Bush Signs Medicare Legislation; Criticism Continues
In an "elaborate" ceremony in front of "thousands of cheering supporters" at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., President Bush on Monday signed the Medicare legislation (HR 1) passed by Congress last month, the New York Times reports. Prior to the signing, Bush, surrounded by about a dozen mostly Republican lawmakers and a number of elderly people flown in for the ceremony, spoke to an audience of lobbyists, campaign donors and politicians. He touted the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, creation of health savings accounts for individuals and Medicare coverage of routine physical examinations. He said, "You are here to witness the greatest advance in health care coverage for America's seniors since the founding of Medicare," adding, "Medicine has changed, but Medicare has not -- until today" (Rosenbaum, New York Times, 12/9). Bush praised the bill as a bipartisan effort that "overcame old partisan differences," USA Today reports (Benedetto/Welch, USA Today, 12/9). "This legislation is the achievement of members of both political parties," he said (Koffler/Heil, CongressDaily, 12/8). According to the AP/Las Vegas Sun, Republicans "generally hailed the signing as a political triumph" and intend to use the action to gain votes from seniors in next year's election (Sherman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 12/8). Bush praised the Republicans' efforts to pass the bill, saying, "These reforms are the act of a vibrant and compassionate government" (Curl, Washington Times, 12/9). Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Trent Duffy said the signing ceremony marks the beginning of a "massive and aggressive" information campaign by the administration to educate beneficiaries about the bill's benefits and their options for receiving prescription drug coverage (USA Today, 12/9).
In response to the signing on Monday, some Democrats "immediately vowed to repeal huge portions of the new law," the Washington Times reports (Washington Times, 12/9). Democrats on Monday sponsored a rally on Capitol Hill of labor leaders, representatives of the elderly and liberal lawmakers to protest the signing (New York Times, 12/9). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the legislation is a "lemon of a law" and "a cruel hoax that does nothing to reduce the high costs of prescription drugs" (USA Today, 12/9). Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "We have only just begun to fight" (Milbank/Deane, Washington Post, 12/9). Kennedy added, "We're going to win this battle. We're going to take back our Medicare. You sold us out, so we're going to go all out to repeal what you've done." Kennedy and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) on Tuesday plan to introduce a bill that would revise the legislation Bush signed (Washington Times, 12/9). The bill reportedly would repeal a provision banning government negotiations to lower drug costs and allowing financial incentives to encourage competition from private health plans, according to the Post (Washington Post, 12/9). Proposed changes to the law "face an uphill battle," partly because it has been endorsed by AARP and other groups, the Washington Times reports (Washington Times, 12/9). House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said, "Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for their abject failure on health care. We wanted a bill, they just wanted an issue, and now the American people know who took their concerns seriously" (Greene, Baltimore Sun, 12/9). House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said, "This is good legislation that will help senior citizens lead better and more productive lives" (Washington Post, 12/9). Some groups also criticized the new law on Monday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA, called the drug benefit "bizarre and sparse," adding that "[t]he more seniors learn about the new law, the more they dislike it" (Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/9).
Some conservatives continued to criticize the bill for its cost, estimated at $400 billion over 10 years. According to fiscal conservatives, the price tag is "exorbitant and represents a financially dangerous expansion of an already vast government program," the Boston Globe reports (Washington, Boston Globe, 12/9). Speaking at a Medicare forum sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin released an analysis showing that the Medicare legislation could cost as much as $2 trillion in the 10 years following the first decade of implementation, CongressDaily reports. He said that the law's cost could be affected by rising drug prices. He added that it remains unclear what kind of changes Congress will make to Medicare between now and 2023. "Right now, this bill is the Rorschach test for the future of health care. There are widely divergent opinions" on how the law will affect government spending and policy, he said (CongressDaily, 12/8). Robert Moffit, director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, said, "We're talking about huge costs. What can I say? We warned them." John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, added, "The problem is it's extremely hard to take back entitlement once it's granted, so you have to look at the forever cost of this bill. And the forever cost of this bill is on the order of $12 trillion" (Fagan, Washington Times, 12/9).
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Monday said that the House ethics committee "ought to investigate" previous assertions by Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) that some House Republicans offered money for his son's congressional campaign if Nick Smith voted for the Medicare bill (Washington Post, 12/9). According to AP/USA Today, Nick Smith told Kalamazoo, Mich., radio station WKZO-AM last week that he was promised $100,000 for his son's congressional race in exchange for his support of the bill. WKZO-AM released a taped interview with Nick Smith on Monday (Durbin, AP/USA Today, 12/9). Nick Smith has recently backed away from those comments and has said that suggestions that he was bribed are "technically incorrect." He added that some Republican lawmakers had said they would oppose his son's campaign but did not offer to donate any money to the campaign as had been previously reported. Nick Smith, who is retiring next year, voted against the Medicare legislation (California Healthline, 12/8). Hoyer has not filed a formal request for an investigation, according to the Washington Post (Washington Post, 12/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.