Newly elected representative and social media lightning rod Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) sparked a round of controversy this weekend when she compared the potential cost of Medicare for All to the cost of a supposed “massive accounting fraud” totaling $21 trillion at the Pentagon.
Referring to an article The Nation last week, Ocasio-Cortez said that an alleged $21 trillion worth of improper financial transactions at the Pentagon would be enough to pay for two-thirds of the $32 trillion bill for Medicare for All — with the latter number derived from an analysis of Bernie Sanders’ health care plan by Charles Blahous of the libertarian Mercatus Center back in August.
The problem, as numerous critics were quick to point out, is that the supposed accounting fraud at the Pentagon consists of poorly documented internal transfers at the Defense Department and has no clear cost basis, even if true. The Nation article does not allege that $21 trillion has gone missing at the Pentagon, nor does it suggest that a crackdown on alleged fraud would produce trillions of dollars that could be invested in other ways.
Additionally, the defense and health care numbers are based on different timeframes, with the Nation piece referring to decades worth of questionable accounting maneuvers, while the Medicare for All cost estimate is based on total spending on health care over 10 years.
In short, even supposing the numbers involved in Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet were accurate — a big if — the two reports are not comparable in any meaningful way.
For more on Ocasio-Corte’s weekend flub, Vox’s Matt Yglesias provides a useful analysis of the numbers and policies involved. His conclusion: “there’s no $21 trillion pot of gold that can be raided to pay for a comprehensive health insurance program, even though the United States really does spend an awful lot on the military.”