Democrats Focus on Health Care Costs, Income Gap
Many Democratic candidates "see this as the year when the widening gap between the rich and the rest of America will help win them votes," and some have focused on the issue of health care costs for middle-income voters, the Wall Street Journal reports. Since 2001, the U.S. economy has expanded by 15% after inflation, but the median household income remains lower today than in 1999.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, households with incomes in the top 20% accounted for 50.4% of all income in 2005, compared with 45.6% in 1985.
Stan Greenberg and other political strategists have recommended that Democratic candidates focus on the issue. Greenberg said, "Most people are seeing continuing financial pressure -- gas prices, health care costs -- symbols that, when contrasted with the perception that the macro-economy is doing great and CEOs and others are doing very well, help to underscore what's happening and what's not happening."
In Ohio, House candidate Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who opposes incumbent Rep. Deborah Pryce (R), in an interview said, "I hear all the time how it costs $60 a week to fill up my car and how health care is an enormous cost for all the people."
Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio said that GOP candidates "get clobbered among economy voters," adding, "The reason (Democrats) are doing this is they see the people who are uncomfortable about the economy as people who are more likely to vote for them in real numbers."
However, some Republican candidate maintain that Democratic candidates "overstate the income gap by looking at wages, while ignoring health and retirement benefits and tax breaks that help the working poor," the Journal reports.
William Galston, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution, said, "The language of income distribution and income inequality is rarely effective in American politics" (Solomon, Wall Street Journal, 10/2).
In other election news, the Washington Post on Sunday examined a House race in Florida, where some voters have raised concerns about the Medicare prescription drug benefit. According to the Post, millions of Medicare beneficiaries nationwide "are confronting an interruption in their drug coverage" -- the so-called "doughnut hole" -- as the midterm elections near, and the Florida 22nd district, which includes West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, has one of the highest concentrations of beneficiaries in the nation.
In the race, incumbent Rep. E. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) faces state Sen. Ron Klein (D). Klein has not made the Medicare prescription drug benefit a major focus of his campaign, but he has addressed the issue in one of his television advertisements.
Klein said, "When folks show up at the pharmacy and get hit with paying 100% of their drug costs, while continuing to pay 100% of their premiums, they become concerned." Klein said his main objection to the Medicare prescription drug benefit is that the federal government cannot directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on medications.
However, Shaw said that the Medicare prescription drug benefit is an improvement for beneficiaries. Shaw said, "It's like the big lie. If you tell it enough, people begin to believe it. They are trying to convince people it was a windfall for the drug companies. It's not" (Asthana, Washington Post, 10/1).
The politics of the Medicare prescription drug benefit appear "tough to handicap" and are "beginning to look like a tossup," although Democratic candidates believe that the high cost of the program and the doughnut hole might benefit them in the midterm elections, NPR's "Morning Edition" reports. Some Democrats "who believe dissatisfaction with the Medicare drug program could help their congressional candidates in November" observed "National Doughnut Hole Day" on Sept. 22, a date when Medicare beneficiaries on average would statistically begin to reach the doughnut hole, according to NPR.
The NPR segment also includes comments from Klein, Ostrow, Shaw and Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation (Allen, "Morning Edition," NPR, 9/28). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
Republican lawmakers in the 109th Congress "have been a major disappointment" with their failure to "reform the creaky institutions of the welfare state," a Wall Street Journal editorial states, adding, "Perhaps the most puzzling abdication was the GOP failure to do anything at all on health care."
The "window for saving private health care from government encroachment is closing, and both business and workers are feeling the pinch from rising costs," the editorial states. However, "Republicans failed to make health care savings accounts more attractive, failed to let business associations offer their own health plans and failed even to bring a vote" on a bill (HR 2355) sponsored by Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) that would allow U.S. residents to purchase health insurance in any state, the editorial states (Wall Street Journal, 10/2).