Rick Foster is in great demand on Capitol Hill.
The chief actuary of Medicare and Medicaid last week released his cost projections for Obamacare, contradicting the administration and setting off a firestorm. Now, more than 60 Republicans want Foster to appear before four House committees.
The last time Foster drew this much attention on Capitol Hill, he was testifying about a Bush administration official who threatened to fire him for releasing data.
Life can be complicated when you crunch numbers for a living in Washington.
It's the chief actuary's job to estimate the financial impact of congressional legislation on the government's entitlement programs — without political spin.
Foster's projections about the Medicare drug benefit in 2003 nearly cost him his job when the estimates didn't conform to President George W. Bush's prescribed talking points.
Foster later testified that he was ordered by a Bush administration official to deliberately withhold the information from Congress.
He now finds himself in the cross hairs for an analysis of Obamacare that projects medical costs will increase by $311 billion over the next decade and about 14 million people will lose their employer-based coverage.
The projections didn't sit well with the White House.
President Barack Obama unleashed his staff to attack Foster's work. Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer downplayed and criticized Foster's analysis on the White House website.
A bean counter attacked by both Bush loyalists and Obama flacks must be doing something right.
Foster stands by his analysis. Even his critics acknowledge his new report on Obamacare is consistent with his previous work on congressional health care legislation. An analysis he produced in January on the Senate's health care bill had similar cost estimates.
Of course, timing matters.
Had the Obamacare report been released before Congress voted in March, it might have dampened enthusiasm among some budget-conscious House members. Instead, it arrived a month later.
The last time Foster caused so much consternation was 2003, during the debate over the Medicare drug benefit. Thomas A. Scully, then-administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, ordered Foster to withhold his cost projections from Congress before a vote. Foster testified that Scully vowed "extremely severe" consequences if he disobeyed White House orders.
The Bush White House had reason to be concerned. Bush sold Congress the program by quoting a cost of no more than $400 billion over 10 years — a lower figure than Foster's analysis showed. The current estimate is $428 billion, according to the Medicare trustees.
Nothing quite as scandalous happened during the Obamacare debate — in part because Foster didn't have time to finish his analysis before Congress voted.
"We didn't have access to the reconciliation legislation itself until it was publicly issued on March 18, which was three days before the House vote took place on March 21," Foster said in an e-mail. "Because of the complexity of the reconciliation changes, it wasn't possible to estimate the package prior to the vote. We began work on the estimates right away, but we didn't finalize them until the afternoon of April 22."
Foster's explanation offers some insight into the frenzied workings of the Capitol Hill sausage factory. In 2003, he nearly lost his job over projections. In 2010, he didn't have enough time to examine the proposal and report to lawmakers on its effects.
Both episodes illustrate why Foster faces a no-win situation. But they also reveal why he should be trusted — regardless of the spin from the White House.
Democrats should let him testify. It's better late than never.
Robert B. Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Politico