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November 26, 2003

Why Progressives Win From Drug Bill

Emma joins in disputing the idea that the Medicare bill is anything good for progressives, citing the popular E.J. Dionne essay a lot of folks are linking to. She sees the loss on the bill as being "about kicking the prone body of the Democrats in the head."

Folks are making a mistake when they equate losing a fight-- which the Dems inevitably will at the moment given their lack of majorities in Congress-- with getting rolled.

As I've argued, I actually think passage of the bill is good for progressives, both on policy and politics.

In fact, Democrats may have gotten the best of all worlds, registering their opposition to a bad bill while being in position to gain politically and on policy from its passage.

On policy, we now have the principle that drugs should be covered just like every other kind of health care under Medicare. Now, the question is how generous the benefit should be, which is a winning terrain for progressives. It's a lot easier to expand coverage in an existing program than create a whole new entitlement-- a fact that conservatives generally recognize and which is making most of the rightwing apoplectic as they see Bush and the GOP push through this plan for short-term political gain. As for the "privatization" aspects, I just don't think a few pilot projects and such are as threatening as most critics make out.

And the very cost of the drugs will put pressure on Congress to actually pass drug cost controls as a deficit fighting measure. Emphasize the last point-- without the drug bill, cost controls on drug manufacturers was just "anti-business regulation." With $400 billion in government spending at stake, suddenly drug price controls is a way to cut government spending, another good terrain for progressives to advocate against drug company profits.

As for the politics, passing a shitty bill is worse for the GOP than if the Dems had defeated it. If the Dems had defeated it, Bush could have said, "Well, I tried to fulfill my promise to give seniors a drug benefit, but the obstructionist Dems stopped me." Now, Bush has full responsibility for the details of the bill and seniors won't be happy. They'll recognize that the trillions of dollars in tax cuts meant they only had this pathetic benefit available.

Here you have a benefit directed for seniors and a large chunk of them in polls say they don't like the bill. When a large number of the beneficiaries don't like the bill, can you imagine how that will translate to the rest of the population who knows they are being screwed to subsidize drug company profits?

Between agribusiness pork barrel, the attempted energy bill, military boondoggles, and this drug company bonanza, the Dems now have a devastating theme of GOP corporate corruption and fiscal irresponsibility. Even as the benefits of their programs for average taxpayers, farmers and seniors are minimal, they have dished out trillions of dollars to their corporate allies-- busting the budget and driving debt for our children through the proverbial roof.

This bill is a win for the GOP? With rightwing conservatives and progressive health groups united (if for differing reasons) in condemning it? With the AARP on the run from its own members, with the organization feeling pressure to help "fix" the bill in the coming year-- no doubt in support of Democratic criticisms of its limitations?

A defeat would have been passage without progressive criticisms registering with the public. But on that score, we did well and the Democratic message seems to have registered strongly with the public-- see this analysis by LiberalOasis.

So be of good cheer this Thanksgiving!

Update: Emma responds again with her "grim and hopeless" view of the downside of the bill.

Posted by Nathan at November 26, 2003 12:16 PM