Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 27, 2009

PART D.... At a recent town-hall event, President Obama was asked about how to pay for health care reform without adding to the debt. "It's a great question," the presidents said. "First of all, I said I won't sign a bill that adds to the deficit or the national debt. Okay? So this will have to be paid for."

Obama then proceeded to take a stroll down memory lane. "That, by the way, is in contrast to the prescription drug bill that was passed that cost hundreds of billions of dollars, by the previous administration and previous Congress, that was not paid for at all, and that was a major contributor to our current national debt. That's why you will forgive me if sometimes I chuckle a little bit when I hear all these folks saying, 'oh, big-spending Obama' -- when I'm proposing something that will be paid for and they signed into law something that wasn't, and they had no problem with it. Same people, same folks. And they say with a straight face how we've got to be fiscally responsible."

It's a point that's gone largely overlooked of late. Just six years ago, Karl Rove thought he could lock up that "permanent Republican majority" by adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. Seniors -- at least the one who didn't get caught in the dreaded "donut hole" -- would be so impressed they'd vote GOP forever. All Republican policymakers had to do was approve a poorly-written bill that expanded government involvement in health care while adding trillions of dollars to long-term debt.

It has a certain relevance to the ongoing policy debate of the day.

Matt Yglesias does good service by reminding us of the 2003 Senate vote on Medicare Part D, the budget-busting prescription drugs for seniors bill that passed the Senate 54-44, even though it wasn't paid for (it adds trillions to the deficit over time). Here's the vote: it is interesting to note that the two Gang of Six members who are the most prominent naysayers and budget hawks on the Senate Finance Committee now, Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi, voted for the bill. As did assorted other noisy conservatives like Sam Brownback, John Cornyn and John Kyl. What irresponsible spendthrifts!

Republicans who actually are deficit hawks -- John McCain (usually) and Lindsey Graham, for example -- voted against it. Many Democrats -- Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold, Hillary Clinton -- also voted against it, mostly because they didn't think it provided sufficient coverage (and let the drug companies off the hook).

But the headline remain grousers like Grassley, who oppose the alleged expense of the Obama plan now (even though the President has vowed not to sign a bill that isn't, more or less, paid for). It should be noted that Max Baucus -- who has also made non-stop noises about fiscal responsibility -- voted for it, too.

The bill even included a provision on end-of-life counseling -- hey, look, GOP-approved "death panels" -- that the Tea Baggers of the day didn't seem to notice or care about. Indeed, at the time, conservative activists had nothing but good things to say about expanding an entitlement program by hundreds of billions of dollars, expanding the government's role in health care, and handing the tab to future generations. Where were the angry patriots comparing Bush to Hitler, and accusing Republican lawmakers of trying to turn the United States into Soviet Russia?

For that matter, somehow, Baucus and Grassley were on board with Bush's Medicare boondoggle, which included nothing to "bend the curve" and only added heavily to the debt. It's funny how standards change when there's a Democratic president.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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"Where were the angry patriots comparing Bush to Hitler, and accusing Republican lawmakers of trying to turn the United States into Soviet Russia?"

Uhh, that would be over here on the left. But we were talking about something else.

Posted by: Mahnkenstein on August 27, 2009 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

what makes you think that having the facts and reality on your side..

and hypocrisy on the other..

means you win?

Posted by: mr. irony on August 27, 2009 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

What Irony said -- in the he-said, she-said media, they that lie the ballsiest and loudest win.

Posted by: Go, Sestak on August 27, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Sharpening the language and sending a message.
About time - now begin shining a light on all the madness of the Bush/Cheney maladministration - and the October vote could prove a turning point.

Posted by: SteinL on August 27, 2009 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

This is an excellent point. Let's have Grassley stand up and defend his vote. This should be brought up often and LOUDLY.

Or perhaps we can get someone to suggest eliminating Part D altogether then sit back and watch the hypocrites squirm as they defend the law they passed.

Posted by: Gridlock on August 27, 2009 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

That legislation also had a provision that would have allowed the government to negotiate with big pharma for lower drug prices. The provision mysteriously disappeared from the final draft. To this day I don't think they've found out who, exactly, removed that provision. (But if it wasn't a Republican I'll eat my keyboard.)

Posted by: 3reddogs on August 27, 2009 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

This is bears directly on the debt issues, as for how we get people to pay for public health care etc: What happened to the idea/plan, to charge people in proportion to income as with Medicare etc? That is the easiest way to raise the money without hurting the low-income folks as much.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on August 27, 2009 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

As of late it is no longer a national debate on what would be a prudent policy to offer more Americans better lives by providing sensible extentions of health care coverage through competitive means, but rather a bared knuckled full-throated grab for power, violent or otherwise! I am an embarrassed American right now simply because our "political leaders" are more reminescent any banana republic leaders we have bothered to disrespect throughout our history! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on August 27, 2009 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

in the he-said, she-said media, they that lie the ballsiest and loudest win.

I know this is a convenient meme to repeat, yet...we won the last two elections. It's obvious that liars don't always prosper.

And I DEFINITELY don't want to join them in lying loudly, if that's alright with y'all. As Obama proved last year, we can win clean, and it doesn't even require shouting or anger. It just requires a good strategy, determination, and an awesome marketing machine. We can prevail.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on August 27, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Hear, hear Steve!

This has nothing to do with deficits, debt, or government-controlled anything. This has to do with regaining power so Republicans can go back to enriching themselves and the cronies who paid to put them there.

Posted by: Chris on August 27, 2009 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

The reason is simple, Medicare Part D was a full giveaway. It didn't limit drug prices, it forced private insures into the mix, and it didn't add in any current taxes. In other words there was no one to really fight against it.

Posted by: Rob on August 27, 2009 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Agreed. Of course, Republicans these days aren't that big on consistency.

I've been a little disappointed with Obama's moves on this stuff so far (though I largely blame Baucus and Nelson and Landrieu and not Obama), but I do recall that Obama largely lied low last August and then came out swinging in September, and pretty much managed to dominate the discussion from then on. I think he needs to pressure Baucus to drop the Gang of Six talks and pass something closer to the HELP committee's bill, and after the bills pass, he needs to get on TV in a town hall setting (maybe in someplace like Kentucky or Idaho where he's not incredibly popular) and just outline the problem, what he's doing, and take questions. I think that would help.

And I do think that the reason why Obama and the Democrats are losing steam is because people aren't convinced that they can govern well. They know the Republicans can't, but the seeming gridlock (amplified by cable news) isn't helping matters. That changes if he gets something passed.

Posted by: Lev on August 27, 2009 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

We all need to contact Landrieu, she says she will not vote for the bill, it is time to put on the pressure.

Posted by: JS on August 27, 2009 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

I got $100 billion PER YEAR FOR FREE for health care. Redirect $100 billion from the $620 billion PER YEAR massive pork barrel criminal endeavor known as the "defense budget".

$100 billion per year is nothing more than rounding error for the military that buys nothing useful, has nothing to do with "defense", and is nothing more than a corrupt feeding trough for the plutocracy to rape the nations wealth and sap its strength. They won't even miss it there is so much slop in the military budget.

A nation freed of the shackles of worrying about their and their family's health on the other hand boggles the mind.

Posted by: pluege on August 27, 2009 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

That's odd. I thought all Senate bills needed 60 votes to pass.

Posted by: km on August 27, 2009 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

near the end of mike steele's epic fail of an interview with steve inskeep on npr this morning, steele starting griping about how complicated the medicare d legislation was and how confusing it was to find his mother a plan.....as if he thought we had all forgotten who had written the thing

Posted by: dj spellchecka on August 27, 2009 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

"First of all, I said I won't sign a bill that adds to the deficit or the national debt. Okay? So this will have to be paid for."

That eliminates all the bills that have been drafted to date.

Posted by: marketeer on August 27, 2009 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

So which is it: Obama will not expand the federal deficit for healthcare or It's ok if Obama expands the federal deficit for healthcare?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on August 27, 2009 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know about the rest of you, but any time I hear this budget-busting socialist bs, I say: Medicare Part D. Only fools and nut cases are really willing to try to argue that one, the rest sneak off and go argue elsewhere, out of earshot.

Posted by: Jon on August 28, 2009 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

"Seniors -- at least the one who didn't get caught in the dreaded "donut hole" "

Typo? I don't think so...

Posted by: Bruce B on August 28, 2009 at 6:41 AM | PERMALINK

Keep in mind that Part D is a giveaway to the drug and insurance companies. It is ridiculously expensive, and, yes, it is what raised Medicare prices astronomically.

It REALLY should be scrapped.
It should be rewriting with negotiations for lower drug costs, for sure.

I do think Part D was a huge mistake... rammed thru by special interests.

This is not to say Medicare should not have a drug plan.... but this 2003 plan is absurd.
Does anyone like it? I don't know anyone who does.

Posted by: Clem on August 28, 2009 at 7:18 AM | PERMALINK

It only passed with 54 votes?! How is that even possible, because we all know it takes 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate?

Can we get more of these out to the press? How many votes during the Republican reign passed with less than 60? Could someone please let Harry Reid know?

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