Conservative Activists Rebel Against Drug Plan

Major conservative activists are rebelling against the new Medicare drug entitlement that the administration has been trying to push through Congress (see Human Events cover story last week.) which has so far met with congressional resistance from only a few stalwart young conservatives (see Page 3) such as Representatives Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) and Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.). “It’s upsetting to find a Republican President calling for the biggest increase in entitlements since the days of Lyndon Johnson,” said Don Devine, the former Reagan Administration official who now serves as second vice-chairman of the American Conservative Union. “It would appear that Republicans mouth platitudes, but aren’t serious about the issue of limited government anymore.” In almost every case, leading conservative activists who spoke to Human Events criticized the administration for working to expand the welfare state. “He’s sounding more and more like a big government Republican, isn’t he?” Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly said of President Bush in light of his push for the drug entitlement. “With the Medicare trustees concluding that the program would go bankrupt before Social Security,” she added, “this is no time to add a new entitlement. If the government is paying for all the prescription drugs, than all the privately-owned prescription plans will go out.” Medicare “reform” as it is currently formulated, said Schlafly, “is one more step incrementally for socialized medicine.” Schlafly’s views were echoed by Paul Weyrich of Coalitions for America. Weyrich said he had pressed Republican aides on the House and Senate committees dealing with the Medicare reform bills on whether we would be better off passing no bill at all rather than versions currently under consideration in each chamber. “I have propounded this question four times,” said Weyrich. “Each time the response was the same from both the House and the Senate committees that, yes, we would be better off doing nothing than passing either of these bills.” “The prescription drug plan will quickly turn into a trillion-dollar program and government is going to be a king over even more of the health care-system,” said Ron Pearson, executive director of the Conservative Victory Fund, the nation’s oldest conservative political action committee. “We’re getting Hillary-care piece-meal!” Underscoring the warnings of Human Events, Devine, Schlafly, Weyrich and Pearson, the Heritage Foundation, the Galen Institute, and the Cato Institute have all released studies recently concluding that the drug-benefit bills moving through Congress are a prescription for disaster. “Why does an administration that sees the benefits of privatizing Social Security want to take Medicare in the opposite direction?” said Joseph Lehman, executive vice president of the Mackinac Center, a Michigan-based free-market foundation. “The taxpayers should be permitted to keep more of their own money for health care, by deregulation of health insurance and vastly expanding Medical Savings Account. Seniors control 60% of the wealth in this country. If grandparents want their grandchildren to buy medicine, it’s much more civil to ask them directly than to tax them.” There are, of course, other opinions. James L. Martin, president of the Sixty Plus seniors association, and a long-time friend of George W. Bush, called the Medicare reform plan “a major move in the right direction for reforming an outdated 38-year-old system and, more importantly, it provides, at long last, a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens.” “I’m glad to see that this President has brought together both sides to get the ball rolling toward Medicare reform. Leading with a prescription drug benefit,” said Martin. “And, politically speaking, in this most political of towns, it takes the issue off the table for the Democrats in 2004.” (Martin, who gave a young George W. Bush his first job out of college, spoke to me on the morning after his organization’s annual banquet, at which Bush was featured in a film praising Sixty Plus and “Jim Martin, my friend of 30 years.”). But Martin’s view is in a distinct minority among conservatives. More typical is the view of nationally syndicated radio talk show host Michael Reagan. “The only reason that the retirees are going to get this entitlement is because they vote and both Democrats and Republicans want to say they care,” Reagan told me. “But they don’t care about our children and grandchildren who will ultimately bare the burden. Young people don’t take the time to vote and therefore they pay—big time.”