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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 19, 2006

The Medicare Bamboozle: Part IV

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

"The fear here is that there's no cost containment, there's not enough competition, this thing goes through the roof, and what happens is you break Medicare." - John Kline in 2003, on the Medicare bill

We have already examined how the Republican culture of corruption led to the passage of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, and the reasons why one prominent conservative opined that it "may well be the worst piece of legislation ever enacted". We've also discussed why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is using this bill in an effort to put halos on John Kline and Mark Kennedy.

The final chapter in this saga is to take a closer look at John Kline's role. It is a little-known fact that Kline led an effort to get the GOP leadership to act deliberately on this bill, instead of ramming it through as they ultimately did. The problem is, when crunch time came, Kline toed the GOP line.

There is no question that John Kline always supported the stated goals of the Medicare bill. In a rare op-ed in the June 29, 2003 Pioneer Press, Kline wrote:

As the Medicare Trustees remind us year after year, the current Medicare system is not, in the long term, financially sound. According to the President's Fiscal Year 2004 Budget, the net present value shortfall for Medicare is $13.3 trillion and growing. Unless health care costs to the Medicare system can be controlled as the baby-boom generation retires, the combination of increasing costs and the growing number of beneficiaries will cause the program to collapse under its own weight.

As final passage of the bill grew nearer, Kline publicly expressed concerns about the cost. In a November 18, 2003 article in the Star Tribune, Kevin Diaz quotes Kline as saying:

"It's $400 billion, with a 'b,' '' Kline said. "The fear here is that there's no cost containment, there's not enough competition, this thing goes through the roof, and what happens is you break Medicare."

Perhaps due to concerns over cost, or perhaps for other reasons, on October 29 2003, freshman congressman John Kline led a group of 41 Republican legislators in publicly requesting that the GOP leadership follow House rules, and permit all House members, Republican and Democrat alike, the required 72 hours to review the final draft of the Medicare legislation before voting on it. From the Congressional Record:

The general public will evaluate not only what Congress does regarding Medicare and prescription drugs, but the way in which it does it. A bill proposing such substantive changes to the Medicare system and costing an estimated $400 billion over the next decade deserves the careful and thoughtful consideration of all Members.

Unfortunately, we already know the rest of the story. The bill was brought to the floor on November 21, the Rules Committee agreed to suspend the required 72-hour review period prior to voting on legislation, and John Kline voted in favor of suspending the rules. In a span of about 3 weeks, he went from leading the charge for "careful and thoughtful consideration" to following the orders of the GOP leadership.

A search of the four major Minnesota newspapers (Strib, Pioneer Press, Duluth News-Tribune and the St. Cloud Times) returns no evidence that Kline objected to House leadership holding the vote open for a record 2 hours, 51 minutes. It reveals no comment on the efforts of the GOP leadership to bribe Michigan congressman Nick Smith for his vote. And although Kline clearly had reservations about the bill's $400 billion price tag, there is no evidence that he expressed any objection or surprise over the revelations that the true White House estimate was at least 20% greater, or that the chief Medicare actuary had been threatened with firing if he informed Congress of the true cost.

Given the level of bullying and deception required to pass the Medicare bill, it's easy to conjecture that the bill might never have passed if John Kline had stood up to the GOP leadership and demanded of them what he thought was right. But he didn't. He needs to explain that to the thousands of seniors in our district who even now are sliding into Medicare's 'donut hole'.

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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