It was a high figure that I heard again and again covering health-care reform this past week: 16,500. That was the number of “bureaucrats” or “IRS agents” that numerous Republicans said would be necessary to enforce the individual mandate—basically, to make sure that Americans comply with the law to carry health insurance.
The number struck me as high but potentially plausible, until the claims started getting really weird. Like when Ron Paul (R-Texas) claimed that not only were 16,500 new hires on the way, they would all be armed (around 3:53 in the clip above): “16,500 armed bureaucrats [are] coming to make this program work,” he explained to the host. “If it was a good program and everybody liked it, you wouldn’t need 16,500 thugs coming with their guns and putting you in jail if you didn’t follow all the rules.”
Is a mini health-care militia headed our way? A new Obamacare police brigade in the works? Um, no. The claim that the IRS will go on a 16,500-person hiring spree “stems from a partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and compounded by outright misrepresentation,” a new analysis from Factcheck.org finds.
To be fair, the number did not come completely out of thin air. Earlier this month, in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf estimated that IRS would have to spend “$5 billion to $10 billion over 10 years ” on the administrative costs of enforcing health-care reform. The Ways and Means Republicans seized on the $10 billion figure, did a few calculations about what that would mean in terms of additional employees on a payroll, and came up with the 16,500 figure.
It’s in the Republican calculation where things went haywire. More from Factcheck:
No desks? First, they [the Republican Ways & Means Committee] assume that all the new "administrative" spending projected by CBO would go for payroll and benefits—without any allowance for desks, computers, office rent, utilities, travel, or other overhead costs necessary to run any government enterprise. The partisan analysts simply divided the spending (which they figured could be $1.5 billion per year once the law is fully effective) by the current average payroll cost for the entire IRS workforce.
Politifact, another nonpartisan group, also weighed in on the shoddy math, deeming the claim "barely true":
The CBO estimated a cost burden of between $5 billion and $10 billion over 10 years. The Ways and Means Republicans' report made its calculations based only on the high end of that range. If it had used the $5 billion figure instead (or offered it side by side with the $10 billion figure) it would have worked out to 8,250 jobs.
Where the claim that these agents would be armed came from is anyone’s guess—and, if we’re going to get our math right here, the new overhead required to purchase firearms would likely lower the number of total bureaucrats.
Understanding how exactly health-care reform will impact numerous government agencies is, by all means, a worthwhile goal. And while it is true the IRS will indeed need additional funds for the administration of health-care reform, claiming that it entails 16,500 new agents is just flat-out wrong and misleading, which is particularly frustrating to see when it seems that what Americans want most is to understand this massive, complicated piece of legislation.