Political Consequences of Medicare Law Examined for Republicans, Democrats
Both Republicans and Democrats are "fine-tuning strategies" to use the passage and signing of the Medicare legislation (HR 1) to their political advantage during the 2004 election, CongressDaily reports. Republicans might highlight the Medicare bill as "the triumph of the president's biggest domestic priority" and try to "dampen outcry" against the plan by distributing the plan's discount drug cards to seniors, according to CongressDaily. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) on Monday said that while Democrats "claimed to be champions of the Medicare system, Republicans delivered a bill," according to CongressDaily. (Heil/Fulton, CongressDaily, 12/9). In the short term, Bush might have "diminish[ed]" the idea of Medicare as "an opposition issue, fortifi[ed] his record as a 'compassionate conservative' and reach[ed] out to seniors, the nation's most reliable voters," according to USA Today. Peter Fenn, a Democratic consultant, said that the Bush administration "learned lessons" from former President Clinton, who was able to secure a "victory on the opposition's turf" by approving welfare reform in 1996. Scott Reed, a Republican strategist, added, "Bush ran on this issue as a candidate, and now he can say he got something done as president. The details are still a little fuzzy, and none of it kicks in until 2006, and by the way it's voluntary. But at least he got it done." However, some Democrats are "working to tap voter concerns" about the coverage, involvement of managed care plans and cost under the legislation, USA Today reports (Page, USA Today, 12/9).
The legislation might never have passed Congress and would not be something Bush can "tout ... on the campaign trail" if not for the involvement of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Washington Post reports. In the summer, Kennedy "blessed" an earlier version of the legislation and allowed it to pass the Senate without threat of a filibuster, according to the Post. Such an action allowed Republican leaders a "chance to revise the bill in a closed" conference committee, the Post reports. Kennedy said he helped move the Medicare legislation along because he saw it as a "chance to do something he had been trying to accomplish for a generation," according to the Post. He added, "In the prescription drug bill, I'm not charging bad faith so much as an abuse of power." He predicted that the 2004 election will be a "battle" for support from seniors, who will "become more and more distressed" by the changes called for in the legislation the more they learn about it. Sarah Binder, an expert on Congress at George Washington University, said, "This may be ... less of a story about Kennedy than it is about Republicans and Bush. What's been so stunning has been their success at taking these issues we think of as Democratic issues and passing them on their own terms" (Von Drehle, Washington Post, 12/9). But House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, "Initially, Republicans will be able to say that they passed something, but if seniors have the kind of reaction we think they will -- well, you can't call something a rose when it's really a skunk" (CongressDaily, 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.