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Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2002 / 28 Elul, 5762

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Consumer Reports

GOP should triangulate | 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.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


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08/09/02: As America unites, Gore goes divisive
08/01/02: Bush must focus on big picture
07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems
07/19/02: Rudy for SEC tough cop
07/17/02: The investor strike
07/15/02: Door open for drug testing students --- go for it, GOP!
07/12/02: Dubya looking out for No. 1?
07/03/02: The DNA war for Bush's soul
06/21/02: Why are conservatives winning?
06/19/02: Learning to love the feds
06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
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03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
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02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
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02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2001, Dick Morris