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Why gridlock is a good thing

The Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are competing with each other to see how much of our money they can hand over to the elderly. Fortunately, so far, the two parties haven't been able to agree on an approach, and so nothing may get passed at all.

The Democratic proposal cost more than the Republican plan $594 billion from 2005 to 2012, compared with $370 billion. But even the Republican plan would have been the biggest expansion of Medicare since the program was created in 1965, after the landslide election of Lyndon B. Johnson.
Predictably, Republicans propose to funnel the money through insurance companies, while Democrats want to hand over the money directly to the elderly, with Ted Kennedy going on record as opposing any sort of means testing.
Democrats said they were exploring a possible compromise under which the government and private insurers would share the responsibility and the financial risks of providing drug benefits to the elderly. Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, is promoting such a deal.
Gee, I wonder if the elderly should have any role in providing drug benefits to the elderly?

One of my maxims is that "Sloppy language leads to sloppy thinking." When we speak circuitously or use euphemisms, we start to forget what reality is. As such, one of my top ten pet peeves is when people talk about what "the government" will provide. The government doesn't have money; all the government has is the ability to take money from other people. There is no compromise under which the government and private insurers will do anything. The proposal is for taxpayers to provide drug benefits to the elderly. I wonder if such programs would have nearly so much support if they were phrased this way.

The Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi, said he was not optimistic about the chances for a hybrid blending the Democratic and Republican approaches.

Mr. Lott said he was eager to "help the elderly poor" who have no insurance for drug expenses. But, he said, $370 billion is "unequivocally the upper limit" on what most Republicans would be willing to spend.

Well, that's certainly a "conservative" position. There's an old, mostly worn-out joke:

Man: would you sleep with me for a million dollars?
Woman: Yes.
Man: Well, would you sleep with me for ten dollars?
Woman: What kind of woman do you think I am?
Man: We've already established that; we're just haggling over the price.

We've established what kind of politician Trent Lott is. We're just haggling now. Admittedly, this price tag is no worse than that of the obscene agriculture subsidy law Bush signed weeks ago. But does anybody think it will stay this "cheap"? The elderly population isn't going to shrink. Drugs aren't going to magically get cheaper. The list of ailments treatable with drugs is going to keep growing. If the line isn't drawn now -- and I'm not optimistic -- this will turn into yet another rapidly-growing entitlement line-item, a la Social Security and Medicare, untouchable in the federal budget.

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