Setting the Record Straight

January 19, 2009

The Bush Legacy

His Best Effort

     The exiting Bush crowd, including his dwindling supporters and apologists, spent the final days of the administration in one last attempt to put a favorable spin on the past eight years.
     He and Dick Cheney even attempted to move back the period through which a historical look at their failed presidency would be viewed. Historians generally agree that because of the emotions of the time and disclosures not yet made, a period cannot be judged honestly until about 20 years after the fact. Bush and Cheney kept mentioning 50 years for a reasonable look-back, no doubt because they figured most of us who lived through their mess would be dead by then.
     Much of the spinning got to be downright ridiculous. It also led to more Bushspeak, as in this sentence in one of his many departing interviews, during which he apologized for nothing: “I am disappointed that weapons of mass destruction were not found” in Iraq.
     If one takes a good look at that sentence, it is an amazing admission that his detractors were correct—that he wanted any excuse to invade Iraq, for whatever reason we still don’t really know. He is not apologizing for or seeking an excuse for what his defenders blamed on bad intelligence; he actually wanted there to be WMDs in Iraq to justify his invasion.
     There were many other such moments, many that evoke laughter among his detractors, others that prompt puzzling headshakes, and other misstatements and mischaracterization of the truth.
     One of the worst mischaracterizations, however, occurred during his own recounting of his administration’s achievements and similar lists compiled by his supporters. He claimed one of his major achievements was the adding prescription coverage to Medicare.
     As supporters of national health care, we also believe that was an excellent move, but only if done correctly. But because it was passed at a time when Republicans virtually controlled all three branches of government, it was deeply flawed and has become one of myriad problems left for a new Democratic administration and Democratic Congress to repair.
     Because the GOP exists chiefly to serve the rich and big business, its leaders left out of the Medicare prescription drug package a practical way to pay for the massive addition to an entitlement program.
     That also is one of the many ironies afflicting the exiting crowd that always railed against budget-busting entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. The Bush/Gingrich leadership is replete with such contradictions, but Medicare Part D takes the cake. sr-bushexitexitjpeg
     Understandably, the pharmaceutical industry, already one of the nation’s wealthiest industries, wanted drugs covered under Medicare insurance to create a huge expansion of their domestic market. But they wanted to sell them at the prices they set.
     Democrats tried and failed to get some type of provision added to the benefit to keep down the cost, so they offered amendments all along the way to ensure that the government, through the Medicare program, would negotiate with the drug makers for the same volume discounts it negotiates with other suppliers.
     Not only did the Democrats fail to win that provision, the Republican majority flipped that proposal around and added language to the bill specifically barring Medicare from negotiating lower prices. So much for labeling Democrats as the “tax and spend” party.
     Thus, we have another growing mess from the Bush legacy, one he and his supporters say is one of their best efforts.
     Thank you, Mr. President—and don’t let the door hit you in the behind on your way out.


July 10, 2008

Our Medicare Missread

Kennedy’s Trip Unnecessary? No!

We won’t change this post beyond the headlines, so you can see how we blew it. Normally, congressional members of the party in the White House, usually support the president on a veto even if they voted for the original bill. The override votes in both houses were greater than the original votes, signalling that Bush should go home now to Crawford and leave us alone for the rest of his term.

          It seemed like a good idea at the time, when Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., interrupted his recovery and treatment for a probably fatal brain tumor to fly to Washington, D.C., to cast a deciding Medicare vote.
          In the long run, Kennedy and the Democrats are destined to lose on the issue, even though the vote result, 69-30 and quickly labeled “veto-proof,” makes it look like a winner for the opposing party. It looks like a winner, that is, if you don’t pay attention to how Congress works.
          The issue at stake was payment for physicians who treat Medicare patients, with the parties split on where to cut reimbursements. It is a classic Republican vs. Democrat policy disagreement, whether federal money should be filtered through private industry.
          As they have been doing for decades when they are in the minority, and especially as the current one-vote minority, Republicans threatened a filibuster against the bill. Filibusters are never actually held these days, but the mere threat of one is enough to block a bill from being brought up for a yes-or-not vote.
          To allow that up-or-down vote to take place, at least 60 senators must vote “aye.” Kennedy could not make it to Washington a few weeks ago, three weeks after his surgery, and the “cloture” vote taken then fell one short. To avoid a repeat of that situation, he made the trip and sure enough, Kennedy gave Democrats the 60th vote they needed, nine of the votes coming from Republican senators who oppose the Bush administration on the issue.
          Knowing the vote was enough to allow an up-or-down vote, nine Republicans switched their votes to aye, four of them facing re-election this year, thus the overwhelming 69-30 vote (John McCain was the lone absentee).
          That lopsided total led most news outlets to label the vote “veto-proof” because a move to override a veto requires two-thirds of those present and voting in each house, 67 in the Senate if all senators vote. But was the vote veto-proof?
         Veteran congressional watchers know members often vote differently when an issue is at stake than when a vote to side with the incumbent president of their party is at stake.
         Bush has vowed to veto the bill despite the vote. The nine who switched their vote presumably did so because it would look like a good vote to their constituents, even though they actually oppose the measure. Many of the nine Republicans who originally voted with the majority also may have felt themselves in the same position.
         The question now is whether Democrats can keep at least 16 of the 18 Republicans on their side during an override vote. Just three need to switch to support their president, and among the nine switchers, there mostly likely are more than three who will note vote against their own president on principle. And that does not include those whose arms about to be twisted by administration operatives.



May 23, 2008

Introducing Bobby Jindal–A McCain Coup?



          The speculation about who will be John McCain’s vice presidential candidate has begun. The New York Times reports that three possible candidates have been invited to McCain’s Phoenix place Memorial Day weekend.
On the Times’ list were Mitt Romney, presumably there to assuage the right wing of the Republican Party, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a political nobody on the national scene who presumably would be a generic sidekick unlikely to ruffle GOP feathers. It was the third name that interested us. As a reporter we spent many hours covering Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal over the course of just over a year when he was director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare.

          Jindal’s highest political achievement before that had been head his native Louisiana’s health department at the age of 24. That is less surprising considering he finished high school at 16 and became a Rhodes scholar.
His genius and abilities became clear over the course of the commission’s work, which was to assess the status of the Medicare system and recommend solutions to its financial problems lurking in the future. It took a genius to handle the super-egos of the commission members, a third of them members of Congress. He did so with aplomb and was able to massage a final report in 1999 that managed to balance all of the partisan tugs and pulls he faced.
Through it all, he was a personable, helpful and available leader who astounded with his grasp of the issues and encyclopedic mind, a reminder of the high intelligence of fellow Rhodes scholar Bill Clinton. It is not Jindal’s fault the report, still considered the bible of Medicare, did not move to any great action by Congress and the administrations that followed. Nothing will be done long-term about either Medicare or Social Security because our system of government does not encourage long-term solutions.

          The selection of Jindal would be a political coup McCain badly needs. Jindal is a conservative Republican, but the stereotype ends there. He is a dark-skinned individual who surmounted politics in Louisiana, probably because he was born in 1971 in Baton Rouge of immigrants from India, which makes him less black but dark enough to make McCain’s candidacy less white against a Barack Obama challenger and one likely to help carry a state that helped give Obama the Democratic nomination. Jindal was not even old enough to serve as vice president two years ago, giving McCain some balance on the age issue that already dogs him and a counter to Obama’s youth.
Jindal also brings an expertise to a GOP presidential candidate weak in the area of health care, which undoubtedly will emerge as one of the major issues of the fall campaign. Regardless of whether he makes McCain’s cut, keep an eye on this fellow.



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