Seeking his reward
Robert Shireman fought over millions of dollars as the congressional aide spearheading President Clinton's plan to reduce the role of banks in the student-loan business.
Now, he's involved in another million-dollar fight. But this time he's playing for keeps, and his opponent is the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Shireman is suing, contending that he successfully disproved their assertion that their 1995 budget bill would not have cut Medicare spending. His one-page polemic responded to a Dec. 12, 1995, newspaper ad in which then-RNC Chairman Haley Barbour offered a $1 million reward to anyone who could prove the bill amounted to a cut.
Mr. Shireman's argument rests on the Congressional Budget Office projection that, after seven years, Medicare spending under the Republicans' bill would have been $270 million less than if no changes were passed.
"The Republican plan does not have the effect of increasing spending," Mr. Shireman wrote the day after Mr. Barbour announced the contest. "Indeed, it causes a reduction in spending from what it would be if no action is taken."
"You owe me one million dollars," concluded Mr. Shireman.
When he entered the $1 million challenge, Mr. Shireman was well acquainted with the Republican budget bill. His job involved fighting attempts to cap Mr. Clinton's direct-lending program. The bill was eventually vetoed.
As for his own payoff, Mr. Shireman heard from Mr. Barbour about six months after filing his entry and was told he was incorrect. Even though Medicare spending would have grown more slowly than if the program had not been touched, total spending would have increased 62 percent from fiscal 1996 to fiscal 2002, Mr. Barbour wrote.
Mr. Shireman, who is now an analyst of education programs for the White House Office of Management and Budget, is not taking no for an answer.
Mr. Shireman's case relies on the grammatical context of the Republicans' challenge. The statement used the transitive version of the verb "increase." In that usage, the word means: "To cause to become greater in size." But the Medicare program would have grown even without the Republican bill, the brief says.
The case is now in mediation, a standard procedure for civil litigation in Washington. "This is a simple contract case," said David Halperin, Mr. Shireman's lawyer. "He has a very strong argument."
--DAVID J. HOFFfederal@epe.org.