I already established that those Republicans who voted against the bill did so because they don’t think it worth the cost to obtain the gain of partially privatizing health care for seniors. They believe in their principles, and simply have a dispute with their leadership about the importance of seeming to help senior voters while obtaining the far more important (to the Republican Party) step of infiltrating a government entitlement program with privatization.
There were, of course, Democratic senators who also stuck to their guns, for instance, Ted Kennedy, who helped CREATE Medicare, as you’ll remember, and who views this inroad as a disaster. Look carefully at the changes the bill underwent from the version the Senate did pass early in the year (with, as I recall, Teddy’s vote) to understand this difference.
But more than 25% of the party’s senators crossed lines to vote for the legislation.
Why does this matter? Can’t they disagree?
No. Sometimes legislation has to be viewed from the standpoint of basic core issues. I find it ridiculous that the Dems were able to stay more focused on the energy bill, a far less threatening piece of legislation to traditional core Democratic values. Medicare is a central hallmark of the whole concept of Democratic politics since the Depression. It exemplifies the best of Rooseveltian/Kennedy Democracy. AND, unlike other contemporary social legislation (can anyone say Welfare?), Medicare has generally worked, without any real complaint.
The main area where Medicare has failed to work is the lack of coverage for prescription drugs. This is a serious flaw; many seniors take a disproportionate share of such drugs in our ever aging society. Understandably, Republicans have been unwilling to simply hand over a prescription drug program because of the cost; Republicans don’t like entitlement grants that use up what they consider scarce tax dollars. Democrats have been trying to overcome this resistance for years.
Now, the political pressure to pass drug coverage has reached such a level that Republicans concede the neccessity of accomplishing the goal. Further, they WANT to do so, in order to try and capture traditionally Democratic votes in 2004; they understand the lesson of 2000 all too well. But they can’t just suddenly sponsor a massive increase in government entitlement; to do so would be contrary to their core values. So, what they do instead is concede a coverage that won’t cost more than they can manage to afford and still round up votes for (BARELY in the House, you’ll note), and to make it palatable, they wrap it around the beginnings of a dismantling of the basic program itself.
Government entitlement programs of the 20th Century aren’t supposed to be an opportunity for big business!!! It was distrust of big business, and the economic factors to which it must pay attention, which lead to the development of the types of programs fostered under the Roosevelt and later Kennedy/Johnson administrations. Like them or not, the point to such programs is to ensure that the vicissitudes of economic cycles and the imperatives of supply and demand don’t end up affecting the common man. The whole point is to take profit motives OUT of social programs. Democrats have staked 70 years of politics on this concept.
Republicans have for most of that 70 years opposed the underlying principle of such legislation. Current efforts include the Medicare bill just passed, the various attempts to privatize Social Security, efforts to change welfare from an entitlement program to a back-to-work program, the efforts to infiltrate public education with privatized programs and choices, etc. It is a massive, co-ordinated assault on the hallmark of the Democratic party. It’s goal is to reduce as much as possible the government’s involvement in the direct transfer of funds from those who have more than an average amount to those who need more. If it can be done in such a way that big business reaps a windfall, so much the better.
Opposed to this effort one would think would be the Democratic Party. At some point, you have to draw lines in the sand, and say, beyond this point, you will not cross. Hell, that is exactly what the Dems DID do with the energy bill, and over something arcane like MBTE litigation. But when the core of the liberal wing of the party tried to rally the party to stand behind a line drawn over Medicare, they couldn’t manage to stop it, EVEN WITH A WING REVOLT FROM REPUBLICANS HELPING THEM.
And when it actually came time to vote, to put their names on one side or the other of the issue, two of the party’s contenders for its nomination for President wouldn’t even vote. Clearly, Kerry and Lieberman don’t want to face seniors in the coming election having appeared to oppose drug coverage (the drumbeat Republicans would raise), but can’t bring themselves to face seniors angry about a vote in favor of dismantling the programs basic roots. Spineless chickens, if you ask me.
Now what does 2004 have in store for the Dems? A President from the other party able to: 1. proclaim that he solved the drug issue, 2. paint the Dems as recalcitrant foot draggers on energy problems. The Dems will be able to 1. Concede that they allowed Medicare to be changed, and 2. argue they saved for people the potential right to sue over MBTE poisoning of groundwater.
And everyone wonders how it is that someone like Dean is doing so well…