The epidemics of amnesia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, self-hypnosis, and intellectual doublethink are on the rise in Washington—rising faster, by the calculation of some spectators, than our national debt.
It goes without question that there are things on record some would prefer to forget or never have mentioned again. Republican lawmakers, influenced by political expediency or historical confusion, presented themselves in the latter part of this year as the champions of Medicare. The glaring absurdity of GOP Medicare scare-tactics somehow passed under the radar of the majority of critics, who most certainly had their eyes fixed on the Democrats.
Just recently Senator Hatch (R-Utah) decided that he would not let the year close without displaying one more case of Republican intellectual doublethink—one so incredible that is absolutely mind-boggling to the habitual political observer who realizes that the GOP is going to ride to victory in 2010 not just on the failures of Democratic leadership, but on the sweeping epidemic of American political amnesia.
Here is a reminder: six years ago, President Bush and the Republican-majority Congress successfully passed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act [216-215 in the House; 61 to 39 in the Senate], which, from a conservative perspective, constitutes the biggest expansion of government into the health care industry since the founding of Medicare in the 1960s. The Medicare drug program was passed with no new taxes or spending offsets accompanying it; in other words, it was entirely deficit-financed—who would have thought Republicans today with their fiscal hawk rhetoric ever supported such a disaster?
Just a month after President Bush signed the Medicare drug program into law, the ten-year cost estimate was boosted to $534 billion, up more than $100 billion over the figure presented by the Bush Administration during congressional debate—as it happens, the inaccurate figure secured a few more Republican votes. By January 2005, the White House Budget Office increased the ten-year estimate to $1.2 trillion—within the same range as the unequivocally evil health reform legislation that passed in the U.S. House this November! The scores coming out of the Congressional Budget Office were just the same.
Estimates of the ten-year cost of the Medicare drug benefit ballooned as the baby boom generation began to retire and join the Medicare rolls—just as some observers had predicted. The alleged-fiscal conservatives did not roll back the program or rethink it in a way that could save taxpayers billions while assisting seniors who are in need of assistance.
The result was a huge giveaway to private industries, accompanied by inadvertent, but nevertheless, negative effects on millions of American seniors, at the price tag of at least a $1 trillion paid for entirely by adding it to the national debt for future generations to pick up the tab. Moreover the bill included advanced care planning, also called end-of-life counseling, with legislative language very similar to the supposed “death panel” language previously in the Senate health care bill (Did the Republicans forget this year that they support “death panels?”).
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office claims—not without criticism— that the Senate health care proposal would pay for itself and require no borrowing. The Medicare drug program was never even deemed budget-neutral or “paid for.” Yet the universal opposition of Republican lawmakers in the Senate included 24 senators—over half the caucus—who voted for the budget-busting Medicare expansion in 2003 with little trouble.
These same Republicans were there for the deficit-spending spree, which include trillion dollar (the most conservative estimate) wars. So how might Republicans explain their budget-recklessness and how they can be credibly coined the party of fiscal sanity contrary to the current fiscal insanity of the Democrats?
Senator Orrin Hatch has the answer: it was a different time then. In fact, “…it was standard practice not to pay for things…We were concerned about it, because it certainly added to the deficit, no question,” but it was justified because it has “done a lot of good.”
What if a Democrat lifted his argument and used it. Could he reply in the negative with any sort of credibility? The GOP allegedly governed in an era where it was indeed “standard practice not to pay for things” and now, with some imaginary sense of credibility and integrity, Republican lawmakers who were actually in office during the Republican-majority—including Senate Republican leadership Senators McConnell, Kyl, and Alexander who re sharp critics of the Senate health care plan— can rail against their political opponents as irresponsible?
Then again, considering the political amnesia going around, this is not surprising.