- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 22, 2006

President Bush pledged to fight soaring health care costs in a preview yesterday of his State of the Union address, while a leading Democrat blamed Republicans for problems in a new prescription-drug program and recent corruption scandals.

Mr. Bush and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, dueled in radio addresses over health care, tax cuts and recent lobbying scandals in Congress. Republicans, nervous about the scandals and public doubts over the Iraq war, are seeking to keep control of the House and the Senate in the November midterm elections.

The president said he would push to limit health care costs by expanding tax-free health savings accounts, which let people set aside money for routine medical expenses.

“This year, I will ask Congress to take steps to make these accounts more available, more affordable and more portable,” Mr. Bush said. Small businesses should be able to pool their risks so they can get discounts on health insurance, he said.

“For the sake of America’s small businesses, workers and families, we must … make health care more affordable and accessible,” he said in his weekly radio broadcast.

On Jan. 31, Mr. Bush will deliver his State of the Union address, and several Republicans have said they expect the health care initiative to be cited in that speech.

Mr. Reid, in the Democrats’ response to the radio address, highlighted problems in a new prescription-drug benefit under the Medicare health program for elderly and disabled people.

Since the benefit was started Jan. 1, many eligible patients have been hit by administrative problems that have made it difficult to get their prescription costs covered. About half of the states intervened to pay for drugs for people who had problems obtaining coverage.

“The state of the union today is that we have low-income Americans begging for their prescription drugs, and seniors going without any coverage,” Mr. Reid said.

He also urged Mr. Bush to use his State of the Union speech to address recent corruption scandals, such as one involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty in a bribery investigation.

“The American people need to hear [the president] denounce the Republican culture of corruption, and tell us how he is going to reform our nation’s capital,” Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Reid also differed over recent tax cuts and efforts by the president to make them permanent. The president said those who oppose the extension want to “raise your taxes.”

But Mr. Reid accused the Republicans of using “doublespeak” in promoting tax breaks as part of a deficit-reduction effort, when the breaks would, he said, increase the federal budget deficit.

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