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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Medicare Bamboozle: Part I

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

A couple of nights ago, I saw a campaign ad for John Kline, which discussed in glowing terms Kline's support for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, and how Kline is actually "doing something" to help seniors.

A few minutes later, I saw the same ad, only with Mark Kennedy.

Now while Mark Kennedy's new ads have received a lot of attention, and while John Kline and Mark Kennedy have nearly identical records of rubberstamp support for George Bush, some folks might find it strange that Kline and Kennedy are running the same ad. The explanation is that Kline and Kennedy didn't produce or pay for the ads. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did. And the Chamber is certainly correct that John Kline and Mark Kennedy both voted for and continue to support the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. The unstated implication of the ad, that the Chamber would really like to help Kline and Kennedy win their elections, is true as well.

But the implicit conclusion, that Medicare Part D is a great bill benefitting seniors, is dead wrong. This post is the first in a series examining Medicare Part D. We'll start with an examination of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their reasons for helping out John Kline and Mark Kennedy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is an advocacy group for businesses, which means their primary purpose is to support legislators and legislation which helps business. This fact alone casts doubt on the ad's implication that Medicare Part D is a great program for America's seniors. But let's dig a little further.

According to Wikipedia, the main legislative priorities for the Chamber are:

  • Supporting Bush's immigration reform plan
  • Pro-ANWR Drilling
  • Pro-Offshore Oil Drilling
  • Pro-Health Savings Accounts
  • Against most forms of tax on business
  • Anti-Minimum Wage

The Center for Media and Democracy says that the Chamber also supports Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Now while John Kline and Mark Kennedy might not support all of these policies, they certainly support the bulk of them. Kline has voted for drilling in ANWR and for offshore oil drilling, and he most definitely supports Health Savings Account and tax cuts. As we noted earlier, he also championed Bush's failed drive to privatize Social Security last year. So there's little wonder the Chamber likes John Kline and wants to help him retain his seat.

In fact, the Chamber was so eager to help out its favored politicians that it got a bit careless with its fact-checking. Many politicians nationwide are featured in the ads, but at least three of the Republicans the Chamber praised for passing the legislation weren't even in Congress when the bill passed in 2003, and another congressman who was in the House actually voted against it. This is another indicator that the Chamber produced the ads not because Medicare Part D is really great for consumers, but mostly to keep Chamber-friendly legislators on Congress.

Instead of relying on a business advocacy group like the Chamber to weigh the benefits of Medicare Part D for consumers, it probably makes more sense to consult consumer advocacy groups, like Public Citizen and Consumer's Union.

Here's what Public Citizen had to say when George Bush first proposed the legislation:

The Medicare proposal announced by President Bush today betrays seniors and people with disabilities by forcing them to join unreliable private insurance plans in order to get significant coverage for the high cost of prescription drugs. The White House plan, announced during a speech to the American Medical Association, is also far inferior to the bill by House Democrats, also introduced today, to add a drug benefit to Medicare.

Consumer's Union urged its members to write their elected representatives expressing opposition to the plan, and gave this analysis:

An indepth analysis performed by Consumers Union of the proposed Medicare prescription drug benefit reveals a plan that not only falls embarrassingly short of giving seniors a real drug benefit, it likely will threaten Medicare’s viability.

Pretty grim stuff. But these analyses were written three years ago. Do these negative assessments match up with reality? See for yourself.

In a future post, I'll delve into the particulars of Part D. But as an interesting side note, here is an analysis of John Kline's and Mark Kennedy's voting records (All rankings obtained from Project Vote Smart). The first table shows how often Kline and Kennedy supported the agenda of the pro-business, pro-Medicare Part D U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

   Kline  Kennedy
 2001  N/A  91%
 2002  N/A  95%
 2003  100%  93%
 2004  100%  100%
 2005  93%  93%

No wonder the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending millions to help these guys.  Next, here's how often Kline and Kennedy supported the agenda of pro-consumer, anti-Medicare Part D Public Citizen:

   Kline  Kennedy
 2001-02  N/A  5%
 2003  0%  0%
 2003-04  0%  0%

Still think John Kline and Mark Kennedy are great for "doing something" about Medicare?

This is part one of a four-part series on the Medicare Bill.  Make sure to read them all!
  1. The Chamber of Commerce and its support for Kline and Kennedy.
  2. The worst piece of legislation ever enacted.
  3. The Republican culture of corruption in microcosm.
  4. John Kline's bold stand and subsequent crumbling.


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