OCASIO-CORTEZ: "$21 TRILLION of Pentagon financial transactions 'could not be traced, documented, or explained.' $21T in Pentagon accounting errors. Medicare for All costs ~$32T. That means 66% of Medicare for All could have been funded already by the Pentagon. And that's before our premiums." — tweet Dec. 2.
$21 TRILLION of Pentagon financial transactions “could not be traced, documented, or explained.”$21T in Pentagon accounting errors. Medicare for All costs ~$32T.That means 66% of Medicare for All could have been funded already by the Pentagon.And that’s before our premiums. https://t.co/soT6GSmDSG— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 2, 2018
THE FACTS: Ocasio-Cortez is generally correct to suggest that one way of paying for the huge cost of "Medicare for All" would be to cut spending elsewhere. But she is wrong to suggest that there's a pot of misspent defense dollars that could cover the health care expenses. The New York Democrat also misrepresents the findings of an academic study that found the $21 trillion in Pentagon errors to be accounting "adjustments," not a tally of actual money wasted.
The study by Mark Skidmore, an economist at Michigan State University and Catherine Austin Fitts, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, did find $21 trillion in Pentagon transactions from 1998 to 2015 that could not be verified. Their study is a cited in a Nation article retweeted in part by Ocasio-Cortez, even though that article makes clear that not "all of this $21 trillion was secret or misused funding ... the plugs are found on both the positive and the negative sides of the ledger, thus potentially netting each other out."
Total defense spending from 1998 to 2015 was $9 trillion. That means defunding the military entirely would only cover a small portion of the estimated $32 trillion cost over 10 years for the "Medicare for All" legislation by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Ocasio-Cortez wrongly suggests that fixing Pentagon accounting errors would net 66 percent of costs.
"What she was referencing was the total number of transactions that happened with DoD — there's a lot of double and triple counting as money gets moved around in the department," said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "All of that basically means is that those transactions don't have a full trail," akin to an employee who submits an expense report without providing all the receipts.
"Just because you don't have the proper audit trail for transactions doesn't mean that those transactions are fraudulent," Harrison said.
David Norquist, the Pentagon's comptroller, has attributed the accounting errors to the department's older bookkeeping "systems that do not automatically pass data from one to the other." He said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee in January that the errors do not amount to a pot of lost money. "I wouldn't want the taxpayer to confuse that with the loss of something like a trillion dollars, it's not. That wouldn't be accurate," Norquist said.