security gets to interpret what that language means, and a court will defer to any reasonable DHS interpretation. That’s the Supreme Court’s Chevron doctrine. (It’s an unfortunate abdication of power to administrative agencies, but it’s the law today.)

If the NGA and NCSL have told their clients that they will have the last word on how PASS IS is implemented, they are wrong. It’s DHS’ call — not states’. There may be huge costs to states — hidden at first, but growing and growing — if they stick their heads into the jaws of the federal lion.

Returning to the CBO’s assessment of state costs:

  • “The bill would repeal the requirements of the REAL ID Act and replace them with more flexible requirements for issuing compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards.”

This is true in some respects, and not in others. As I noted before, PASS ID is on a tighter implementation schedule which is the main driver of costs.

  • “The bill also would authorize appropriations that could be used to pay for those requirements, and it would prohibit the federal government from charging fees to states to access the SAVE and SSOLV data systems.”

Because it’s federal, this is something that CBO actually knows about, and its assessment is that PASS ID would dole out a total of $123 million to states over the next five years. Washington, D.C.’s highest spending year would be fiscal 2013, in which it would spend $39 million, less than $1 million per state.

And those savings when the federal government doesn’t charge states for using its databases? Just $2 million each year in fiscal 2010 and 2011.

Nothing in the CBO estimate changes the conclusion that implementing a national ID would cost states over $10 billion dollars, as they hired new staff, acquired new equipment and systems, and marched 250 million Americans through their DMVs. The federal government is promising to dole out $123 million and offer states a whopping $4 million in savings on data access.

The National Governors Association’s argument that PASS ID reduces costs to states is ludicrous. And the paltry funds Congress might share with states is a drop in the bucket. The homeland security appropriations bill for fiscal 2010 cuts funding for REAL ID by $40 million from its 2009 funding level. PASS ID would fare no better.

State governors and legislatures that have fallen for the PASS ID cost estimates of the National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures should fire these financial advisors. NGA and NCSL are trying to grow federal power at the expense of state coffers.

Baucus Bill Would Cost More than $2 Trillion

Sen. Max Baucus’s (D-MT) health care overhaul would cost more than $2 trillion.  It would expand the deficit.  But he has carefully and methodically hidden those facts – so well that he has completely hoodwinked nearly all the major media.

The media are reporting that the Baucus bill would reduce the deficit by $81 billion over 10 years.  Wrong.

The Baucus bill assumes that Congress will allow the “sustainable growth rate” cuts in Medicare’s physician payments to occur beginning in 2012.  Yet Congress has routinely and repeatedly blocked those cuts, making Baucus’s assumption preposterous.  The CBO handled the issue delicately, but essentially said, “Sure, provided that the sun rises in the west in 2012, then yes, this bill would reduce the deficit.”

That means Baucus will come up at least $200 billion short on the revenue side, making his bill a budget-buster.

The media are reporting that the Baucus bill would cost just $829 billion over 10 years.  Wrong.

As Donald Marron observes, that number omits as much as $75 billion in new federal spending.  It also omits a $33 billion unfunded mandate on state governments.

But the worst part is that the Congressional Budget Office’s preliminary cost estimate omits the cost of the private sector mandates in the Baucus bill.  In Massachusetts, those costs accounted for 60 percent of the total cost of reform.  That suggests the actual cost of the Baucus bill – $829 billion plus $75 billion plus $33 billion, times 2.5 – is well over $2 trillion.

Yet the CBO score pretends those costs aren’t even there.  It’s like a mystery novel that’s missing the last 50 pages.  And the media aren’t even curious.

In the words of Brad DeLong, why, oh why, can’t we have a better press corps?

Cross-posted at Politico’s Health Care Arena.

Wednesday Links - Health Care Costs

The Congressional Budget Office released a report this week that revealed that the proposed health care bill would not increase the deficit.  But is it that simple? Cato health care policy experts have examined the bill and added up the costs. Here are a few things they have found:

Nobody Considers Health Insurance Mandates a Tax? Really??

As my colleague Jeffrey Miron noted earlier today, when grilled by George Stephanopolous on whether the so-called “individual mandate” is a tax increase, Obama replied, “Nobody considers that a tax increase….You can’t just make up that language and decide that that’s called a tax increase…My critics say everything is a tax increase.”

Where do Obama’s critics get these wacky ideas?  From a bunch of nobodies, that’s who!

Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt, quoted by Larry Summers (1987):

[Just because] the fiscal flows triggered by mandate would not flow directly through the public budgets does not detract from the measure’s status of a bona fide tax.

Economist Larry Summers, Obama’s National Economic Council chair (1989):

Economists have generally devoted little attention to mandated benefits regarding them as simply disguised tax and expenditure measures… Essentially, mandated benefits are like public programs financed by benefit taxes… [If] the mandated benefit is worthless to employees, it is just like a tax from the point of view of both employers and employees…There is no sense in which benefits become ‘free’ just because the government mandates that employers offer them to workers.

Columbia University economist Sherry Glied, Obama’s appointee to HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, in the New England Journal of Medicine (2008):

The mandate is in many respects analogous to a tax. It requires people to make payments for something whether they want it or not. One important concern is that the government will provide insufficient funds for the subsidies intended to accompany the mandate. In that case, the mandate will act as a very regressive tax, penalizing uninsured people who genuinely cannot afford to buy coverage.

Congressional Budget Office (2009):

Under some proposals, firms would be required to make payments to the federal government if they chose not to offer health insurance to their employees, and individuals who did not comply with the requirement to  obtain insurance would have to pay a penalty. Such payments would be equivalent to a tax or a fine, and the government’s receipts should be recorded in the budget as federal revenues.

Here’s a question: if an individual mandate is not a tax, why exempt anybody?  If an employer mandate isn’t a tax, why exempt small businesses?

Taxpayers, Anyone? And How About Tuition Inflation?

The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsiblilty Act will probably be approved by the House of Representatives today, and to push it along the bill’s sponsor, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), makes clear for whom he is working:

Let’s remember whose voices really matter here. It’s time to listen to our students and our families.

First of all, do the voices of taxpayers not matter at all? You know, the folks who are going to foot the bill for all this largesse? Oh yeah – concentrated benefits, diffuse costs. And have students and their families really been trees falling in the wilderness with no one to hear them? With inflation-adjusted aid per full-time-equivalent student (table 3) rising from $4,454 in 1987 to $10,392 in 2007 – a 134 percent increase – it sure doesn’t seem so.

In fairness, the bill’s proponents have paid lip service to taxpayers, saying with straight and utterly deceptive faces that SAFRA won’t cost taxpayers a dime. The thing is, not only is this totally unsupportable according to several Congressional Budget Office analyses, it completely ingores that tax money is covering all of the costs of the bill. SAFRA would simply transfer taxpayer ducats from backing ostensibly private loans to loans directly from Washington, as well as lots of other federal expenditures.

And then there’s this: SAFRA supporters can talk all they want about helping students and families, but increasing grants and loans ultimately just hurts college-goers. Why? Because colleges and universities raise their prices to capture every additional penny of aid, as basic economics makes clear they would. So the only people politicians are ultimately helping are colleges, and by appearing to care ever so much about likely voters, themselves.

NYT Nonsense on SAFRA

With the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) likely to be voted on by the full House or Representatives today, the media is finally giving some space to debate over the bill. Unfortunately, the New York Times only pays attention to the parts it likes, writing in an editorial today that:

The private lenders and those who do their bidding in Congress have recently taken issue with a Congressional Budget Office analysis that showed that the bill would save about $87 billion over the next 10 years.

They argue, absurdly, for example, that the savings would be smaller if the system were analyzed under accounting rules other than the ones that the federal government is required to use. The aim is to mislead taxpayers and members of Congress into believing that the C.B.O. estimate is dishonest.

Um, excuse me New York Times, but the CBO has never said the bill – not just going from subsidized to direct lending, but the whole bill – would save $87 billion over ten years. Moreover, it has been a series of analyses from the CBO – albeit driven by requests from members of Congress – that have continually increased the cost estimates for SAFRA. (I have linked to all the CBO analyses here.) CBO’s very first estimate of the bill’s likely net cost put it at around $6 billion over ten years, and it only went up from there after incorporating such things as lending risk and potentially higher Pell grant costs.

Of course, the Times isn’t alone in its refusal to talk honestly about SAFRA. Despite all of the CBO estimates, yesterday U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said SAFRA would give college students and numerous other interests the world without costing taxpayers a dime.  “We’re not asking the taxpayers for one single dollar,” he said. And SAFRA’s sponsor, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), has been touting his bill as a revolutionary money saver since day one.

The truth on this thing is out there, but it’s definitely not in the New York Times.

The Real Cost of a Government Takeover of Health Care

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that current health care “reform” legislation could cost around a trillion dollars over the coming decade.  But that number likely is low. 

Stephen T. Parente of HSI Network LLC says the CBO did not use the most current data.  HSI figures the cost could be double the CBO estimate. 

Warns Parente:

The biggest player in the health-care debate right now isn’t Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, or even President Obama. It’s the Congressional Budget Office, which is responsible for estimating the costs of proposed legislation. After the director of the CBO testified on July 16 that none of the health-reform bills in the House or Senate would reduce the rate of increase in federal spending on health care, congressional efforts fell into disarray. Many policymakers began searching for a way to get costs below the CBO’s frightening estimate of $1.1 trillion over ten years. Others attacked the CBO, calling its estimates irresponsible.

The CBO is actually being kind to the would-be reformers. Its analysis likely understates — by at least $1 trillion — the true costs of expanding health coverage as current Democratic legislation contemplates. Over the last few months, my colleagues and I at the consulting firm Health Systems Innovations have provided cost estimates of health-care reform to both Republican and Democratic members of Congress, and we’ve posted these estimates on our website as well. We believe that the Democratic bills currently under consideration in the House and Senate would cost $2.1 trillion and $2.4 trillion, respectively — much higher than CBO’s figures.

The discrepancies between our estimates and CBO’s stem from our different assumptions about a key issue. The Democratic plans envision a government-run insurance program, modeled after Medicare, that will compete with private insurers. How many people would opt for coverage under this public insurance? We believe that both large and small employers would have powerful incentives to shift their employees out of private coverage and into the public plan. Like the Urban Institute, we estimate that roughly 40 million people would make the shift. CBO seems to assume, however, that large employers would use the public plan only sparingly and that only 11 million people would move from private to public insurance — which would, of course, result in lower costs.

Why the difference in these estimates? We believe that we have better data on this issue than the CBO, which uses simulation models of health-insurance plans based on much older health-plan data — typically from 2001 or even 2000. Our estimates are grounded in 2006 commercial-insurance data to which the CBO doesn’t have access (the data are not publicly available and the CBO didn’t make provisions to purchase them). These data reflect the advent of much cheaper, high-deductible health plans and limited-provider network plans. If the government modeled its public option on these inexpensive plans, the result would be cheap enough to lure far more people away from private health insurance than the CBO estimates.

Yet another reason, as if another reason were necessary, for Congress not to hurry in voting to nationalize the health care system.