Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2002 / 28 Elul, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The entire Democratic agenda for the 2002 election could be crippled if the Republican Party simply abandoned its refusal to meet the Democrats halfway on the twin issues of prescription drugs for the elderly and the patients' bill of rights.
Without these two issues, the Democrats would have little to run on and the chances of a GOP fall in November would be markedly reduced. If Republicans passed - and Bush signed - these two bills, it would have the same castrating impact on the Democratic campaign that Clinton's signing of welfare reform and his embrace of the balanced budget did on Republican fortunes in 1996.
And why don't the Republicans compromise on these issues? The differences between their version and that of the rivals on these two fronts is relatively minor, and not worth losing an election over.
On the prescription drug front, the GOP has decided to continue its experiment with privately provided health benefits by insisting on using insurance companies to deliver the benefit to the nation's elderly. Having deadlocked the Congress for most of 1996 over its demand for Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs), it now echoes the same theme over prescription drugs. Only at the last minute did the Republicans cave in on MSAs and, in return for a token experiment, let the Kennedy-Kassenbaum bill pass, extending the right of benefit portability to all Americans and partially erasing the image of intransigence House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) had bequeathed on the party earlier in that year. In the event, few Americans embraced MSAs and the experiment died.
Is the GOP's desire to continue this experiment one more cycle really worth the loss of an election? The two parties are not far apart on the financial end of the elderly prescription drug benefit and the GOP should give way to permit it to pass.
On the patients' bill of rights, the parties are in almost perfect agreement except for the Democratic insistence that arbitration settlements in health maintenance organizations (HMOs) be reviewable in court. For all the rhetoric about trial lawyers and their grip on the Democratic Party, this issue, also, is not worth suffering defeat over.
The trial lawyer bar will be quite busy fighting against corporate defendants as it litigates against Merrill Lynch, Solomon Smith Barney, et al in the wake of the current scandals. The actual practical effect of permitting judicial review of arbitrator-denied medical procedures is likely to be quite small. The very nature of the fact that these cases will be on appeal from an arbitration panel makes it very hard for plaintiffs to win - and when they do, the verdict will likely be just.
Without these two issues, on what are Democrats to run? Bush has given them what they wanted on corporate governance. He signed the McCain-Feingold-Meehan-Shays campaign finance reform bill. And Bush's education package satisfied everybody.
Deny the Democrats these two staples of their coming fall campaign and they will be as relevant as GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole's warnings in 1996 that Clinton would veer leftward if given a second term.
Pass these bills and you pull the Democrats' teeth.
Were the Republicans dug in hard against regulation of HMOs, the gap between the parties over this issue would, indeed, be a sufficient difference of principle to warrant standing firm. Similarly, if the Democrats wanted to bankrupt the system with their prescription drug benefit, the Republicans would have a proper role to play in saying no.
But the differences between the parties on these bills are minor while their
political importance to the Democratic legislative strategy is profound. The
Republican congressional leadership is wrong to dig in its heels against them -
and marginal GOP members are equally dumb to give the leadership the votes
to maintain that posture.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
08/28/02: Trust the military