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February 21, 2005

Unfair Shot at AARP

Atrios takes an unfair shot at AARP for supporting the Bush Medicare prescription drug plan. Yes, the plan was less than ideal, but the reality is that the 2006 fiscal budget has a new line item for the Medicare Prescription Drug benefit of $46.70 billion for the year. To the horrors of many conservatives, that is a massive expansion of the program and, whatever its flaws, it irrevocably established the principle that prescription medicine should be covered by Medicare -- which will just increase pressure to expand the scope of the program in coming years.

Many progressives saw the privatization aspects of the bill as too big a compromise, but I always believed that any privatization that required subsidies had a big budgetary target written all over it. The changes conservatives want in the program are unpopular and could be filibustered with impunity by the Democrats, while the changes progressives want-- price controls on prescription drugs, import of cheaper drugs from Canada, ending privatization subsidies -- are overwhelmingly popular because they would lower drug prices and save the government money. Republicans like Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley is supporting a bill to allow importation of drugs. ""In the United States, we import everything consumers want," says Grassley, "So why not pharmaceuticals?" John McCain is supporting bipartisan legislation to allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to directly negotiate lower drug prices.

So all additional politics connected to the drug plan work in favor of progressives. When the prescription drug bill came out, a lot of lefties rejected it because it wasn't perfect, but that shouldn't bethe criterion. The issue is (a) will it make the situation better than the status quo, and, as importantly, (b) will the political terrain be improved for making additional improvements. It's clear by the screaming you hear from conservatives that they think they lost out on the deal. They are playing defense and progressives now have multiple issues to either push in this Congress or take to elections in 2006.

Posted by Nathan at February 21, 2005 10:51 AM