While the rest of the country was
preparing for a Thanksgiving feast, lawmakers were working on cutting a fat hog
for business and industry in the corridors of power.
On Monday, the Senate approved a Medicare
bill that will cost the nation at least $400 billion. Prior to that, Congress
had moved to increase spending on forest-thinning projects by $340 million and
$22 billion on veterans’ benefits.
Republicans have vowed to return with an
energy bill—defeated in a Senate filibuster last week—that would add another $23
billion to $30 billion in tax cuts for oil and gas development companies.
Choice giveaways included reductions on
payments for producing wells, exemptions to the Clean Water Act, government
reimbursements for environmental analyses and fast-track drilling approvals that
could override environmental concerns. The giveaways offset the benefits of
programs promoting ethanol, wind turbines and hydrogen fuels.
Before our esteemed lawmakers rolled up
their sleeves and went to work, the nation was already facing a $374 billion
shortfall for the year that ended Sept. 30. Forecasters say the nation will
amass $500 billion in red ink in the current fiscal year.
A billion here, a billion there—pretty
soon it’s real money. Yet, no one in the Bush Administration has offered any
clue as to how the nation will pay for this gluttonous binge except to say that
an improving economy will offset some of the expenditures. Few in the voting
majority—which included members of both parties on the just-passed Medicare
bill—even broached the question.
The answer is easy. Ordinary citizens,
their children and their grandchildren will get the bill. The result won’t be
pretty—just ask anyone who’s lived through a deep recession—or worse.
The nation clearly wants and needs cheaper
drugs for seniors, health savings accounts and increased Medicare reimbursements
for rural hospitals. But the nation may gag on the tradeoffs—if it ever wakes
The bill made cuts in supplemental aid to
Medicaid recipients, will increase the price of drugs to the poor, will allow
private insurance companies to sign up healthy customers while ignoring the
rest, and sacrifice Medicare’s ability to negotiate prices with drug companies
to keep costs down.
Drug companies’ stock prices skyrocketed
on the news.
Idaho’s entire congressional delegation
voted for the bill.
Note to the Webster’s Dictionary folks:
It’s time to change the spelling of fiscal to fiascal—meaning of or relating to
a fiasco—when used in relation to bills passed by the 108th Congress.