March 20, 2004

Bush Medicare Reform Bill Become a Nightmare for GOP

When will the "US mainstream news media" and its
propapunditgandists give this story the attention it
warrants? There is no more compelling indictment of
the network news shows than their refusal to lead
their broadcasts with it? No, instead they spend their
air time carrying Rove's water in the maligning of
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mekong Delta)...

William Douglas, Knight Ridder: But less than four
months after he signed it into law on Dec. 8, Bush's
Medicare-reform dream has turned into a nightmare and
a potential drag on his bid for re-election.
-- The Bush administration deliberately didn't tell
Congress that the measure could cost more than $100
billion more than advertised.
-- House Republican leaders abused House rules to push
the measure to a narrow victory. There are also
allegations of threats and bribes that are under
investigation.
-- The Bush administration spent millions of taxpayer
dollars on public service TV ads touting the Medicare
reform law that look suspiciously like Bush campaign
commercials. Those, too, are now under investigation.
-- Polls show that a majority of Americans don't like
the Medicare reforms.

Cleanse the White House of the Chickenhawk Coup and
Its Corrupt Cronies, Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)


http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/business/national/8231107.htm

Posted on Fri, Mar. 19, 2004

Bush Medicare Reform Bill Become a Nightmare for GOP

By William Douglas, Knight Ridder Washington Bureau
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Mar. 19--WASHINGTON - Enactment of a sweeping Medicare
reform law last year was supposed to be the crowning
achievement of President Bush's "compassionate
conservatism" as he readied himself for re-election.

By providing a federally subsidized prescription-drug
benefit for senior citizens, albeit a limited one,
administration officials felt they usurped a major
issue from the Democrats and cut into Democratic
support among seniors age 65 and over -- an especially
important voting bloc in key battleground states such
as Florida.

But less than four months after he signed it into law
on Dec. 8, Bush's Medicare-reform dream has turned
into a nightmare and a potential drag on his bid for
re-election.

-- The Bush administration deliberately didn't tell
Congress that the measure could cost more than $100
billion more than advertised.

-- House Republican leaders abused House rules to push
the measure to a narrow victory. There are also
allegations of threats and bribes that are under
investigation.

-- The Bush administration spent millions of taxpayer
dollars on public service TV ads touting the Medicare
reform law that look suspiciously like Bush campaign
commercials. Those, too, are now under investigation.

-- Polls show that a majority of Americans don't like
the Medicare reforms.

"It's something that's eating away at the credibility
of the administration in an election year on a bill
that he (Bush) thought was a building block for his
re-election," said Stephen Hess, a political analyst
for the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank,
and a former aide to President Eisenhower.

The law's afterglow faded fast once lawmakers learned
it could cost at least $100 billion more than the $395
billion over 10 years that the White House originally
advertised. That White House revelation in late
January riled budget hawks who'd said they wouldn't
vote for the measure if it cost more than $400
billion. The measure probably would have failed if the
higher cost estimate had been known.

Lawmakers got steamed after the nation's top Medicare
actuary, Richard S. Foster, told Knight Ridder that he
had projected the higher cost long before Congress
voted in November. Lawmakers were never told about his
higher cost estimates because he says he was ordered
by his boss, former Medicare Administrator Thomas
Scully, to withhold them from Congress or he would be
fired.

House Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.,
the ranking member of the House Government Reform
Committee, are threatening a lawsuit to force Health
and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to turn
over all of Foster's undisclosed estimates. And
they're not stopping with Thompson.

Waxman and four other senior House Democrats fired off
a letter Friday to White House chief of staff Andrew
Card demanding that the White House disclose its role
in withholding the information from Congress.

"In this case, there appears to have been extensive
White House involvement in the development of the cost
estimates for the prescription drug provisions," the
letter asserts.

In an interview with Knight Ridder, Foster said he was
reasonably sure that Doug Badger, a White House health
policy adviser, was aware of the higher cost
estimates. Foster said Scully hinted that he was being
pressured by Bush administration officials to withhold
the cost projections from Congress.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said earlier this
week that Badger didn't order Scully to muzzle Foster.
Scully, who now works at a local law firm specializing
in health care matters, didn't return a call for
comment.

Duffy said Friday the White House isn't likely to
cooperate with the investigation that the Democrats
are requesting.

The HHS inspector general's office is investigating
Foster's assertion that Scully ordered him to withhold
cost estimates from members of Congress.

Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist, called
the Medicare issue "much ado about nothing" on Friday
because Congress relies on cost estimates for
legislation made by the Congressional Budget Office,
not the executive branch. In a Friday interview with
the editorial board of The Miami Herald, Rove refused
to say whether he was involved in the decision to
withhold the high cost estimates.

Democrats hope to get answers Wednesday during a House
Ways and Means Committee hearing on the long-term
financial health of Medicare. However, Foster wasn't
confirmed as a witness Friday; congressional witness
lists are set by the majority party, currently
Republicans.

Foster met Friday with Ways and Means members and
staff from both parties and stood by his cost
estimates while acknowledging that CBO's lower
estimates were professionally executed and could be
correct.

Many lawmakers felt abused when Republican leaders
pushed the bill through the House of Representatives
on Nov. 22 by keeping the vote open for nearly three
hours -- usually votes are allowed only 15 minutes --
and by twisting GOP members' arms until they supported
it.

The House Ethics Committee has launched an
investigation into allegations by Rep. Nick Smith,
R-Mich., that "bribes and special deals were offered"
to induce him to vote for the bill in that period.

Smith, who voted against the bill, has said that
unidentified Republican power brokers offered
"extensive financial support and endorsements for my
son, Brad, who is running for my seat. They also made
threats of working against Brad if I voted no."

HHS Secretary Thompson sat beside Smith on the House
floor, talking to him avidly for about an hour before
the final Nov. 22 vote.

Smith later backed off his bribery claim, but the
Ethics Committee is proceeding anyway.

In addition, the General Accounting Office, the
investigative arm of Congress, is examining whether
HHS television ads touting the new Medicare law --
with pictures of Bush prominent -- constitute illegal
political propaganda. GAO already has concluded that
the ads contain "notable omissions and errors," but
its preliminary judgment was that they are legal.

The ads -- called "video news releases" by the
administration -- feature an actor portraying a
television news reporter and are being offered to
local TV news shows. Critics say the ads are intended
to make viewers think they are watching objective news
reports.

The law provides limited prescription-drug coverage
for about 40 million seniors. It also makes it easier
for cheaper generic drugs to reach the marketplace.

The law's centerpiece is the drug benefit, which will
not be available until 2006. Until then, seniors would
get drug-discount cards that could net savings of 10
percent to 25 percent off market prices.

Under the full drug benefit, seniors would pay a $250
deductible, a $34 monthly premium and 25 percent of
the cost of drugs between $250 and $2,250. Seniors
would encounter a gap in coverage after $2250 until
their out-of-pocket expenses reaches $3,600 or $5,100
in total drug expenses. At that point, they'd pay only
5 percent of their additional drug costs.

A Gallup poll in January revealed public
dissatisfaction with the reforms. Fifty-three percent
of those surveyed said the new prescription drug
benefit didn't go far enough; 27 percent said it was
about right while 9 percent said it went too far.
Eleven percent of the poll's respondents had no
opinion.

The mushrooming controversy is spurring cries of
cover-up from Democrats.

"There is no place for silencing the truth," said Sen.
John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic
presidential candidate. "I believe the American people
deserve real answers on why this administration is
keeping public officials quiet and keeping facts from
the American people. We deserve better than this."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., echoed the Watergate-era
line this week: "What did the president know and when
did he know it?"

By week's end, congressional Republicans were rallying
behind Bush and the Medicare reforms. They dismissed
complaints about the bill's hidden cost estimates,
ongoing investigations and controversy over the HHS
ads as simply a Democratic scheme to discredit a GOP
triumph.

The controversy "says more about the Democratic attack
machine than it says about the bill," said John
Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert,
R-Ill.

Independent analysts, including conservatives, weren't
so sanguine.

"This bill will not go down in the annals of good
government," said Robert E Moffitt, the director of
the Center for Health Policy Studies at the Heritage
Foundation. "Now it's a political problem."

-----

2004, Knight Ridder. Distributed by Knight
Ridder/Tribune Business News.



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Posted by richard at March 20, 2004 09:26 AM