08/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

AP's Bad Health Care Numbers Spread To Other News Orgs

Yesterday, we wrote about how even though the CBO places the initial health care reform price tag at just over a trillion dollars over ten years, the Associated Press had decided that they were going to just tell people it was $1.5 trillion dollars, just because they could.

Then the AP got back to us and showed us their own back-of-the-envelope calculations, which was really good of them to do, but it didn't explain why they'd calculate it themselves to the tune of $1.65 trillion, and then turn around and tell people it was actually $1.5 trillion. I'm just guessing, here (and if the AP can do it, so can I!), that the AP is of the opinion that the $1.5 trillion dollar figure is SHINIER because it's sourced to an unnamed Democratic source, and that's just a sexier thing to say. Of course, they've stopped sourcing that figure that way, so maybe that's not the case?

Anyway, the salient point is this: The AP is asserting a number that does not dovetail with official calculations and which they do not even agree with internally. This is, as they say, confusing. And because of the confusion, this is what is happening:

From Brian Beutler, at TPM:

ABC is now picking up on the claim that the House Democrats' health care reform bill will cost a made-up number.

Today, the president met separately with Sens. Snowe and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., to discuss health care, while three congressional committees continue discussions on the House Democrats $1.5 billion health overhaul legislation.

A couple things stand out here. First, the ABC reporters who wrote the piece -- Jonathan Karl, Z. Byron Wolf, and Huma Khan -- seem to be basing their article a couple Associated Press pieces which peg the legislation at $1.5 trillion...based on the contention of one anonymous Democratic aide. For whatever reason, the AP isn't relying in this instance on the Congressional Budget Office--or other, on the record House Democrats--which prices the bill at about $1 trillion. That's without taking into account revenue-generating measures.

Second, they're using the word "billion" instead of "trillion" -- three-order-of-magnitude difference notwithstanding all the problems with the number "1.5".

See, now, this is what happens when people stop being reporters, and start being stenographers who can't add.

That said, if health care reform does end up costing only $1.5 billion, we should totally do it.

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