Nine out of every
ten times I go to the doctor, I end up spending two hours in the waiting
room flipping through the pages of a six-month-old Sports Illustrated. I
used to think this was the most boring thing in the world. Turns out I was
wrong. The most boring thing in the world is Medicare -- something I noticed
in recent weeks watching lawmakers debate its reform.
That the Medicare issue knocks us out like a dose of melatonin can't be a
coincidence, though. Nor is the fact that Congress nearly pulled an all-nighter
trying to finalize their Prescription Drug and Medicare Improvement Act.
Washington, after all, works best when America sleeps.
So what'd Senate Claus leave beneath our tree? The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum contends
that even "some of the people making vigorous arguments for and against the
bill [are] not absolutely sure." But the answer, it seems, is a bunch of
beautifully wrapped gift boxes -- each as empty as the next.
A prescription drug program is the shiny, nice exterior. A provision allowing
private plans to compete with government handouts is the ribbon on top. It
all sounds warm and fuzzy, of course, until you start looking at the numbers.
The $400 billion price tag, for example, may well balloon to $2 trillion
-- yes, trillion -- according to the Heritage Foundation. That's quite the
burden on taxpayers, don't you think?
Speaking of which, Heritage also estimates these reforms will threaten George
Bush's much ballyhooed tax cuts -- the same ones in part responsible for
our current economic rebound. Indeed, with federal spending up 16 percent
since 2001 -- and only 45 percent of the increase relating to self-defense
-- we're building a deficit virtually certain to lead to tax hikes. There's
an easy way to prevent that, though: Stop spending.
Thing is, that's not going to happen.
Capitol Hill is starting to look a lot like one of those glass chambers you
used to see on TV game shows. You know, the ones they fill with flying cash
and give you 60 seconds to grab as much as you can? The Republicans controlling
Congress may claim to be the party of small government and fiscal responsibility,
but their happy-days-are-here-again attitude shows they're enjoying this
spending spree even more than tax-happy Democrats.
In fact, the way this lightning round's stolen their thunder, the Democrats
don't seem to be enjoying themselves at all. In typical don't-ruin-this-for-me
fashion, guys like Ted Kennedy have found themselves staunchly opposed to
legislation that, on any other day, might be their own.
"This bill is a calculated program to unravel Medicare, to privatize it and
to force senior citizens into the cold arms of H.M.O.'s.," says Kennedy.
It's an example of the "administration's right-wing ideology," as far as
But the Senator's either so far to the Left that anything to his Right is
categorically extreme, or fiscal conservatism is now defined as "anything
that doesn't go Ted Kennedy's way" (in which case the Red Sox must be the
most rightwing club in baseball for losing the ALCS this year). After all,
a $400 billion entitlement program can't possibly be conservative. Neoconservative,
maybe. But not truly conservative.
Though perhaps that's the problem.
The neoconservative movement we hear so much about nowadays is a sham inasmuch
as it calls itself conservative -- and don't for a second think neoconservatives
don't know it. They do. In fact, according to Robert Novak, "Republicans
voting against the [Medicare] bill were told" -- by GOP leaders -- that "they
were endangering their political futures." So much for small government.
With friends like these, who needs Democrats?
Meanwhile, the compassionate conservative platform George Bush campaigned
on is compassionately bleeding this country dry. Paul Krugman, like Kennedy,
may call these reforms a "Trojan horse" on behalf of big business, but the
fact of the matter is that, by calling it "conservative," its neoconservative
backers pull one over on registered Republicans more than anyone else. There's
positively nothing conservative about a $400 billion entitlement program.
I'm sorry, but there isn't. Measures like these are as big as Big Gov't gets.
It's a nanny-state policy. It's mercantilism. Shame on Republicans for telling
And shame on any Democrat who says the new bill doesn't go far enough. We're
giving away billions of dollars in drugs here. Trillions, even. How much
farther can you go?
I understand some AARP members are disgruntled with their organization's
support for Republican Medicare reforms. These people need to grow up. Pun
intended. In the late '80s, they rebelled against an AARP-supported Medicare
reform to cover catastrophic illnesses, because it meant some members would
be paying for coverage they didn't need. Hey, welcome to wealth distribution.
It's not so much fun, now, is it?
It's one thing to need prescription drugs and believe the government's a
good way to go about getting them. It's quite another to believe your fellow
taxpayers owe them to you. I don't want to say "beggars can't be choosers"
here -- it sounds a bit callous, all things considered -- but if $400 billion
can be seen as insulting and paltry in any way, something's wrong with America.
As it stands, Medicare figures to be the gift that keeps on giving headaches
for a generation or two to come -- and that's every bit as appalling as the
prospect of senior citizens going without prescription drugs.
As for Bush, if Medicare is, indeed, his administration's way of bribing
senior citizens in time for next November, I would remind him this same voting
bloc voted for Pat Buchanan when they meant to vote for Al Gore. With all
due respect to the 99 percent of seniors who know what they're doing, these
people don't need prescription drugs -- they need prescription glasses.
Jonathan David Morris is a political satirist based in New Jersey. His website is Read JDM.