The lessons of Medicare Part D
John Breaux and Bill Frist have an op-ed in Politico whose exoteric message is that Congress should use the 2003 Medicare bill as a model for bipartisan health reform. The esoteric message is a reminder that the easiest way to get a bipartisan deal passed is to just have bipartisan agreement not to pay for it at all. That was the secret to the 2003 bill. First you take something a bloc of voters want — in this case prescription drugs — then you figure out a way to provide it in a manner that’s very good for the interests of stakeholders in the business community. Easy as pie.
It is insane that the people who voted for the deficit-financed, $700 billion Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit are allowed to scream about fiscal rectitude this year. Just amazing. The occasional defense I've heard is that 2003 wasn't the middle of the most severe recession in memory. That's a defense in much the same way that poking yourself in both eyes so you can't see your assailant is a defense. Deficit spending makes more sense during recessions, not less. Deficit spending is also cheaper during recessions, as interest rates are lower because investors want to buy treasuries.
By the way, for those keeping score, the senators who voted for Medicare Part D and are still in the Senate are:
Lamar Alexander, Max Baucus, Bob Bennett, Kit Bond, Jim Bunning, Tom Carper, Saxby Chambliss, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Kent Conrad, John Cornyn, Mike Crapo, Byron Dorgan, Mike Enzi, Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, James Inhofe, Jon Kyl, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Dick Lugar, Mitch McConnell, Lisa Murkowski, Ben Nelson, Pat Roberts, Pete Sessions, Richard Shelby, Olympia Snowe, Arlen Specter, George Voinovich and Ron Wyden. Lieberman did not vote.
None of these people have any authority to complain about the spending in health-care reform. When the CBO scored Medicare Part D, it concludes that the bill "would increase mandatory outlays by $407 billion for fiscal years 2004 to 2013 and would raise federal revenues by $7 billion over that period." In other words, it was a vote to add about $400 billion to the deficit in the first 10 years, and trillions more in the decades after that.
The health-care reform bills currently under consideration in both the Senate and the House actually cut money from the deficit, but they are being criticized as fiscally irresponsible by many of the people who voted for Medicare Part D. It's like watching arsonists calling the fire department reckless.
November 16, 2009; 5:02 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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