Republicans try and fail to justify voting for Medicare Part D
Charles Babington of the AP thinks back to the long-ago days of 2003, and the Medicare drug benefit that the then-dominant Republicans passed into law. Better yet, he asks some of them about it, and gets some rather peculiar responses in return.
When Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House in 2003, they overcame Democratic opposition to add a deficit-financed prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The program will cost a half-trillion dollars over 10 years, or more by some estimates.
With no new taxes or spending offsets accompanying the Medicare drug program, the cost has been added to the federal debt.
All current GOP senators, including the 24 who voted for the 2003 Medicare expansion, oppose the health care bill that's backed by President Barack Obama and most congressional Democrats. Some Republicans say they don't believe the CBO's projections that the health care overhaul will pay for itself. As for their newfound worries about big government health expansions, they essentially say: That was then, this is now.
Six years ago, "it was standard practice not to pay for things," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "We were concerned about it, because it certainly added to the deficit, no question." His 2003 vote has been vindicated, Hatch said, because the prescription drug benefit "has done a lot of good."
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said those who see hypocrisy "can legitimately raise that issue." But he defended his positions in 2003 and now, saying the economy is in worse shape and Americans are more anxious.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said simply: "Dredging up history is not the way to move forward." She noted that she fought unsuccessfully to offset some of President George W. Bush's deep tax cuts at the time.
In order: Hatch admitted that when Republicans controlled Congress, "it was standard practice not to pay for things." How this qualifies as a defense of the behavior then or a justification of the hypocrisy now is left as an exercise for the reader.
Voinovich says that "the economy is in worse shape" now, which is another way of saying that few in the Senate are even glancingly familiar with economics. You add to the deficit when the economy is in worse shape in order to stimulate demand. You pay for your spending when the economy is in better shape in order to keep deficits low precisely because you want the flexibility to deficit-spend in bad years. And beyond all that, both Medicare Part D and health-care reform were spending commitments, not single-year programs. The relative health of the economy in the year they were passed should not have been a big consideration when designing programs that we expect will operate 20, 30, and 50 years into the future.
As for Snowe, she's right that dredging up history isn't the way to move forward. But looking at Snowe's past record is a good reason to ask why she refuses to move forward on health-care reform, when she voted to move forward on a Medicare Drug Benefit that does much more damage to every principle she professes to hold dear.
December 28, 2009; 8:48 AM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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