- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sen. John McCain today will call for partially rolling back President Bush’s Medicare prescription drug program and for a freeze on discretionary spending in order to get the federal budget in better shape, his advisers said yesterday evening.

Mr. McCain, who voted against the Medicare drug program in 2003, would make wealthier seniors pay more to remain in the drug program, just as they do for some other parts of Medicare coverage. His advisers said Mr. Bush’s program ended up covering people who are capable of paying their own way.

“That reform alone saves billions of dollars that can be returned to taxpayers or put to better use,” said Carly Fiorina, who is Mr. McCain’s liaison to the Republican National Committee.

But the Democrats disagreed.

“John McCain can shift his rhetoric all he wants, but it’s his policies that are outdated and out of touch with the values and priorities of America’s working families,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera.

Mr. McCain plans to lay out his economic plans in Pennsylvania, which holds its primary next Tuesday. The Arizona senator has already wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination and is focusing on the general election while his two potential Democratic opponents battle for their party’s nod.

Mr. McCain’s advisers briefed reporters in advance of the speech. They said he will call for a “one-year pause” in discretionary spending — exempting defense and veterans spending. Those exemptions mean the freeze applies to a small part of the annual budget — defense spending accounts for half of all discretionary spending, which is just a fraction of annual spending anyway.

But the advisers said the real purpose is to make agencies do a full review and justify all of their programs.

“It is sending a message that you do not get more money until you have undergone the oversight and review,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Mr. McCain’s policy adviser, who added the one-year savings might total $10 billion to $15 billion.

The drug program was one of Mr. Bush’s signature accomplishments, and one that helped him win re-election in 2004, although it angered conservatives who said they didn’t want to add new entitlement programs to the government budget.

Mr. McCain was one of just two Republican senators to vote against the drug bill on the key procedural vote that ushered the bill to passage in 2003. During the primary campaign, he made it clear that he wanted to roll back the program to save money and target it toward those who can’t afford their drugs.