Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Good Riddance to Karl Rove--How Part D Left an $8 Trillion Debt and Got Them Nothing

It seems to be the Washington summer sport to pile on Karl Rove in the wake of his announcement that he will be leaving the White House.

Let me add my own good riddance.

America’s health care dilemma is one of our greatest problems. Our inability to provide basic health care services at an affordable cost to all of our people is nothing to play around with.

Politicians—Democrats and Republicans both—have had their turn at manipulating this issue for political gain.

But nothing comes close to this administration’s record on that score and Karl Rove was right at the middle of their health care political calculations.

Right at the top of that list is the Medicare Part D drug benefit.

Early on this administration calculated that one important element in creating a “permanent Republican majority” was to steal the two centerpiece Democratic issues—Medicare and Social Security.

Nothing is so central to the Democratic claim on populism as these two programs. If they could be remade in Republican terms, then went the reasoning, they could be taken from the Democrats and could form the base of a “permanent Republican majority.”

After all, seniors vote in disproportionate numbers in an electorate that votes too little and getting senior votes onside would make the difference.

The second part of that grand plan, the Bush administration’s attempts to begin to privatize Social Security, failed.

But the administration’s promise to create a new, and very important, senior drug benefit succeeded.

President Bush spent enormous political capital in his attempt to “modernize” the Social Security system. It is ironic that the 75-year unfunded liability in the Social Security System is $4 trillion. The same unfunded liability in Medicare is now $32 trillion—$8 trillion of it newly created by the Medicare Part D benefit.

Make no mistake, seniors deserve a drug benefit, but they deserve one that is part of a reformed Medicare system that is sustainable.

When George Bush ran for president in 2000, I thought he made a credible policy argument for the fundamental reform of Medicare. But that quickly fell by the way as the political imperative took over.

This administration’s political calculation to spend twice the Social Security system’s unfunded liability in an attempt to steal the seniors from the Democratic Party with an unsustainable Part D program is the height of political cynicism.

And as the 2006 elections proved, it didn’t work.

There are lots of reasons to wish Karl Rove good riddance. This is mine.

What’s the point of winning in the first place if you only use the platform to win the next one and leave $8 trillion in unfunded liability in the process?
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