Here is Ben Carson, wandering off topic when the Miami Herald asks him about abuses of our Cuba policy:
"I think the way to fix that is not so much to abolish the act, but dealing with the specific area where the abuse is," Carson said, noting that Medicare and Medicaid fraud is "huge — half a trillion dollars."
"We definitely need to focus on that," he said.
Well, hell, why not say it's a hundred trillion dollars? Or a gazillion? I mean, if you're just going to make stuff up, why not go whole hog?
For the record, total Medicare and Medicaid spending last year—state, federal, everything—was $980 billion. So Carson is suggesting that literally half of all spending on these programs is fraudulent.
So where did Carson come up with this figure? Beats me. There are a few possibilities:
- It comes from some kind of kooky right-wing conspiracy theory that circulates in newsletters and email lists that the rest of us never see.
- Carson read somewhere that Medicare fraud totaled $60 billion out of half a trillion dollars, and the only parts that stuck in his brain were "fraud" and "half a trillion dollars."
- He just made it up.
This stuff is weird. Carson didn't have to say anything about Medicare fraud. The question was about Cuba policy. He wanted to mention it. Fine. He could have just said that Medicare fraud was a huge problem. Sorry: not good enough. He wanted to toss out a scary number, but he couldn't be bothered to know what it actually was—or even know enough about Medicare and Medicaid spending to realize that half a trillion dollars couldn't possibly be right. He just doesn't care. What kind of person running for president just doesn't care?
POSTSCRIPT: Couldn't Carson have just made a mistake? Sure. But here's the thing: some mistakes are so big they give away the fact that you're entirely ignorant of the subject at hand. If I told you that Babe Ruth hit 800 home runs in his career, it might just be a brain fart. But if I told you he hit 5,000 home runs, it's a giveaway that I'm faking. I don't know the first thing about baseball.
That's what Carson did here. He's smart and good with numbers, so if he knew even the basics of Medicare and Medicaid he'd also know intuitively that half a trillion dollars couldn't be right. But he didn't. He's running for president, and hasn't bothered to learn even the kindergarten basics about two programs that make up nearly a third of the federal budget.