Jewish World Review June 27, 2000 /24 Sivan, 5760
But that's not all bad. It will free up money to help ailing hospitals and nursing homes and revive chances for broad-scale Medicare reform next year.
Medicare isn't the only object of positioning and bidding wars between presidential candidates and the parties in Congress. So are Social Security, education, patients' rights, taxes, guns and hate crimes.
On the presidential level, Vice President Al Gore has been playing catch-up to Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) in virtually every category of bidding, but in the process Gore is also trying to play political one-upsmanship.
Bush made across-the-board tax cuts a key item on his agenda. Now, Gore has doubled the size of his proposed cut from $250 billion to $500 billion over 10 years, with the benefits targeted to lower- and middle-income voters.
Bush proposed allowing workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in equity markets. Now, Gore has come up with "retirement savings-plus," an investment entitlement plan that would give lower-income citizens $3 for every $1 they save.
Congressional Republicans thought up "lockboxes" for Social Security and Medicare revenues. They got credit for the Social Security version, but Gore grabbed the Medicare idea and made it his. Now House Republicans want credit for getting it passed.
Bush was first out with tough education accountability proposals. Gore has matched and raised him with promises of considerably more money, though Bush is adding extra billions by the day. In an area where he was behind Gore, Bush this week came out with an education technology initiative that even retains a telephone surcharge often derided by fellow Republicans as the "Gore tax."
The same game of catch-up, bid-up and one-up is being played in Congress, especially by Democrats and House Republicans. Senate Republicans seem out of it.
Like Bush in the presidential race, Democrats have mostly set the Congressional agenda, forcing House Republicans to at least cover themselves politically by passing a patients' rights bill and, soon, a prescription drug benefit.
House Republicans have set the agenda on tax cuts, lifting the earnings limit for Social Security recipients and passing marriage penalty and "death tax" relief.
Whether anything besides the earnings limit actually gets signed into law this year is deeply problematic. The Senate seems incapable of producing a patients' rights bill and President Clinton is threatening to veto the inheritance tax repeal if it passes.
Meantime, the House has passed a campaign finance bill that Senate Republicans have killed. And Senate Democrats powered through hate crimes and campaign disclosure legislation that the GOP is trying to suffocate.
The drug benefit is probably the year's highest-stakes bidding arena. Republicans and moderate Democrats first wanted to make a drug subsidy for low-income seniors a part of overall Medicare reform, but Clinton trumped that idea with an across-the-board benefit for all.
That proposal soon became the Democrats' lead promise in a bid to pull seniors back into their camp. Then House Republicans felt they had to respond Ñ at least by looking active.
So, they reserved $40 billion over five years for Medicare spending and set to work on a prescription drug bill that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is anxious to pass before the Independence Day recess.
The GOP vehicle, sponsored by Rep. Bill Thomas (Calif.), offers seniors a choice of drug insurance plans and protection against drug expenses greater than $6,000 a year.
Democrats had been relying on a government-based plan that's only slightly more generous, but now two groups of Democrats, led by Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), have come up with bills that increase protection against catastrophic outlays.
Passage of any bill is practically impossible because Senate GOP leaders do not share the House leadership's eagerness for a vote and because, even if they changed their minds, passage would require an unobtainable 60 votes in the Senate.
But there is some desire to help the Medicare system, as evidenced by the Clinton administration's new bid to provide $21 billion over five years to help hospitals suffering from losses of Medicare revenue.
New budget estimates coming out next month are expected to show another huge jump in Medicare savings that come at providers' expense, forcing some into bankruptcy.
Failing to enact a prescription drug benefit, Congress could vote $40 billion to help providers. And next year, a new president and Congress could work on long-term Medicare reform, not just bid for election-year
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform