Healthcare

Page 3: Should GOP Permanently Expand Welfare State?

With the Senate debating a new Medicare drug entitlement that would drive U.S. seniors into deeper government dependency and help precipitate the eventual bankruptcy of the federal government (see cover story), HUMAN EVENTS Assistant Editor David Freddoso went to Capitol Hill to ask conservatives: Should a Republican Congress permanently enlarge the welfare state with a new prescription drug benefit?

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Should the Republican-controlled Congress permanently enlarge the welfare state by creating a new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens?

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.): I favor a prescription drug benefit that seniors can afford, and the country can afford.

Can the country afford the bill (S. 1) that passed out of committee?

Alexander: I’m going to spend the next two weeks studying that before I cast a vote on it.

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Should the Republican-controlled Congress permanently enlarge the welfare state-

Rep. Chris Cox (R.-Calif.): No.

-by creating a new prescription drug entitlement for seniors?

Cox: Oh, I see, this is a trick question! (Laughs.) I’m just teasing. So the question is-

Well, we’ve been talking about gradually getting Social Security into private accounts for younger workers. We’ve been talking about decreasing Medicare costs until we can-conservatives hope, anyway-phase it out. But now we’re going in the opposite direction. We’re creating the biggest government program in 40 years-maybe not even since Johnson, but since FDR. Should a Republican-controlled Congress do this, and will you vote for it?

Cox: Well, I will vote for it if it is coupled with genuine Medicare reform that prevents the Medicare program from going over the cliff and taking all of us with it. Medicare, as it’s currently constructed, will be destroyed by sheer demographics.

If you see this bill as taking us over the cliff, will you vote against it?

Cox: Sure. Of course.

Will you even vote against the rule, to actually try to defeat the thing? Because it looks like [the bill is] going to pass overwhelmingly otherwise.

Cox: Well, rules are procedural votes, and our leadership position in the House, as you know, is that we don’t give over control of the floor to the Democrats, because the results then are even less desirable. But parsing the question into two parts: Should a Republican Congress preside over expansion of the welfare state? Absolutely not. Can we use the President’s promise for a prescription drug benefit to extract real reform from the Medicare program, to turn it away from socialized medicine and toward a competitive market model? Well, yeah.

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Senator, I’m asking about the prescription drug benefit. Should the Republican-controlled Congress expand the-

Sen. Pete Domenici (R.-N.M.): It should pass something like this, if that’s the question.

Like S. 1?

Domenici: Pretty close.

You don’t think it’s going to bankrupt the government?

Domenici: No.

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Should the Republican-controlled Congress permanently enlarge the welfare state by creating a new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens?

Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.): Your question is loaded. And I’ll simply say this: Most people believe that prescription drugs, in this day and age, are an important part of medical treatment, and therefore that prescription drug coverage of some kind should be part of Medicare. And the question is how to do it in a way that doesn’t, as you suggested, unduly increase the welfare state, but rather provides an opportunity to create a private sector delivery system which would be better than the government system we have today. So we’d like to use this opportunity to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare, as a way of converting, or at least providing an alternative to people, to the government system of today-that alternative being the private sector insurance kind of model.

Does S. 1, as it came out of committee, does that match what you’re talking about?

Kyl: I think S. 1 needs work.

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Should the Republican-controlled Congress permanently enlarge the welfare state by creating a new prescription drug entitlement for seniors when we already have expanding costs for Medicare and Social Security?

Rep. Tom Osborne (R.-Neb.): Well, we’ve already budgeted the money for the prescription drug bill. And I guess, as I travel my district, probably the most common complaint I hear is prescription drugs for seniors. And it obviously has to be addressed. I wish we could do something about the growth of prices. Re-importation is really becoming a big deal, and that can reduce the costs. But anyway, the way it’s shaping up right now, I feel cautiously optimistic about the bill.

The bill, as it exists now, a lot of people are saying it’s the biggest new government spending program in 40 years, and that it will bankrupt the whole government-it’s just a matter of time-even faster than the Social Security and Medicare programs.

Osborne: I don’t know about that. I just know we have an aging population on fixed incomes, and some of them are paying 30% to 50% of their income on prescription drugs. And I think the thing has to be attacked from a variety of angles. . .

Should a program like this be means-tested?

Osborne: It’s possible. I think there are some elements in there that are talked about that are specifically means-tested, and I certainly don’t disagree with that. I am concerned about entitlements, and I am concerned about how this plays out down the road. I have several concerns, but I do know that this needs to be addressed, and it does look like we have a chance, between the House and Senate. It really needs to be addressed, this is it now.

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Hello, Congressman Weldon. I’m Dave Freddoso from HUMAN EVENTS.

Rep. Dave Weldon (R.-Fla.): Ah, HUMAN EVENTS. My favorite publication.

Well, we’ll see about that in a minute, congressman. Here’s my question this week: Should the Republican-controlled Congress permanently enlarge the welfare state by creating a new prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens?

Weldon: Well, I support a prescription drug plan for seniors. I always have, because I’m a physician. And health care in America has been pushed more and more from the hospital to home care, and I think pharmaceuticals are a key element of that. For example, there’s an oral antibiotic that’s as good as intravenous antibiotics for the elderly with pneumonia. So treating elderly people with pneumonia previously required hospitalization, but now it can be done with a prescription. Now, what I was hoping to do, was to do some major reforms to the Medicare plan, so that we could modernize it and help stave off its bankruptcy. The concern I have about the current bill is that it’s weak on reform, and so therefore it’s only going to hasten the arrival of some significant financial problems in the Medicare system.

It will bankrupt the government.

Weldon: The government is facing eminent financial problems whether we do this or not. This just hastens things. . . . Now, in defense of the President, he tried to get some reforms, but he wasn’t able to get the needed support in the Senate. I think that if people want to see some reforms that would extend the solvency of Medicare, then we need more conservatives in the Senate.

As few as 40 conservatives in the House might be enough to prevent either a bad Republican plan, or a probably worse Democratic plan, from passing the House. Are you willing to resist something this politically popular by voting no on the bill itself, or even on the rule?

Weldon: I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I think this is going to pass overwhelmingly, both on the bill and the rule. But I’m working for real reform.


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