House Republicans Dishonor Reagan

It’s shocking but true: The House Republican Theme Team, led by Rep. Jack Kingston (R.-Ga.), is handing out its Ronald Reagan Award to members of Congress “for their work in promoting the Medicare Prescription Drug program.”

Yes, that’s right, the Ronald Reagan Award is being used to congratulate members who promote the biggest expansion of Medicare since LBJ created the entitlement program in the 1960s.

I understand what Kingston’s team is trying to do: They want to encourage members to communicate with their constituents about the program, which the GOP sees as a political tool to win over senior voters.

But I think it’s absolutely shameful that Kingston’s Theme Team is using Reagan’s name in connection with a program he would have never supported as President.

Nearly 30 members have received the award already and the Theme Team is reportedly looking for others to honor. Among the criteria for getting the award: 12 district events, one district-wide mail piece, one newspaper editorial board visit, one op-ed and three one-minute speeches. There are a few other requirements to qualify and members’ efforts promoting Social Security reform also count.

Kingston should be commended for his communications strategy and efforts to improve the GOP’s message. But it’s insulting to conservatives—and especially Ronald Reagan—that an award in Reagan’s name would be used to promote a program that true House conservatives—25 in all—stood lock-step against when it narrowly passed on Nov. 22, 2003.

Said one House Republican aide: “If Republicans wonder why their poll numbers are in the cellar with their base, this is why. Giving awards for promoting the biggest new entitlement since the Great Society and naming those awards after the father of limited government shows the Republican base they just don’t get it.”

UPDATE — 11:20 a.m.: The Wall Street Journal (registration required) has an outstanding editorial today on the Medicare mess facing the GOP. Here’s an excerpt:

Republicans have been touting new polls showing rising popularity for their Medicare drug benefit. But this week’s panic in Congress to extend Monday’s deadline for penalty-free enrollment is further evidence that the program has been far from the political home run the GOP once hoped.

It seems forever ago now, but back during the heady days and high poll numbers of 2003 Republican leaders were convinced that the new entitlement was a no-lose proposition. Their cheering section at the Washington Times editorial board fantasized aloud that the benefit offered the prospect of a "permanent Republican majority."

The political future as far as the eye can see promises nasty battles over drug price controls, and between Democrats trying to expand the program and Republicans trying to hold the line. As for the short-term politics, obviously no one is talking anymore about a "permanent Republican majority." The question on everyone’s lips is whether Republicans will even have a Congressional majority next year.

UPDATE — 3:54 p.m.: I’ve had some interesting feedback about this post. Unfortunately, for those of you who’ve asked, I don’t have a list of the 28 members who have won the award. However, one person suggested to me that HUMAN EVENTS, if it were to obtain the list, should send a plastic bust of LBJ to all of the winners for their courage to promote big government.