MILWAUKEE President Bush yesterday called for a sweeping overhaul of America’s health care system in a bid to gain the upper hand on a political issue that has traditionally worked to the advantage of Democrats.
The president then campaigned against Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson’s brother, who is running for governor of Wisconsin. Mr. Bush appeared at a fund-raiser for Gov. Scott McCallum, a Republican who is opposed by Libertarian Ed Thompson.
Returning to a state he lost by a razor-thin margin, Mr. Bush called for an end to “one-size-fits-all” health care coverage.
“I propose we reform the system to make the system more individualized by creating personal health accounts,” the president told 350 students, professors and doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
“Instead of paying a large premium every month for services you may not use, I believe we ought to have an account that allows a person to pay a much smaller premium for major medical coverage, and then put the savings into a health account tax-free,” he said.
The 33-minute speech was the president’s most aggressive push for over $300 billion in new health care proposals in the budget he submitted to Congress earlier this month. The White House appears unfazed by Democratic complaints that the president’s proposals don’t go far enough.
“This is an important time for action in health care, the president believes,” said Mark McClellan, a member of the president’s council of economic advisors.
“Health care costs are up,” he said. “It’s time for Congress to act on proposals ranging from improving insurance, through health credits and improved health accounts for all Americans, to improving Medicare.”
On the latter point, the president vowed to “bring Medicare into the 21st century.”
“Medicare is antiquated; it has not kept pace with advances in medicine,” he said. “Medicare does not fully cover preventive medicine.”
Mr. Bush called on Congress “to expand its coverage, to improve its services, to strengthen its financing and to give seniors more control over the health care they receive.”
After his speech, the president raised nearly $1 million for Mr. McCallum, who was Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor before ascending to the governorship when Mr. Thompson joined the Bush Cabinet last year. That put Mr. Bush in the awkward position of campaigning against the brother of his own Cabinet secretary, who accompanied him to last night’s fund-raiser at the grand Pfister Hotel.
Looking out over a sold-out crowd of 750 campaign contributors, Mr. Bush said approvingly: “You can’t win elections unless people are with you.”
Ed Thompson is the mayor of Tomah, a small city in central Wisconsin. A former prison cook and professional poker player, he favors the legalization of marijuana and video gambling.
In addition to stumping for Mr. McCallum and health care reform, the president yesterday hinted at future military strikes at terrorist strongholds outside of Afghanistan.
“We must find terror wherever it hides and bring it to justice,” Mr. Bush said. “The Afghan theater is the first theater in the war against terror.”
Although the president has avoided mentioning Osama bin Laden in recent weeks, he singled out the terrorist during yesterday’s speech at the medical college.
“Oh, the guy, he can hide and he can run, but there’s no cave deep enough,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s just a matter of time. I have no artificial date, deadlines.
“I really don’t care if it’s tomorrow or a month from now or a year or a couple of years,” he said. “But Mr. bin Laden is going to meet his fate.”