President Bush has sternly warned lawmakers not to meddle with the Medicare prescription drug benefit they passed in 2003. Bush, who has yet to veto anything, said he would veto that.
And later the president’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, elaborated on just who those lawmakers were: “members of the Democratic Party” attempting to “undermine the reforms we put in place.”
Among the first to suggest reopening the drug benefit to control the soaring projected costs was Sen. Judd Gregg, N.H., the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Unlike most Democrats, he’s in a position to do something about it. He would hold the benefit to its original – and artificially low – 10-year cost estimate of $400 billion, meaning that the program would have to be cut substantially.
Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Olympia Snowe of Maine, both Republicans, would reopen the bill to allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices for the program with pharmaceutical companies. In addition, Snowe would amend the law to allow re-importation of cheaper drugs from Canada.
Over in the House, Rep. Jeff Blake, another Arizona Republican, is drafting legislation that would limit the drug benefit to low-income seniors, and he all but dared the president to veto it. “If he chooses to veto this, that’s his choice,” said Flake. “But I don’t think he will.”
And it’s not just Medicare. While characteristically the Democrats are milling around in confusion about how to respond to the president’s Social Security reforms, key congressional Republicans are displaying a certain genteel resistance.
GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert told the Chicago Tribune that Bush hadn’t sold the need for Social Security reform to the American public and that it would be unwise to “jam change down the American people’s throat.”
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., not only opposed private accounts, a key portion of Bush’s reform, but said that if other issues like Medicare and the budget and trade deficits were addressed first, Social Security reform wouldn’t be necessary at all.
Other key Republicans are planning Social Security reforms of their own, including one by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that contains a Bush no-no – a tax increase.
It would be simple if it were just the Democrats.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)