system has been broken for many years. The 2003 Medicare trustees
report put just Part A of that program in deficit to the tune
of more than $6 trillion over the next 75 years. Yet despite this
fact, Republican leaders were determined to make that deficit
worse by adding yet another open-ended entitlement to this program.
was simple: Republicans wanted the votes of the elderly to get
re-elected in 2004. And they thought they could buy them by giving
those over age 65 a huge new government benefit: free drugs.
matter that there was no money to pay for this program or that
there was no justification for giving new benefits even to the
wealthy and those already being reimbursed for drugs. All that
mattered was getting the votes of a constituency with a history
of selling them to the highest bidder.
conservatives into voting for this monstrosity, the drug bill's
supporters had to play a lot of games before the bill even reached
the House floor. First, the cost of the bill was estimated for
only 10 years, even though the program would be in effect forever.
Second, the program's start date was delayed for two years, during
which time very little was spent, and then it was slowly phased
the Congressional Budget Office certified that the drug benefit
would cost no more than $400 billion over 10 years, spending was
more than twice as great in the second five years as in the first
five. By the last year of the forecast, spending would be more
than $120 billion per year higher.
was learned that Medicare's actuaries had concluded well before
the final vote that a more accurate estimate of the first 10 years
of the drug benefit was in fact $534 billion. The Bush administration
and Republican leaders in Congress conspired to suppress this
estimate. The head Medicare actuary, Richard Foster, was told
that he would be fired if word of the higher estimate leaked out
before the bill was enacted. Sadly, Foster complied -- no whistleblower
the phony $400 billion figure was causing a lot of problems for
Republican leaders in the House. When the final vote was taken
in the early morning hours of Nov. 22, the bill was losing with
194 votes for it and 209 against it, owing to virtually united
Democratic opposition and a few principled conservative Republicans.
the vote was scheduled, per standing House rules, to last just
15 minutes, the leadership kept the vote open. According to a
fascinating report in The Hill newspaper last week, "door
men" were stationed at exits from the House floor to prevent
any Republicans who had voted "no" from leaving. A couple
managed to sneak out, but Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., was unable
to and hid over on the Democratic side of the aisle to avoid the
aptly named Republican whips.
aid of Vice President Cheney, a few votes were turned. But 45
minutes later -- an hour after the vote was supposed to end --
the drug bill was still losing with 216 for and 218 against. At
this point, the heat was turned to "high" on those Republicans
still standing on principle against it.
One in particular
was Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich. According to The Hill, his
fellow Michigan Republican, Rep. Candice Miller, cursed him for
sticking to his no vote. Then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay,
R-Texas, came over to play "good cop." DeLay promised
Smith, who was retiring, that he would support his son Brad in
the primary to replace him and help raise money, as well. Rep.
David Dreier, R-Calif., whose district covers part of Los Angeles,
told Smith that he would help his actress daughter get a movie
Ethics Committee investigation later determined that DeLay had
engaged in "improper" behavior, and he was "admonished"
for doing so. But Smith stuck to his guns.
a.m., after the vote had been held open for two hours, President
Bush was awakened, and he said he would be forced to sign an even
more expensive Democratic bill should the Republican measure go
down to defeat. This got a couple more Republicans to switch their
votes and provided the margin of victory. Almost three hours after
the vote began, the drug bill finally passed by a vote of 220