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Jewish World Review June 27, 2000 /24 Sivan, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up -- MEDICARE prescription drug legislation is caught in a furious election-year game of catch-up, bid-up and one-up that almost guarantees nothing will pass Congress in this session.

But that's not all bad. It will free up money to help ailing hospitals and nursing homes and revive chances for broad-scale Medicare reform next year.

Medicare isn't the only object of positioning and bidding wars between presidential candidates and the parties in Congress. So are Social Security, education, patients' rights, taxes, guns and hate crimes.

On the presidential level, Vice President Al Gore has been playing catch-up to Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) in virtually every category of bidding, but in the process Gore is also trying to play political one-upsmanship.

Bush made across-the-board tax cuts a key item on his agenda. Now, Gore has doubled the size of his proposed cut from $250 billion to $500 billion over 10 years, with the benefits targeted to lower- and middle-income voters.

Bush proposed allowing workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in equity markets. Now, Gore has come up with "retirement savings-plus," an investment entitlement plan that would give lower-income citizens $3 for every $1 they save.

Congressional Republicans thought up "lockboxes" for Social Security and Medicare revenues. They got credit for the Social Security version, but Gore grabbed the Medicare idea and made it his. Now House Republicans want credit for getting it passed.

Bush was first out with tough education accountability proposals. Gore has matched and raised him with promises of considerably more money, though Bush is adding extra billions by the day. In an area where he was behind Gore, Bush this week came out with an education technology initiative that even retains a telephone surcharge often derided by fellow Republicans as the "Gore tax."

The same game of catch-up, bid-up and one-up is being played in Congress, especially by Democrats and House Republicans. Senate Republicans seem out of it.

Like Bush in the presidential race, Democrats have mostly set the Congressional agenda, forcing House Republicans to at least cover themselves politically by passing a patients' rights bill and, soon, a prescription drug benefit.

House Republicans have set the agenda on tax cuts, lifting the earnings limit for Social Security recipients and passing marriage penalty and "death tax" relief.

Whether anything besides the earnings limit actually gets signed into law this year is deeply problematic. The Senate seems incapable of producing a patients' rights bill and President Clinton is threatening to veto the inheritance tax repeal if it passes.

Meantime, the House has passed a campaign finance bill that Senate Republicans have killed. And Senate Democrats powered through hate crimes and campaign disclosure legislation that the GOP is trying to suffocate.

The drug benefit is probably the year's highest-stakes bidding arena. Republicans and moderate Democrats first wanted to make a drug subsidy for low-income seniors a part of overall Medicare reform, but Clinton trumped that idea with an across-the-board benefit for all.

That proposal soon became the Democrats' lead promise in a bid to pull seniors back into their camp. Then House Republicans felt they had to respond at least by looking active.

So, they reserved $40 billion over five years for Medicare spending and set to work on a prescription drug bill that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is anxious to pass before the Independence Day recess.

The GOP vehicle, sponsored by Rep. Bill Thomas (Calif.), offers seniors a choice of drug insurance plans and protection against drug expenses greater than $6,000 a year.

Democrats had been relying on a government-based plan that's only slightly more generous, but now two groups of Democrats, led by Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), have come up with bills that increase protection against catastrophic outlays.

Passage of any bill is practically impossible because Senate GOP leaders do not share the House leadership's eagerness for a vote and because, even if they changed their minds, passage would require an unobtainable 60 votes in the Senate.

But there is some desire to help the Medicare system, as evidenced by the Clinton administration's new bid to provide $21 billion over five years to help hospitals suffering from losses of Medicare revenue.

New budget estimates coming out next month are expected to show another huge jump in Medicare savings that come at providers' expense, forcing some into bankruptcy.

Failing to enact a prescription drug benefit, Congress could vote $40 billion to help providers. And next year, a new president and Congress could work on long-term Medicare reform, not just bid for election-year advantage.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
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06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
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05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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