Jewish World Review Nov. 25, 2003 / 30 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Consumer Reports

Encourage the Dems to filibuster for the good of the country. No really! | The republic - and the Republicans - will be well served if Democratic filibusters in the U.S. Senate sidetrack both the prescription drug bill and the energy bill that have emerged from conference committees.

Both bills do some good things, but more bad things. And their cost would be enormous. This is not an insignificant consideration at a time when we have a federal budget deficit that is a record for absolute size (though relatively small when measured as a proportion of gross domestic product), and we have an expensive war on terror to wage.

I favor a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens. But the benefit provided for in the conference committee is relatively modest compared to its enormous cost - currently estimated at $432 billion over the next ten years by the Congressional Budget Office - and the baroque formula used to provide it may have the unintended consequence of causing some seniors to lose more generous drug benefits provided by private insurance plans that cover them now.

Medicare already is galloping towards bankruptcy. The unfunded liability for the program currently is estimated at $2.6 trillion. Adding at least another $432 billion to that is not going to improve the program's fiscal health.

The prescription drug bill is being pushed hard at this time more to meet a perceived political need than an urgent social need. Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson noted that the government's annual survey of Medicare recipients asked them last year: "In the last six months, how much of a problem, if any, was it to get the prescription medicine you needed?" Only 4.2 percent of respondents said it was a big problem. More than 86 percent said it was not a problem.

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There is even less justification for the pork fest the energy bill has become. It contains more than $23 billion in special interest subsidies. The worst of these is the bipartisan love affair with ethanol, which takes more energy to produce than it generates; adds more pollutants to the air than it removes, and reduces the performance of automobile engines.

My favorite slice of pork in the energy bill is the $150 million for building a riverwalk mall in Shreveport, La. Federal funds will be used to build a 14-screen movie theater, a bowling alley, and a Hooters restaurant. These are all good things. But what, pray tell, will this do to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, or to upgrade our electric power grid?

The House has passed both bills. Democrats in the Senate have announced plans to filibuster them. Democrats don't oppose these measures because they waste money. They oppose them in part because they don't waste enough money, in larger part because they are supported by President Bush. Democrats don't want Bush to get credit for the largest expansion of the Medicare program since its inception in 1965.

The filibusters are likely to fail. Enough Democrats probably will defect from their leadership to support the measures, which - like the eudcation bil of 2001 - give more than half the loaf to the positions Democrats advocated. Bush didn't give away the store to get these bills. But there isn't much left on the shelves.

That these bills will be filibustered at all indicates how desperately partisan Democrats have become. They angrily denounce measures they'd have embraced in a heartbeat had they been proposed by President Clinton. This partisanship is annoying part of the Democrats' base. The 35 million member AARP is supporting the prescription drug bill because it is the largest expansion of Medicare benefits in 40 years, and because the senior citizens' lobby believes, not unreasonably, that the benefits can be expanded in years to come.

In abandoning fiscal responsibility and meaningful reform just to be able to say he got "landmark" legislation enacted, Bush is little better. We should have elections in order to shape policy, not shape policy in order to influence elections. Thank God for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, who opposes these pork-laden monstrosities for the right reasons.

If a Democratic filibuster is successful, the Democrats' reputation for obstruction will be reinforced, and the republic will be spared these monstrosities. That's a win-win for conservative Republicans.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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