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Bush's Medicare scam may cause voter fallout

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  • Bush's Medicare scam may cause voter fallout

    Medicare law effort causing fallout for Bush

    By William Douglas

    Knight Ridder News Service

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

    By providing a federally subsidized prescription-drug benefit for senior citizens, albeit a limited one, administration officials thought they usurped a major issue from the Democrats and cut into Democratic support among seniors age 65 and over. And that's 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 re-election bid. Among the developments:

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

    • 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 law that look suspiciously like Bush campaign commercials. Those, too, are under investigation.

    • Polls show that a majority of Americans don't like the changes in Medicare.

    "It's something that's eating away at the credibility of the administration in an election year on a bill that he 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 White House originally said the law would cost $395 billion over 10 years. The law's afterglow faded fast once lawmakers learned that it could cost at least $100 billion more than that.

    That White House revelation in late January riled budget hawks, who had said they wouldn't vote for the measure if it cost more than $400 billion. The measure probably would have failed if the higher estimate had been known.

    Lawmakers got steamed after the nation's top Medicare actuary, Richard Foster, told Knight Ridder that he had projected the higher cost long before Congress voted in November. Lawmakers were never told about his higher estimates because he says he was ordered by his boss, former Medicare administrator Thomas Scully, to withhold them from Congress or 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 Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, 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, 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.

    Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said 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 seeking comment.

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

    The inspector general's office of the Department of Health and Human Services is investigating Foster's assertion that Scully ordered him to withhold cost estimates from 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.

    Many lawmakers felt abused when Republican leaders pushed the bill through the House 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."

    Health and Human Services 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.

    Democrats are accusing Republicans of covering up the misstatements and missteps on Medicare.

    Congressional Republicans are rallying behind Bush and the Medicare revisions. They dismiss 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.
    “I’ve always stated, ‘I’m a Missouri Tiger,’” Anderson said March 13 after Arkansas fired John Pelphrey, adding, “I’m excited about what’s taking place here.”

    Asked then if he would talk to his players about the situation, he said, “They know me, and that’s where the trust comes in.

  • #2

    One nit to pick.

    Medicare if the program you're talking about.

    Medicaid is the government payment system for welfare healthcare.
    And, frankly, it has never occured to me that "winning" a debate is important, or that I should be hurt when someone like Airshark or kah, among others (for whom winning a pseudo debate or declaring intellectual superiority over invisible others is obviously very important) ridicule me.

    -The Artist formerly known as King in KC


    • #3
      “I’ve always stated, ‘I’m a Missouri Tiger,’” Anderson said March 13 after Arkansas fired John Pelphrey, adding, “I’m excited about what’s taking place here.”

      Asked then if he would talk to his players about the situation, he said, “They know me, and that’s where the trust comes in.