July 07, 2003

Signing any health bill

Robert Novak doesn't see much interest from the White House in opposing the march toward a socialist health care system in the United States:

The White House has made clear the president will sign any prescription drug bill arriving from Capitol Hill. Bush thereby has removed himself as a player in an epochal battle over this country's health care, undermining the optimistic scenario. No realistic conservative can devise a way to kill this bill. The question is whether Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's inexorable march toward a government-controlled health care system can be slowed.

The president does not seem at all interested in this effort. Indeed, on no issue has he been so separated from his conservative support base. He did not please supporters when he collaborated with Kennedy on the 2001 school bill or said he would sign any campaign finance reform bill in 2002. But Bush's passivity on prescription drugs, abandoning his own stated intentions, casts a longer shadow on national policy. Republicans do not want to criticize their president as the election campaign nears, but they are heartsick.

Two battles have been lost irrevocably and in fact were lost from the start. First, a massive new entitlement of prescription drugs for seniors will be established, with its real cost around $1 trillion over 10 years. Second, Medicare -- which approximates a national system of socialized medicine -- will not be reformed comprehensively as part of a prescription drug subsidy (as hoped for by nearly all Republicans, George W. Bush included).