BUDGET MAGIC….Imagine that. The administration’s prescription drug bill isn’t going to cost $400 billion, and it’s not going to cost $534 billion. It’s going to cost $1.2 trillion.

But it’s not so bad. Honest. The White House says there are offsets that will make the real cost $720 billion, a mere doubling of the original estimate. Personally, my guess is that these “offsets” will turn out to be less than the White House is saying, but you know me. I have an irrational hatred of George Bush that causes me to distrust his numbers. I don’t know where it comes from.

As Matt Yglesias points out, the worst part of this whole charade is being forced to listen to congressional Republicans who pretend that they’re outraged at being duped. The clarification about costs (that is, today’s clarification, not last year’s) has a simple source: the White House is now using the first ten years that the prescription drug program is actually active (2006-2015) instead of the first ten years after the bill passed (2004-2013) ? which included a couple of years in which the program wasn’t even scheduled to exist.

This is childish, and no one can pretend to be astonished about tactics like this, especially since Republicans routinely use them on other programs as well. Dick Cheney, for example, uses estimates for the cost of Social Security privatization based on ten years starting right now, even though the program won’t start up until 2009 at the earliest. The real number is at least 50% higher than the White House estimates, and everyone knows it.

Tax cuts are treated the same way. Two years ago, for example, Republican Senator George Voinovich loudly insisted that Bush’s 2003 tax cut be limited to $350 billion. How responsible! But the deal he cut only got to $350 billion by pretending that the cuts would be temporary, thus cutting their apparent 10-year cost. Everyone knew perfectly well that Bush would turn around and fight to make the cuts permanent, and that’s exactly what happened. Voinovich knew it too.

The Bush White House is congenitally unable to produce honest figures for any of its programs, and the sleight of hand it uses is transparent to everyone. But Republicans pretend to accept it anyway and then pretend further to be shocked when the real numbers eventually can’t be concealed any longer. I wonder if their constituents will ever wake up?

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