Today’s New York Times reports, “The Bush administration offered a new estimate of the cost of the Medicare drug benefit on Tuesday, saying it would cost $720 billion in the next 10 years.”
The article quotes Judd Gregg (R-NH), the new chair of the Senate Budget Committee, as saying he wants to “put the brakes on the growth of entitlements” and take a close look at the new Medicare law.
“Since it was sold as a $400 billion program, that’s what we should keep it at,” Mr. Gregg said.
Well, good luck with that.
The pattern for these entitlements has been well established, and it’s clear how this one is destined to play out.
Let’s go back four years and move forward from there. Espying potential political gain, the two parties compete to buy the votes of a particular political constituency by simultaneously lauding the wonderful benefits of a new spending program while underestimating the costs. Then, when the true costs are coming to be known, the conservative party says, “Whoops! Better get those costs in line. Have to cut benefits and raise payroll taxes for this.” And the leftward party says, “Whoa, there, fellas! Peoples is counting on this money! If you cut them off, they’ll die!” The conservative party then loses nerve, and raises the ante, but not enough to please anybody. They lose votes. The leftward party gets credit for saving the lives of real, needy people from the evil, green-eyeshade-wearing, big-business-favoring, kickback-taking accounting geeks of the conservative party.
And in the next go-round and ever after, the discussion is never to be whether or why, but only how much?
I’m sure the prescription drug benefit helped President Bush win a few key states in the recent election. It’s surely worth it to him. But is it worth it to us?